The Fashion Business

The Fédération Française du Prêt à Porter Féminin has a mission to guide the development of fashion talent. Every year FFPAPF accompanies 600 companies with a variety of challenges, principally export, financing and business strategy. As Business Services Director at the Fédération, the dynamic Priscilla Jokhoo is dedicated to nurturing fashion entrepreneurs. She generously gave MAN some time to discuss what she does.

(This piece was featured in our SS16 magazine - september 2015)
How did you get your job?

I went to see my predecessor at the Fédération and said, “I want to work with you.” He told me, “I’m not hiring.” Four years later he retired and he thought of me despite the differences in our age and career paths. I had explored a few different sectors before ending up in fashion, and the only common ground between my different jobs was working as a “business developer,” which consists of getting hold of a project and bringing it to fruition, whether improving an existing project or starting from scratch to create something financially viable. I studied at business school so I have a very practical side. After a detour with the geeks who showed me that anything is possible, I ended up at the Fédération with the avowed intention of bringing a breath of fresh air. My office has been full for the past three years so the word of mouth must be good.

What does your job consist of ?

The Business Department aims to help growing creative brands. We have three different hubs: business and sales, product marketing and finance. We used to be centered solely on financing, but as I’m not a banker by training, I enlarged the department so we could really work on companies’ global strategies. Concretely I begin with a two-hour, personalized interview after which I create a first diagnosis, an “inventory” of the business. I look at the company’s weaknesses and what can be improved. I then tell them the work that has to be done – and brands accept it or not. In general it takes them a bit of time to digest our first meeting, because I’m very direct and often hit where it hurts. The service is relatively well-known now so I’m lucky enough to not have to go looking for brands; they come to me.

Do you only work with new brands?

I have a portfolio of brands at different stages of their development. I position myself more toward “creative brands,” even if I don’t like the term, though it’s not as bad as “young designer.” What interests me is the product and the way it’s sold. I work with around 100 businesses.

What happens after that first interview?

I always leave it up to them get back in touch because I know that they all work 22 hours a day and that if they come at a time when they’re not really available then we won’t work well. I try to juggle my schedule so I’m available when they are because I know that there are companies with enormous potential. There’s no preset rhythm. I can see a designer 20 times in three months and then not see them for two years, or have four meetings a year, which is the average. If I no longer have any meetings with a brand then I know that everything is going OK.

In concrete terms, how do you help brands?

Take the example of a designer who for one reason or another has a sudden growth spurt for his brand, as so often happens in fashion. His order book explodes. He’s super happy, but doesn’t have the money to buy his raw materials, produce the pieces and guarantee delivery. We meet up and I do a financial inventory, money being the cornerstone. At this stage I’m in “fireman” mode, so above all I study the debt capacity, particularly as banks are even more inflexible than before. I offer the designer a factual strategy with at least three possibilities for financing. And then the “fun” part arrives: the brand has to deliver documents such

as a business plan, balance sheet, statements of account, liquidity plan, etc. These are the kind of documents that are rarely up to date in small, understaffed companies, so it’s difficult. I mistreat them by asking for thousands of documents. Very occasionally, if I have to speed things up, I will do this part myself, because the time spent learning how to do these things can sometimes put the company in danger – and it’s not because I take care of things that the company is no longer in charge of its own destiny. If they put me at a cutting table I’d take three weeks to do what they do in three hours – each to his own specialty! From there I put together the dossier that includes the name of a PR company, production costs, the list of stores in which the brand is available, and so on. And then I let my financial friends know that I have some business for them.

You sort of write subtitles for the financiers?

Exactly! I’m a translator, so I have to speak a language understood as easily by financiers, as the people at the brands and PR companies. It makes everyone’s job easier. I also bring a sort of overall endorsement that means the people I’m in contact with are more ready to accept the challenge. The more we go forward, the more we ask questions about quality and the better our long-term vision becomes.

Who are your partners?

Principally business centers and banks. Three years ago we founded three guarantee funds financed by the DEFI [Development of Employment and Training in Industry] and the Ministry of Industry. These funds are managed by IFCIC [Institute for the Finance of Cinema and Cultural Industries]. We work closely together to give businesses access to credit to finance production and bring banks a 70% guarantee. I’m the first stop for this process. PIE [Paris Initiative Business] can also call on me. I’m also close to BPI France [Public Investment Bank] or COFACE [credit insurance group], which manages for the state the public guarantees that aim to encourage and support businesses’ international development. I also work with Ateliers de Paris [a business advice center], chambers of commerce, and others. We work with Paris city hall and we have just doubled the prize money for the design grand prix and beginner’s prize.

What’s a typical day for you?

I don’t really have one. My schedule changes all the time. I have an enormous number of meetings. I see different brands every day. This morning, for example, I had a meeting with a brand, then had lunch with someone from the shoe federation who told me about its work and with whom we have a project, than I was at a DEFI committee. Tomorrow I’m going to the entrepreneurs show to see two brands. I see as many brands as public bodies to make links, plans and services between them. It’s a long-term project; sometimes it can take as long as four years to put a useful tool in place for businesses.

With so many requests for help, you can’t accept everyone!

That would be impossible – I get e-mail requests every day. If I get a business plan that makes sense, I agree to meet people from the brand. Because being able to translate everything,
the intangibles, such as brand image, into a business plan is already a really good start. It means that they are business leaders. If they manage to get me involved, then they’re going to do it with others. This generation of “young designers” is extremely intelligent; they have no boundaries, their playing field is global. I’m happy to see brands, notably, MAN and WOMAN brands, evolving and becoming more established, because their products are good and their narrative is too. But it also happens that I have to tell people to give up because they are getting their entourage into debt for nothing. Then they either listen or they don’t.

What’s the next step?

We’re currently organizing the first edition of an annual trade show called Traffic, which will take place this year on November 4-5 at the Carreau du Temple in Paris. It is the first services show for fashion brands. Incidentally, the visual identity was created by a brand: Études Studio. The idea is to bring brands and the Fédération’s network together. The show is a response to the challenges faced by fashion brands. They will find all the services they need there, all the tools and systems necessary to their development around five different spaces and a number of discussion areas.

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