Be wary of trends, warns Trina Turk. Trends can lead you astray, creating self-doubt and a cloudy brand image.
That is something Turk won't stand for, believing her clear and consistent branding is one of the main things that sets her apart from others in the contemporary apparel market.
"Our identity within our marketplace is very clear," says the 45-year-old designer and founder of the eponymous fashion line aimed at women age 25 to 50. "The advertising, our retail stores, our web site -- all the parts are cohesive and make a unified statement of what we're about."
Turk's budding $34 million fashion empire is about "California chic." This is a company that, if the sun isn't shining through the windows from the outside, it's radiated from within.
"We're a California-based company with a very strong West Coast sensibility," says Turk. "Much of our inspiration is California as a concept. There's a certain attitude to what we do, a lot of color, a lot of prints. There are influences from many aspects of Los Angeles -- multiculturalism, car culture, surfing, the architecture and climate are all very influential.
"We want to make sure that everything we do reflects our brand -- that California inspiration and a positive, optimistic outlook," she says.
Behind the designs
Turk launched her line in 1995 after design stints at OP, Britannia Jeans and B.U.M. Equipment. Her California sensibilities were nurtured most at OP, where as the girls' and juniors' designer, she created surf prints that kindled her love for printed fabrics. "It has become part of our identity. We're known for doing very graphic, bold prints, and that's something that's directly inspired by surf culture," she says.
Turk's company headquarters are in Alhambra, about 10 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Alhambra has a large Chinese population, which along with L.A.'s many other ethnic communities -- and their various approaches to dress -- also influences Turk's California vision. The eclectic mixing of "high and low," something she calls "very L.A.," has been a theme "that's been driving the contemporary market for pretty much the whole time I've been in business."
For instance, Turk's designs work well in looks that mix designer clothing with vintage apparel, and combinations of sporty and dressy pieces.
The company is even run in a California way, if there is such a thing. Its offices have "a friendlier office environment than many places I've worked in my career," says Turk. "We have a very relaxed environment. It's a pleasant place to come to work."
Inspiring employees isn't difficult because Turk loves her work, and her enthusiasm is infectious. "If you're negative, it's going to trickle down to your employees, but I'm quite happy to come to work every day," she says.
She also looks for the same attitude in her crew. "This sounds really 'ËœCalifornia,' but positive energy and great personality are as important as the skills we look for in the people we hire," Turk says.
Turk says her best decision in her company's history was to open her own retail store. She began with a store in Palm Springs in 2002, followed by one in Los Angeles. A New York store is set to open soon.
"The stores allow us to create an environment to showcase the brand," she says. "It's helped us say who we are."
Even though company-owned retail sales account for only a small portion of revenue (about $4 million of $34 million), they give the company a chance to showcase its entire collection whereas most wholesale accounts only buy part of the collection each season. And when wholesale accounts visit one of the Trina Turk retail stores, "it makes them more inclined to write a bigger order," says Turk.
The stores display the full Trina Turk collection, from $108 knit tops to $600 coats. They are also the only places to find her men's wear, which debuted in 2002. Like her women's wear, it consists of bright, resort-inspired designs. "It may not be something that you want to wear down the street in an urban setting, but when you're on vacation, it's fun," Turk says of her men's collection, which she hopes to begin wholesaling within the next year.
In addition to her retail store openings, Trina Turk just opened a new showroom in downtown L.A.'s Cooper Building. The designer says the corporate showroom will give her greater ability to focus on managing accounts, which can be no easy task when many of your customers are small specialty boutiques.
These accounts often require more time and energy to manage than larger accounts "because the woman who wrote the order is the woman who opens the box," Turk says.
To help ensure the product in that box meets the highest quality standards, Turk keeps an eye on manufacturing by sourcing 80 percent of her production in Los Angeles. Though she relies on Europe for many of her fabrics and Korea for her prints, Turk finds that manufacturing domestically has many rewards. "It allows us to cut to order and not carry an inventory," she notes. "And if we go overseas, we have to place orders earlier, and therefore we're guessing a lot more about the quantities, and size and color breakdowns."
The quality of L.A. manufacturing is excellent, Turk says, and garments look better coming out of the box because they haven't been sitting on a ship for a month.
And when that box is opened by a scrutinizing retail account, you can bet the clothing will be contemporary, but still unmistakably Trina Turk. In her space in the market, trends come and go like the weather, Turk says. And while it's important to be aware of them, "it's more important to stay true to who you are and not get caught up in the trends."
Christian M. Chensvold, Contributing Author