Partnership: Find a partner or team that helps you shine where you excel, but also can manage the tasks that are not your strength.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing AJ MAJUMDAR. AJ is co-Founder, Area Stars The design team behind Area Stars takes its inspiration from travels around the globe, and interpreting modern and traditional elements into handmade ready to wear and accessories. The brand works with the most sought-after artisans and factories to ensure that each piece embodies a sense of personal luxury.
The duo behind the brand are industry veterans Scott Sussman and AJ Majumdar. Scott has an extensive background in product development of handbags and accessories, while AJ has spent much of his career focused on ready to wear. They have had executive roles at Saks Fifth Avenue, 7 for all Mankind, Ralph Lauren, Lord and Taylor, Botkier and Sperry. They also own a multi-line showroom in NY, Scout HK, where they help other developing and established brands grow their businesses. as founded in
Area Stars is available at areastars.com and carefully selected luxury and national retailers such as Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Free People and Rent the Runway and the finest boutiques worldwide.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a seasoned fashion industry executive, I found myself regularly launching and growing other people’s brands, and after some time buyers from national retailers would come to me asking for specific designs and products, and I would share these ideas with brands I represented. Unfortunately, the brands I represented were unable to meet the needs of these buyers, and so I decided, along with my partner, Scott Sussman, to take the projects on. Luckily, we succeeded, with our first collection being launched into many national and online retailers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
Our most interesting story is also our most humbling. The massive growth online retailer, RentTheRunway.com, who already buys our jewelry and limited handbags, is launching our first-ever clothing collection in the Spring of 2020. This is especially unique, as their customer base has been built off of women who are seeking special occasion dresses and accessories. Our clothing collection is decidedly bohemian and casual in nature, so we were very excited to learn that they felt we filled a void for their customer and are looking forward to our launch soon.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As a first-generation Indian-American, I had my own familial and personal thoughts on working with factories and artisans from India. In the beginning, we spent a great deal of time and money traveling the globe to find alternatives to India, mostly focusing on China. However, we stumbled upon some wonderful artisans that make some of our most elevated handmade jewelry, handbags and now clothing. On a recent visit to India, we met with these factories and now are working with these amazing artisans. The funny part about this is that I had many misconceptions about the quality of products and follow up from people that share my heritage, yet in the end, they have been some of our best booking collections.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Area Stars clothing, handbags, and jewelry, are unique in that they are handmade original designs that evoke emotions. This past summer we were invited to be part of an upscale, very curated collection of designers for resort wear and resort accessories, in Miami Beach, at the Hammock Show. This show carries brands at much higher price points than our own, and we were honored to be juried and selected, and then to also be placed at the very front of their trade show at the 1 Hotel South Beach. We had a stellar show and found some wonderful boutiques from across the Caribbean and the Southern US, as well as some very sought after national and online retailer leads.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I wish I listened to this advice more, but our industry has become nonstop due to technology. My one piece of advice would be to unplug more frequently in order to be able to observe consumers more frequently at stores and in everyday life.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We do not speak about this publicly, but privately for the past two years, since our brand’s launch, we have donated 95% of our samples to Housing Works. This organization focuses on finding homes for people affected with AIDS-HIV and sells our collections throughout their NYC locations.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of the first things I learned as an executive at Lord and Taylor, was LISTEN TO LEARN. I use this daily and find that when working with buyers, factories, and team members, it allows me the best chance to grow. Every time I take a moment to stop talking (I am a talker for sure!), I find that I learn so much when I simply listen.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
I see a return to handmade goods that set brands apart from the pack. Consumers of all ages are searching for unique items to wear and to gift, and the artisans we work with are able to execute our vision to convey that unique handmade feel in each of our designs.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
- Vision-have a clear vision for your brand or career path. For example, be able to share your vision in one short paragraph that is comprised of 1–3 sentences.
- Partnership-find a partner or team that helps you shine where you excel, but also can manage the tasks that are not your strength. My partner, Scott, is incredibly talented at visual merchandising and has the strongest taste level I have encountered. He always makes our collections look better whether at our showroom or while we are on the road.
- Funding-make a plan that is 3–5 years and shows what the true expenses will be. Personally, I have struggled with this due to the major shifts in our industry and have found that our expenses are much higher than expected, and profits are less. We are blessed with our incredible growth, but it has come at a steep price financially.
- Distribution- Often we in the fashion industry want to focus on large, upscale national retailers, which are wonderful, but also very costly to work with. Alternatively, find multiple channels of distribution.
- Exit strategy-consistently know what it will take for you to be happy to leave the business or sell the business, and work towards always knowing the best and worst case scenarios. For us, we have a very specific vision in mind of how we will eventually shrink our overhead and focus on less clients that have a higher return.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
Our industry needs to celebrate new and smaller brands as we often give the larger national and global brands too much space in retail and online and thus give away our power to evolve with our consumers.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Area Stars was born to empower women of all backgrounds and shapes to BE A STAR IN THEIR OWN AREA. We feel we have started a movement, and hope that it will continue to grow.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!