Misha Nonoo has dressed everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Cate Blanchett, Emma Watson, Amal Clooney, and Olivia Palermo in her coveted pieces. But it’s not A-listers that she’s looking to delve into a deeper conversation with—she restructured her entire business to get feedback from all her clients with her mobile-first, direct-to-consumer model. Now the innovative designer has just introduced another game changer: an on-demand manufacturing process. “It’s a project that I’ve been working on since November of last year and the reason it has taken so long is it’s a real operational feat,” Nonoo says. “It took me eight solid months of quality testing, logistical training and software improvement to our backend in order to really say with confidence that I was going to be able to fulfill an order from our website in two days; it was important to me that the timeline was short.”
The idea came about last fall after Nonoo had switched to the direct-to-consumer method and had a strong season in sales. However, she had to compete with major retailers who started slashing their prices earlier and earlier in the season. “But I have inventory that I have to deal with as well and we were still operating on a somewhat seasonal calendar,” she says. “I recognized that inventory and seasonability are things that I don’t believe in. We live in a season-less world at the moment—when it’s freezing outside we have the heat on inside, and in the summer we have air conditioning. Seasonality no longer exists—we are most successful when we launch products when people want to buy them.” Sustainability was another major factor, particularly since Nonoo is aware that the fashion industry is the second largest industrial pollutant in the world. “The efficiently when you operate on the ‘see now, buy now’ model is so much greater than what the traditional fashion cycle operates on,” she says. “It’s all created on demand, so there is no waste.” That method requires less fabric and when too much clothing is produced, it eventually ends up in a landfill. Nonoo no longer drops large collections twice a year; instead she introduces three to four new pieces each month.
The made-to-order method also allows for a greater size range, now from 00 to 14. “It’s much more inclusive because I’m not holding that inventory,” Nonoo says. That sort of feedback and direct access has been one of the most important differences of switching to a direct-to-consumer operation. The spring 2016 collection was the last that was delivered to stores; after that Nonoo closed wholesale accounts with retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman in order to focus on a mobile-first experience. “In going direct-to-consumer I wanted to think about how I align my prices across the board, and now I’m able to bring more value to the consumer,” she says. “We are living in the day of cutting out the middleman to provide pieces that are well priced and a great value.” In turn, she saw how her customers interacted with the brand by being there for every touch point of the shopping experience. “When you work with third party retailers you lose that,” she said. “You have no control over the brands they put you next to, and the way they hang a jumpsuit may not be the way you want it to be done. There are so many reasons that you can’t present your collection the way you would ideally do it.” Thanks to the revolution in e-commerce, designers now have options.
“The amazing thing about interacting with your clients is you have a real relationship with them,” Nonoo says. “When I sold to a third party or wholesaler, it was another situation. Every time I got a different story from everything to fit to what the customers were liking. That was something that was massively lacking in my business. Being able to have that direct dialect is so important to me. We know immediately when something is returned why it was returned and we get feedback every time.” Clients also reach out to the brand directly on social media, and Mishanonoo.com has a page called “Ask Misha” where people ask for advice on what to wear to a wedding to what accessories to pair with an outfit. Client feedback—and being environmentally conscious—led to Nonoo to launch her “Easy 8” collection earlier this year, which makes up the foundation of the collection. The idea is that these season-less, elegant basics are building blocks that every woman should have in her closet. Having quality, timeless pieces means they’ll last long time. “My whole brand ethos is about freedom and giving women the right to live life on their own terms,” Nonoo says. “The idea of ‘Easy 8’ came from this notion that you have your work life and your social life—that is not the way our life is compartmentalized anymore. You go to work and then out to dinner or drinks with your friends, and I wanted to address the fact that women can have looks that are appropriate for work but are also flexible and designed to take them out afterwards or during the day. It’s a uniform that supports your lifestyle. Often your wardrobe has too many options, so it’s about having a chic go-to look that’s not overwhelming. It’s the hero pieces that you go back to time and time again.” The “Easy 8” is updated on an annual basis, with the rest of the collection playing off of it. Nonoo uses feedback from customers to update the pieces. “It’s our version of the 2.0, in a similar way that Apple does with their computers,” Nonoo says. “If you’re operating amazingly on a computer, why are you suddenly giving them a different computer?”
Nonoo has never been one to shy away from technology. She was one of the first designers to embrace the Instagram fashion show with her Spring 2016 ‘Instashow.’ “I was watching the way that media was starting to change and how people were consuming it so voraciously through Instagram,” she says. “Everyone in the front row of my runway shows at the time was viewing the show though their screen. Every time a look came through that they liked, they took a photo and then those were being filtered and put on Instagram.” That triggered an ‘aha’ moment for Nonoo: Instead of worrying about blurry images and how the show was being captured, she could embrace digital media and take the reins herself. A year ago, for Spring 2017, she unveiled her entire collection over Snapchat. With her ‘see now, buy now’ model, people could instantly buy everything there and then. “We used certain traits that were only available in Snapchat at the time to enhance it and it really worked for a presentation. We still use Instagram today to showcase new looks and things that are coming out. Traditionally, maybe we would have gone to a magazine about having an exclusive, but now we’re about going directly to the customer through the social media universe.”
Ideally, Nonoo hopes that the changes she’s making will influence the rest of the fashion industry. “It’s a very important time to become conscious of how we’re contributing to society,” she says. “We have a responsibility to be innovative and think about the products we are putting out there. If people thought about spending their annual fashion show budget differently or how they produce their collection, they could look into artisanal craftsmanship and investing in women’s labor skills in a country somewhere where you can really help the economy. Think about doing things differently.”