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Dossier in Conversation with Not Just A Label

“Fashion finds its freedom in the art of individuals; Not Just A Label is a place for those who find their way off the beaten track, allowing them to express themselves in a community where everything goes…break the mould, redefine the expected, re-colour the palette, inspire and be inspired.”

Launched in 2008 and founded by Stefan Siegel, NOT JUST A LABEL (NJAL) has infiltrated the fashion hierarchy with a democratic approach to style: an online, fee-free designer showcase. The site enables avant-garde and emerging designers to gain worldwide exposure in a carefully curated and respected forum, regardless of financial restrictions. Additionally, the company introduces these select designers to important industry leaders—from boutiques to fashion houses to editors to celebrities—fostering a new generation of sustainable, conscientious and vanguard talent.

Sarah Sulzberger Perpich: What did you do before NJAL?

Stefan Siegel: Everything and nothing. After my studies, I worked in fashion, media, finance and advertising while discovering the world…

Sarah: Have you always been interested in fashion?

Stefan: I grew up in Northern Italy, was educated by fashionable parents and wore a navy uniform for three years. I would say so.

Sarah: When you were young, who were the most influential people in your life as far as steering you towards fashion and style?

Stefan: To be honest, I never really had idols or big role models in my life. Since I was little, I always tried to swim against the mainstream, which wasn’t always easy. I always tried to be different, and I think fashion gives you a great opportunity to show who you are, and who you are not. Clothes make the man.

Sarah: When and why did you decide to create NJAL?

Stefan: NJAL is based on an idea that came to my and my brother’s minds when we realized that the internet can be used as a networking platform for future fashion designers and those who are ready to present their collections to the world. The industry lacked such a platform. We wanted recruiting and trend scouting for fashion designers to be carried out on NJAL without geographical limits…literally a global showcase.

Sarah: Is NJAL free for designers?

Stefan: Yes, completely.

Sarah: What is your role in NJAL?

Stefan: Initially my brother did the website and myself the rest. Today, we have numerous people helping us with the daily management of NJAL. However as founder, I am still in charge of mostly everything, from exchanging printer cartridges to deciding who our next celebrity curator will be.

Sarah: What of the many different aspects of NJAL do you enjoy most?

Stefan: I gave up my previous job because I felt like a lemming. I was on autopilot. NJAL is almost like a blank canvas; we can do what we want. We have our goals, but there are so many ways to achieve them. If we feel we want to start a trend, like selling Lady Gaga’s dresses, we can develop that in weeks. When Lindsay Lohan launched her online shop based on our idea, we were already working on our next project.

Sarah: What is the focus of NJAL?

Stefan: Our main focus is and will always be to nurture the upcoming talents of tomorrow. We provide an outlet for talent to blossom; a place where visionaries meet collaborators dedicated to the creative spirit of fashion. The platform targets graduates and avant-garde fashion designers, and connects them to every fashion aficionado around the world.

Sarah: How many brands do you carry and from what regions of the world?

Stefan: Currently we represent over 2,800 designers from 44 countries. The price-point is comparable to other high-end designer houses. Every item displayed on THE SHOP is unique or part of a small production. Even if prices seem very steep, we believe it is more valuable and eco-friendly to buy an item you can keep for more seasons. Young designers recognize the responsibility in creating sustainable fashion. By applying artisan craftsmanship, they create products that have classic values with longer-lasting qualities. We hope that consumers and buyers will soon recognize this opportunity.

Sarah: You say that you are a “platform” for graduate designers, and that they don’t need a physical PR rep and space. Aren’t you in fact, when showcasing them, acting as both an online PR and commerce site?

Stefan: Yes. We have scouted numerous unknown designers, exposed them on NJAL’s cover page and 24 hours later, their collection was on its way to a Vogue or Dazed shoot. NJAL has become a central element for stylists and editors to discover young talent. We wanted to demonstrate that initial PR can be given for free—no entry hurdles for a designer regardless of his or her education and location.

Sarah: Because you cut out the middlemen, does any designer now have an equal opportunity to become a part of your site?

Stefan: No. We have a very thorough quality control in place. However, our selection is based on talent, quality, sustainable production, market environment and revenue opportunities, never politics.

We try to attend the most interesting fashion weeks around the world, all major graduate shows and we do extensive online research to discover the most promising talents. Who makes it on the cover of the website is a decision we make together. It is very subjective, although we never base our decision on where they come from, how well-known their brand is or for other reasons not connected to the design process itself. We leave politics to the establishment. Some of our best designers never attended a school and come from regions we would have never thought of. However, we have to say that London is still the place we find the largest number of designers for NJAL.

Sarah: Is the site celebrity driven?

Stefan: Not at all, it is all about the designers. However we have to adapt to the current market, and if the only way for a young designer to sell is to have Britney Spears wear them first, so be it. In the end, we can love or hate them, but in our case a big thank you has to go to our supporting celebrities. From fashion-revolutionist Lady Gaga to supermodel Lara Stone, Paris Hilton, Taylor Swift and LaChapelle muse Amanda Lepore…fashion journalist Diane Pernet as well as Maria Luisa’s mastermind Robin Schulié, they all made a difference. They helped us to dictate individualism. They started to make consumers reflect on what they buy and most importantly, they showed us there is an alternative to the high street.

Sarah: Can you tell us a little about your pop-up shop? Did designers make appearances and was it successful?

Stefan: Yes it was great. It was our first ‘offline’ event, and it was a great way for us and our designers to meet press and buyers. We are planning another one for early spring.

Sarah: I also read about your idea of fashion giving back. Are you currently involved with any green charities?

Stefan: We actively support sustainable fashion. Most of our projects support the idea of ‘green fashion’. Many of our designers already produce locally, use fair trade or organic materials and try to preserve old production methods. Deceleration of fashion is a key goal for NJAL.

Sarah: What do you hope to incorporate into your website and company in the future?

Stefan: I wish I could tell you…

Sarah: What are your goals for the next year, five years?

Stefan: Challenge the fashion klingons for interstellar domination!

Sarah: What is it like to work in an industry that changes every five seconds, and what’s your trick for staying on top?

Stefan: Does it really change every five seconds? I feel it is antiquated; it is slow; it takes itself too seriously and therefore to stay on top, you have to challenge the habits. You have to be willing to break the mould and re-invent yourself again and again…

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