the made founders talk establishment vs emerging talent

As MADE, the platform responsible for launching the careers of Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler, kicks off New York Fashion Week, we ask its founders for their tips on growing your craft into a business.

by Zeyna Sy
Feb 13 2015, 1:05pm

Over the past six years, MADE co-founders Jenné Lombardo, Mazdack Rassi and Keith Baptista have brazenly built up a business that acts as a creative incubator for young designers and creatives. Through the program, curated to allow designers to focus on their craft without the burden of finding funding, they were able to choreograph the careers of some of the industry's biggest names: Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler, Suno and Joseph Altuzarra. Since day one, MADE's founders have upheld their initial vision of being the "creatives for creatives." We took a moment before all the fashion week chaos to reflect on the past and speak about exciting future projects.

As co-founders, each of you contribute something distinctive to MADE. How was this dynamic trio formed?
Rassi: MADE wouldn't exist if one of us were missing. We're all very fortunate to have our own companies: Me with Milk, Jenné with The Terminal Presents and Keith with PRODJECT. It was the perfect storm. When MADE launched, the economy was crashing and a lot of young designers who were just finding their footing were all of a sudden walking on thin ice and weren't getting any calls from editors or buyers. The first conversations were between Jenné and myself, we noticed that Fashion Week was rolling up and what we basically said was - "is there an opportunity to just give these designers a space for a show at Milk and we don't make them pay?" Then the only other person we could call was Keith, who we knew could deliver.

That was such a huge leap of faith, did you think of how much you were risking?
Keith: In retrospect, if we had taken a second to stop and analyse it - we probably would have said, "OK this is crazy!" What we did was purely instinctual - that's what made MADE really successful. There was no business model to start with or questions like, "where is the revenue going to come from?" We all felt there was something that needed to be done to help other creatives in our industry and we just did it.

Initially, did you feel like you had to fight to get credibility from industry heavyweights?
Rassi: People said what we built was disruptive but it was just common sense to us. We built this program outside of the fashion industry in a way. We had this independence, which is really our strength today.
Keith: When MADE was launching, the business wasn't focusing on emerging talent they were focusing on establishment. Since then you have this entire movement about rethinking what it means to place talent with larger companies. The thought process has shifted to where we always thought it should be.

How has MADE Fashion Week been curated differently to what already existed?
Rassi: We really pushed our designers into presentations, at the time that was rare. We were the first to have five presentations at once - previously an editor or a buyer would skip over young designers' presentations for the big shows but by grouping them together it made them think: there's five of them there and if the group at MADE say they're good enough, then its worth seeing. It really helped a lot of amazing designers come out of the program like Joseph Altuzarra, Suno and Public School.

The community and creativity that is produced within the program almost feels collegiate - was that the intention?
Rassi: It's a huge compliment when people say that. We love that energy because it's fresh, its young and there are no boundaries. Our designers go to each other's shows, communicate often and are very collaborative.
Keith: We're here for ideas. If we have the resources or time we don't ever stop helping the designers that were part of our community; with production advice, giving them a free studio for casting or help looking over their collections.

How has the research process changed since the Internet became such a major influence?
Jenné: When we're asked where we found our talent the answer is often the Internet, like a lot of big creative directors today. It used to be referrals, which is still the case, but some of the ones that are a little bit nuttier we happen to find on Instagram or on Tumblr. While their business model may never be as successful, their analytics are their currency. Their audience is staggering.

MADE has done a variety of collaborations in fashion and music. Now you're venturing into sports and tech. What is the importance of collaborating?
Keith: Collaboration has been essential from day one. One of our mantras is "fashion doesn't exist in a vacuum," you need art and music and technology and sports. That's what keeps it interesting and keeps us coming back to the table. If it comes down to doing fashion shows again and again, we would get bored.

What's one of your main focuses this year outside of MADE Fashion Week?
We launched MADE music and that's a really important focus for us this year. A lot of people asked us to do the same thing for musicians that we did for designers. Music was always a very important part of what we did here at MADE whether it was musicians performing at or attending shows or "jam sessions" in the basement. It was part of our culture, so we launched a program with American Express that identifies emerging artists in music and gives them the support they need.


Text Zeyna Sy

New York
New York Fashion Week