Having a girl in the fashion know is a powerful tool to have in your corner, and Kelly Helfman is one powerful lady. Show Director of WWDMAGIC, PROJECT Womens and FAME, Helfman runs the fashion trade show circuit and helps stores pick the trends we shop for every season. Many times, those looking to work in fashion go straight to the design, buying or marketing side; however, Kelly holds a unique position that is easily tied to all three. Now, she’s giving us a look behind the fashion curtain…
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO FASHION?
Besides the fact that I was always a shopping addict as a kid and won “Most Original” in 8th grade, my mother owned a vintage clothing store called Q-Cumbers in our hometown outside of Los Angeles while I was in high school. I would buy for the store, mark up the merchandise and work the floor. It was the perfect rouge retail education.
YOU FIRST WORK WITH A SHOE COMPANY AND ALSO IN VINTAGE FASHION. HOW DID YOU MAKE THOSE TRANSITIONS?
After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2003, I started working for the footwear brand London Sole out of their Los Angeles location, running their e-commerce business. During that same time, I found an investor and started my own vintage-inspired contemporary collection called Kween. […] It was a really exciting time for me!
WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE ELSE LOOKING TO START THEIR OWN COMPANY?
Do your homework, write a business plan and get an investor so you can do it right. It is important to really study the market you are targeting. We know so many celebs or designers who just start any old brand without really asking the questions, “Will this sell? Is the product worth the price? Do my end consumers have the budget for these prices? Will the math work? Will I see ROI? Do I have the capability to produce large orders or small minimums?” You have to really be disciplined and commit to the plan.
YOU NOW WORK FOR WWDMAGIC. WHAT LED YOU THERE?
After working on Kween for a couple years, I had an acquaintance that worked at MAGIC and asked if I would ever be interested in moving to a more corporate environment. It sounded interesting and of course I knew of MAGIC being in the industry. So I learned more about the opportunity and went for the interview…what did I have to lose?! The sound of getting a steady paycheck, working in a more structured environment and still in the industry I loved sounded great to me. I got the offer, and the rest was history. In 2006 I became a part of WWDMAGIC, the premier women’s show during MAGIC Market Week working with the Junior and Young Contemporary brands. It was the best decision I ever made.
HOW DO YOU KEEP UP TO DATE WITH ALL SIDES OF THE BUSINESS?
Every day starts with reading your trades and key news outlets. I dedicate at least 30 minutes each morning (while having coffee) to catch up with the industry. Whether it be WWD, The Business of Fashion, New York Times or the Zoe Report, your knowledge on the industry will set you apart from all the others. Oh, and Google Alerts of course! Set them up specific to your needs.
I also suggest a separate Instagram account to follow all the key brands, stores and influencers to keep updated. I keep it separate from my personal so it does not clog up my feed. I know first when Wildfox is launching a new line, American Apparel is closing all doors or that we had a healthy Black Friday in the industry.
WHAT ARE SOME UPCOMING TRENDS WE SHOULD HAVE ON OUR RADAR FOR SPRING 2017?
For ready-to-wear it is all about mixing prints. Think the current Gucci campaign. Large statement arms like shoulder volume or bell sleeves are coming back strong. Denim is now straight leg and non-stretch, no more skinny or tapered bottoms. As for accessories, wristlets and ring handles are the go-to trends for handbags. Rose gold and champagne are your new neutrals.
WHO ARE SOME NEW DESIGNERS WE SHOULD CHECK OUT?
We have a great new Australian brand at WWDMAGIC called Morrisday the Label which has trendy romantic styles at a great price point. EVIDNT is a new trend-driven denim brand that will be launching at WWDMAGIC which is affordable and great quality.
WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
It is very rewarding to see a new emerging designer launch at MAGIC in a small way, and in a few years they have a large booth and are in major retail stores. I feel a part of their path, and that our show was a large contribution in their success, as we provided the opportunity to be able to make those connections and grow their business.
AND THE TOUGHEST?
Floor planning. When placing all of the brands/designers on the show floor, it is similar to merchandising a store. Brands want to be placed next to other designers they feel they could sit with at retail while also considering price points and distribution. When a buyer walks the show floor, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to shop.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE HAVING A SOCIAL PRESENCE WHILE STILL REMAINING PROFESSIONAL?
It is not easy, I would be lying if I said it was. But it is ALL about balance. […] The balance is key but easier said than done. My husband often tells me to get off my phone when I am answering work emails at 9 pm. But I love what I do, and I want to be a great example for my daughter. I want to show her you can have a successful career you love and also have a family. We can have it all.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ANYONE LOOKING TO GET INTO FASHION?
Be persistent yet patient. Go after what you want. Work for the dream company. But do not expect to move fast or have the ideal career immediately. It takes time and patience is key.
I started at MAGIC 11 years ago with an entry level position and worked my way up. It took time, patience and a lot of hard work. It was all extremely worth it. This industry can come off glamorous but it is not always glamour. It is hard work and know that you are willing to do the work. That attitude will set you apart from the others.