MAy 8, 2017

"Marketing and Community Outreach"

Attendees: Sara Longo (@sararenaynay), Victoria Lopez (@ediecompany), Aire Plichta Reese (@sparkleeveryday), Paula Minydzak (@kickattire), Kelly Arbogast (@madeinpgh),  Sara Bauknecht (@sarahb_pg), Sarah Sokoloski (@sarsoko), Loun-Loun Chua (@lounytoon), Elysia Panda (@elysiapandapgh)


{ Introduction }

It is an exciting time in our city, so it is time to discuss how we can evolve the [style] industry here.

During the last discussion we had asked where everyone’s interest in fashion came from. For Elysia, whether it was sketching at a young age or during her as a fashion entrepreneur and business owner, model, or even photographer, she pursued these things because she loved fashion, not necessarily because she was the most qualified.

Now, there needs to be a place for fashion fanatics who need the resources to grow and scale. We need to unite the people who want to pursue careers in fashion but do not necessarily know how to do so in this city. There is talent in here, but we need to know how to showcase it.


( Ice Breakers )

What does the word “style” mean to you?

Sara B: Style is the way you live. Whether it is clothing, beauty, or interior design. Interesting approaches to how you try to beautify yourself.

Kelly: How you exude yourself.


What is your favorite item from your wardrobe?

Paula: I have a Jones NY dress that I have had for many years. It is that perfect piece that can be anything you want it to be.  More than anything, it has an incredible fit.  

Sara L: My necklace that I wear every day. It has a spiritual and family connection. It doesn’t always go with everything, but it is a piece that I always wear because of what it means to me.  

Aire: As most people may know, my wedding dress. Since wearing it I have had the skirt removed, but the remaining top is my favorite piece of clothing.  


What is your number one hope for the Pittsburgh style/fashion industry one day?

Kelly: I would like to see a bunch of people turn up for a fashion event. I went to a launch party several days ago which was great, but it would be even better if we can one day get to a place where fashion events in the city had a big turn out.

Aire: Cohesion. Right now everything is a bit all over the place, and it would be nice to have a place where I know where to send people when they need something fashion related.

Sara B:  A Fashion event that takes people to the next level. I attended a fashion show in New York City once, and I was sitting next to an editor who turned to me and said “nothing means anything unless it can help the designer sell.” I would like to see greater opportunities for small designers here in Pittsburgh to sell in boutiques and even larger corporations like Dick’s or Modcloth. It [events and shows] should be to showcase talent and help designers grow.


Once again, participants expressed frustration – as has happened in previous discussions – that fashion shows are not always in the benefit of the designers, yet they continue to be a large expense for them (models, make up, and other preparation). Pittsburgh needs to develop programs with a direct intention to benefit designers.


I’ve asked this criticial question before and I’m curious to know how returning attendees may have refined this answer and how new attendees would respond. As we think about marketing the Pittsburgh Style Industry, who is the primary targeted audience?

Paula: It should be something that is defined by product and, in this case, our group of products.

Aire: Struggled a bit with this question at first, and I have definitely gone back and forth between a business and consumer focus. Ultimately, however, the focus should be on those who are looking for resources. To be able to point them to someone who can assist and who can do things well.


Could be a place for people who seek resources and to show what people in the industry are doing.

Aire: There is an element of helping and being a good way to get your foot in the door if this is a space in which you want to grow.

Elysia: A business focus is less risky. For example, we are all here because we are looking for resources.

Paula:  Can we create a referral network like a directory?

Elysia: The network here is something that organically happened and it is something we can grow (there is already interest).


From a marketing standpoint, how can we encourage inclusivity without compromising quality?  Is inclusivity a word that we should be using in our situation? Pittsburgh has a unique challenge because we have few best practices, standards, and, more importantly, many different points of view.

Aire: Also something that I have gone back and forth on. But, something to consider are the many changes in fashion – from ModCloth to the Kate Spade & Coach merger. We have to accept that it is a hard time for retailers right now which presents even more challenges for smaller designers, especially here in Pittsburgh.


Think about helping but also maintaining a high standard.

Sara L: Inclusion is an interesting word for Pittsburgh. We use it because we have to, but it is really about defining what it means to grab everyone and include them as we build something from the ground up.

Loun Loun: “Inclusive” is a great word, but to be effective and showcase what the city has to offer we need standards.

Kelly A: Events are a good example; we have different approaches that we can take, but finding a balance in approach is difficult to determine. It is something I can’t answer at the moment. 


Do we think there is a disconnect in the way fashion is being marketed and how it is?

Sara B: Yes. I continue to be frustrated that people who don’t cover fashion are still amazed that we have a fashion scene. We need to hype up our own scene more. We are a humble city, but we need to stand up for our accomplishments (Sara outlined all of the “firsts” that Pittsburgh has had in fashion on a national scale that many people don’t recognize or know about). The goal is to not have to clear the air every time by saying “we know we have sport jerseys BUT …” We have been the first in many ways.

Loun Loun: Yes, don’t humble brag, just brag!

Paula: There is also the element that we [as designers] sometimes go up against each other, but there is place in the market for everyone. If events focused on funding designers and those in the fashion industry by having them come together to fund an event with a specific agenda to discuss products, pricing, etc. that would be very helpful!


The difficulty is always in getting people interested. But, the end goal should always be the benefit of the designers.

 Sara L: A lot of men still continue to be the decision makers, and the majority of people in this industry are females. How do we bridge that gap? What does the word inclusive mean for the mentality of Pittsburgh (Sara highlighted her experience pitching a fashion start-up and being unable to connect with the male audience members).


What are some innovative ways we can market ourselves?

Victoria: Perhaps putting together a look book that can be distributed. This way, we can create a pool of resources to have it be more affordable and efficient.

Paula:  Events are a good place to start, but again the intent should be to find a way to distribute our products to Pittsburgh retailers and other areas. The intent should be to place designers in boutiques.

Aire: If a lookbook is created there needs to be a place to direct people to, whether it is a website, social media, etc. It is the first thing that people are going to look for to find more context, so it would be crucial to have an online presence first.

Elysia:  This all comes back to our brand. The first thing brands have to ask themselves is “who are you?” “Do you have a core understanding of who you are?”

You can’t grow your brand until you know who you are – it is something we go through with all of our clients. It may be beneficial to refine our audience into a smaller group.

Paula: Are we too diverse in what we do?

Sara B.: Things that have been successful have multiple entry points. For example, the CMOA Iris Van Herpen had multiple entry points for the public. They built programming that brought in different groups (whether they had an interest in fashion or not). They had everything from products in the museum store to classes. You may have attended for any one reason, but it created further interest.  It is important to create an overall brand to unite everyone, but also think of like-minded industries to cross-pollinate and provide different entry points.

Aire: Perhaps (in our marketing / website) consumers may not need to have their own section? That is, we may not have the sources to make them the primary focus. The programs need to be well marketed, which may require being more selective.

Loun Loun: A good example of this is 412Food Rescue. They have been very effective in hitting every demographic and providing programming for each group.

Kelly: Another industry that has done this well is real estate. The real estate industry in Pittsburgh has expanded its reach and even started to recognize the power of female consumers.  

Elysia: An approach could be to identify a few strategic partnerships per year. This will allow better relationships with the community.

We have also discussed quality many times throughout this series. The third discussion, specifically, addressed this as a topic. Is there a relationship between money and quality?


Discussion to assess how we bring in people through how they perceive the Pittsburgh style industry.

Aire: What is the person who is on the cusp of attending an event thinking? What could pull them in? We may be too engrossed in it to understand their perspective.

Elysia: Yes, this is understandable, but I may have reached a point of not caring too much about what people think. Developing a brand is putting a stick in the ground and saying “this is what you get,” and people have to decide whether or not it is for them.

Kelly: At the same time, we want to be welcoming. I have a friend who applied to be a stylist for Stitch Fix, but after being rejected from this particular entry point she is now worried about re-entering the fashion industry.


If different entry points exist depending on where people are we need to at least insure that if a certain point is not for them they feel okay coming back.

Kelly: Made in Pgh developed from Fitt Pittsburgh. We saw a gap for a cohesive event calendar of events in the city, so this all grew organically and we were fortunate to receive the support of the Post Gazette who has helped us continue to push it forward.

Elysia: So, what attracted all of you to Style412?

Sara: I moved back to Pittsburgh for second time, and I found that the city had a more stylish and a overall new vibe. When I moved back it peaked my interest, and I wanted to be involved.

Victoria:  The networking and education have been invaluable. Meeting people here, working with Brittney Thieroff and Sarah Collins, were great things for our brand and heightened our quality.


How does quality factor into Ads & Sponsorships?

Sara L.:  It has to be authentic. Everyone who is here or has attended seems authentic, and it may be a good way to describe our brand.  I joined Style412 because of you [Elysia]. It was a personal person reaching out to me and interacting with me, and that made all the difference.

Elysia: If community is actively engaged in promoting (in an authentic way) that would be a good way of promoting.

Aire: In our mission statement we should show who we are and what we stand for. Marketing was an interest to me, and everyone here has a different interest and skillset. Can we turn this into workshops? Getting people together on certain topics. Getting people who move the needle in that area may be a good place to start, and in the process it would elevate everyone’s quality.

Discussion of action items: workshops, speaker series, discussions. How do events fit into all of this? Group agreed that events must have a purpose moving forward, regardless of what they are.


While attracting the primary industry audience will be priority for programming, are there any opportunities for programming to overlap in interest with the greater community as well?

Loun Loun: This is a great place to start – people have been proactive in coming and being engaged, but even then most people can identify their limitations and what they can contribute, so it is important for people participating to start with what they know (for all of us to start with what we know), and to begin with things that are quantifiable and then grow from there. Always start with what you’re comfortable with.

Aire: Yes, and try not to be everything to everyone. 


Closing Remarks:

That’s a wrap for the Style412 discussion series.

Our twelfth meeting will be a public Retrospective event to recap and celebrate the year of discussions..you’re the first to see our Save the Dates, so please Save the Date and stay tuned for the official invite to follow.

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Special thanks to Aire, Victoria, and Loun Loun for being advisors, notetakers and co-moderators throughout this process. Sarah Collins of Rose Coloured Creative who has been at every discussion alongside me and captured every moment in the most magical of ways. And Adda for being our home and conversational flagship!




all photography courtesy of ROSE COLORED CREATIVE