Daniella Kallmeyer thinks of herself as an old school designer, a fact that can feel at odds with an industry increasingly driven by the digital sphere. “I’ve had to adapt to technologies that are really controlling our industry more than we are controlling theirs,” she said, noting that Instagram was still in its infancy when she launched her namesake label Kallmeyer in 2012.
The effect that e-commerce giants like Amazon and Yoox Net-a-Porter would have on the industry was also less apparent, and see-now-buy-now collections were still little more than a pipe dream. Fast fashion’s then-reign has only continued to grow, up 21 percent in market share since 2014.
For a small label like Kallmeyer — that traffics in high-quality, artful basics that range from $200-$1000 — these phenomena might spell trouble. “My collection was, and always will be, about quality, longevity and timelessness,” said Kallmeyer, an alum of Proenza Schouler and Alexander McQueen. “How do you maintain all of that, while still selling that product in a world that has moved towards immediacy?”
Designer Daniella Kallmeyer
Kallmeyer has found her way by treading a line between the two extremes: slow, high-quality production versus that which is instantaneous and low quality.
Enter her new Reserve program, which allows customers to order special, limited-edition pieces between seasons that are only put into production once the order is placed. That production — as with all of her pieces — takes place in New York’s garment district, taking roughly four to six weeks to be created and delivered. “Today, customers want things both immediately and forever,” explains Kallmeyer, noting that high-quality items simply can’t be produced that fast.
Customers have also grown to expect the continuous release of new products, thanks to the feverish output of companies like Zara and H&M.
“This program really came as a response to the way the industry was trying to react to this shift in consumer demand.” Reserve, then, is the perfect workaround for Kallmeyer, who, unlike larger designers, can’t afford to produce seasonless items in advance without the certainty that they’ll be ordered. It allows her to satisfy customers’ seasonless needs in a manner that’s both practical for business and aligned with her regular production standards.
It also taps into what she claims is a more organic design process: “My wheels don’t stop turning because it’s in-between seasons.”
For sustainability reasons, Kallmeyer relies mostly on deadstock fabric — which involves recycling old fabric for new pieces — and that means many of these items will only be available in limited quantities, for a short time period. To purchase a Reserve piece, customers will simply place their orders online, based off images of the finished prototype. They’ll then be kept abreast of its production.
Kallmeyer’s spring 2017 collection (Photo by Franco Schicke)
This is unlike the core collections, which can be delivered right away from both Kallmeyer’s website and retailers including No. 6 and Totokaelo. Kallmeyer transitioned over to a largely direct-to-consumer model a few years ago after customers began requesting specific pieces that were not available in stores. For example, a mock-neck black shift dress that nobody purchased for wholesale ended up selling out in two weeks when they were offered it online.
Kallmeyer chalks this up to her customer being somewhat left-of-center, unaffected by what’s trending on Instagram or in Vogue. “They aren’t necessarily finding what they’re looking for at so-called cool, contemporary stores, nor do they have the time or energy to wander through department stores,” she said.
“It’s also a question of what’s best for the brand from an assortment perspective,” she continued. “Are the pieces that are being ordered by these stores the right representation of who we are?”
Kallmeyer’s spring 2017 collection (photo by Franco Schicke)
As such, Kallmeyer keeps its wholesale accounts tight. The online retailer Plan de Ville is a particular favorite of the brand, as it’s one of the few that doesn’t purchase and sell collections along strictly seasonal lines. “They’re not buying our product and then putting it on sale three weeks later due to a season change, even though it’s still completely relevant.”
But Kallmeyer is still bullish on the personalization afforded by working with customers directly. “Connecting with that customer is important, whether it’s via trunk shows or private appointments at our showroom,” she said. “We’re really working with women to find out what’s best for their body type and their lifestyle.”
That’s also the main reason she decided to launch same-day delivery in New York, her core market. Keeping up with the fast-pace of larger companies like the aforementioned Amazon is a happy side effect, though she’s quick to point out their different missions. “Amazon’s customers are looking for everything from books to toilet paper, and they probably want that toilet paper by the end of the day,” she said. “For us, it was more about delivering that personal experience — having customers receive a lovely bag hand-delivered by a messenger, rather than a brown box in the mail.”