fbpx
by Maëlle Viaouet
April 12, 2019

Interview with Franck Delpal, Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at IFM

Every year at the IFM (Institut Français de la Mode, French Institute of Fashion), Franck Delpal teaches entrepreneurs. Impatient people. Eccentric. Relentless. Creative. Every year, ideas, prototypes, and promises queue up to reform the fashion industry. This economist, who is also Director of the Start Program at IFM, believes that entrepreneurship can make a difference, can be a game-changer. New ways to design, to produce, to distribute and to consume are being considered. Quite fortunately. Nowadays, Franck Delpal believes in vintage, in upcycling and in millennials. What shape will the entrepreneurship and fashion of tomorrow take?

“Our job for a few years now has been to make the entrepreneurial ecosystem understand that high-potential projects can grow in the fashion sector, and to make the fashion world understand how the startup system works.”

Franck Delpal, Responsable du programme IFM Entrepreneurs

the interview

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

When was your first encounter with fashion?

FRANCK DELPAL

This can be traced back to a long time ago! As you know it, I currently work for the IFM and I arrived here a bit randomly. One could say that it is fate. One day, I was reading Le Monde and drinking coffee. I put the coffee cup on the newspaper, then I took back the newspaper and the coffee had left a stain in the shape of a circle, and that circle surrounded a classified ad. I read it. The words said: we’re looking for an economist who is interested in the fashion sector and in consumer trends. I thought: that’s me. I applied, and it’s been 10 years that I am a permanent teacher, and 5 years as the head of the entrepreneurship program. So, between what I meant to do, and what the market asked for, the stars have aligned!

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

You are today the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at IFM, and an economist. Why did you choose the fashion sector for your career?

FRANCK DELPAL

Before the IFM, I worked for a consultancy firm involved in analyzing how lifestyles and consumer trends evolve, and, to put it a bit pedantically, everything that pertains to consumption fantasy: how to explain why people want to buy this product or that brand…
And fashion is an amazing playground; the way a brand manages to inspire desire in a customer, that gets me interested.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

You have witnessed the newest generations of business founders. Is there one entrepreneurial story that would deserve to be told?

FRANCK DELPAL

I could tell you about a Colombian student’s project. She worked at L’Oréal, in a position, it seems, that was quite daunting, and that involved numbers, analytics, product launches... She finally quitted to join our program and to share her passion for clothing, for the product. At the beginning of the term, she arrived with a few prototypes, essentially a brand revolving around one product, a coat.

Then, in March, during the Fashion Week, she decided to transform her flat into a showroom and to meet buyers. This was quite a success for her, since she signed with Moda Operandi as well as a big store in Japan, Ron Herman. Today, her Maison Alma brand is doing very well: it’s in sales for instance at Bergdorf Goodman, in New York City.

We’ve seen the birth of this project, from a creator who showed a quite fierce determination and will to succeed. One can only be impressed by that kind of profile, the kind who would be ready to move heaven and earth to succeed.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

How does the Start Program at IFM shape its students into entrepreneurs?

FRANCK DELPAL

Above all, we rely on a selection process. It’s at that moment that we take a bet with some profiles. We are looking for people who have a solid project in which we can believe, and who are ready to get started, for whom it’s the right moment and the right amount of maturity.

Afterwards, we try to put the students in contact with the Paris fashion ecosystem. We also need to have them connect with the entrepreneurship ecosystem, since the fashion industry and startups don’t meet often, or at all.
Our job for a few years now has been to make the entrepreneurial ecosystem understand that high-potential projects can grow in the fashion sector, and to make the fashion world understand how the startup system works. For the students, the point is to understand both of these environments‘ inner workings.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

This year, what are the entrepreneurship students worried about?

FRANCK DELPAL

We follow twelve creators for each promotion and there are two promotions per year, so we get to see a lot of projects. As such, we can spot emerging trends. Over the last year, we’ve witnessed a real comeback to the vintage: for the new generations, it’s a way to consume that is alternative, more affordable and environmentally sustainable. There really is an empowerment of the circular economy.

The other type of project that showed strong presence belonged to the Digital Native Vertical Brands (DNVB), which are digital native brands that get launched at first only on the internet, and which are based on an Instagram community of followers. It’s a business model that is structured without any intermediary between the brand and the eventual customer.

In the future, sustainable development in all its forms is going to find a way in. There’s a real demand for better practice or good practice, and this can be achieved through innovative materials and cost-cutting processes which imply less shipping, a lesser environmental impact. The other big change we can expect is the change carried by the younger generations, for whom fashion consumption doesn’t take the same shape as the previous ones: ownership may be less fundamental. So we can anticipate shared changing rooms, and new ways to valorize a product, all along its lifecycle. Since we spot defects in a market, by doing entrepreneurship, we try to solve a problem. Whether in BtoC (Business to Consumer) or in BtoB (Business to Business), we notice quite a lot of « pain points », so people who are looking to innovate already have a neat roadmap to follow.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

When it comes to business creation, is there a perfect way to proceed?

FRANCK DELPAL

Most of entrepreneurs begin to attend IFM with a precise idea in mind and the point consists in giving shape to that idea and challenging it: are they really the right person to carry that project, or are there going to be difficulties?
We have a deck of cards to challenge everyone’s ideas. We also need to discover every entrepreneur’s motive and base to build a project on.

The student must have made a full diagnosis, anticipated and understood the market needs (their external perspective) and at the same time, conditions must have been met to start (their internal perspective).
Entrepreneurship isn’t a comfortable stance: one must be at ease with themselves and master all aspects of their project. One shouldn’t hesitate to admit that they don’t know.

Otherwise, there is one rule to be a good entrepreneur: the faster you can test the waters in the market, the better, even though this rule is difficult to apply in fashion. It is inspired from the book Lean Startup, which says: if you don’t feel shame when you look at your first product, it’s because you launched it too late.

I believe that one needs to get exposed to reality. You need to go out and see what happens. It’s only based on your market feedback that you can correct the process. In fashion, it’s difficult to launch an unfinished product because you also have to care about brand image. Therefore, you need to learn that you can’t obtain everything. Players rarely hold all the cards.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

What mutations to expect in the fashion industry?

FRANCK DELPAL

There’s already a generational change at work, with customers who exhibit values and lifestyles separate from anything we’ve known before. Fashion is a sector experiencing very deep, fast mutations, able to turn things upside down. Companies should stay watchful to remain relevant at all times.

My feeling is that the game-changers, who we believe are powerful and everlasting, may not last decades. Everything can topple. Because customers express a need for new approaches, a need for renewal which is consubstantial to fashion.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

What’s your tip to reassure your students, to encourage them to go on despite their doubts?

FRANCK DELPAL

When some of us feel a bit let down or doubtful, helping one another is always a good antidote. You seek reassurance with people in the same situation as yours.

You mustn’t necessarily seek ignorant optimism, you also need to be able to spot problems. One of our speakers often says: « any news before you launch your company is good news ». That’s true. It’s better to spot weaknesses beforehand rather than when you’re started.
Most often, the project gets feedback from customer discontent: hearing bad news may be an opportunity.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

What's your definition of creativity?

FRANCK DELPAL

Creativity can take several shapes. In fashion, people tend to think about the person who designs. And yet, I know managers who are capable of creativity too. I see creativity therefore as a sort of discrepancy, as the ability to see things from a different point of view.

Nowadays, in fashion, structures are developing with creativity at the core of their process. People who are stricto sensu « creators » can get access to incubators, to accelerators, but creativity also takes shape in distribution, with technology. All the links of fashion’s value chain (production, PR, sales…) can potentially show innovation and creativity

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

As a fashion customer, how do you consume?

FRANCK DELPAL

I am a bit atypical, since I love vintage. I like the timeless. As you have noticed, the men’s fashion market, a market of pieces, isn’t like the women’s market, a market of looks. As such, you know what you’re looking for, what you’re in need of: a parka, a sheepskin jacket, some jeans… You buy an item with a story. So I let my heart decide for me, I let some pieces enter my life, I have consideration for them. I’m not a compulsive buyer, far from it, I expect to be at once seduced and convinced by a proposition, by a beautiful cut, a beautiful fabric, something long-lasting. It’s almost luxury nowadays, when you consider how much weight mass market and fast fashion carry.

I tend to prefer « less but better ». Which means a lot of vintage, because you think to yourself: an item that has already lasted several decades could last quite longer even. Whereas a product with planned obsolescence, badly designed, won’t have a duration lasting more than the season. Regarding this, customers are really showing awareness, there’s a real engagement to respect environment.

When it comes to companies, they can work on product lifecycle and transform it entirely, as a way to create worth, to win the customer’s loyalty and incite them to come back to the store. APC has been doing this for years: customers bring their jeans back and don’t throw them away.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

What brand or creator do you tend to praise and recommend?

FRANCK DELPAL

I am biased towards legacy brands. I specifically think about the distributors who source these brands. At Jinji’s, a multibrand (rue des Canettes), you can find old Japanese jeans, American pilot jackets, amazing items.
When to buy new items, I go to Carhartt. This brand has a workwear character, which means that the products are long-lasting.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

Do you have an always-handy quotation?

FRANCK DELPAL

It is a quotation that I borrowed from the speaker in charge of teaching finance. He often repeats this sentence: « cash is king ». A fundamental principle. In other words: liquidity is the core asset of a company, especially in the fashion industry. In this industry, there’s always big needs for working capital: people need to make expenses before generating any money, and this is a phase than can last weeks or months. If you think about your business management in terms of disposable cash, this can help you survive.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

What does the future hold for you or the Program?

FRANCK DELPAL

I am currently working on video formats and on topics including the impact of the digital on entrepreneurship. Nowadays, open source matters a lot, so I want to use formats which benefit everyone because of their lesser price and their availability anywhere, anytime.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

Any advice for our readers, or for those who might be tentative about starting their business?

FRANCK DELPAL

When people have an idea, they talk it through with other people, and I think that there are two extremes to avoid: not speaking about it enough, because you fear an idea theft, or asking for opinion too much. You must find a balance between relying on yourself and trusting your relatives. The right thing is to look for experienced opinions, to present the project around you and put people’s words into perspective: what are the motives behind each opinion?
Also, to start into fashion, which is a very peculiar sector, you need to immerse yourself into it, you need to stay alert, to read the press (the Business of Fashion or Fashion Network newsletter), to listen to podcasts such as Entreprendre dans la mode (Being an Entrepreneur in Fashion). In a nutshell, don’t venture blind into it.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

What question do you get asked the most?

FRANCK DELPAL

There’s this joke, if I may call it so, when an entrepreneur tells you: I got it all, I know how I’m going to launch my thing, and the only remaining question is whether I should choose SAS or SARL status. To me, that’s how you can spot who is in the wrong: this is not a real issue. I don’t believe that a legal status could really be an obstacle to business creation. There are real topics on which to focus: branding, positioning, key differentiators, the business model… and all the rest is just logistics, it can be done in less than a day. What is going to win people over is the project itself, not the fact that you’ve registered a legal status.

TOWNHOUSE (LÉA)

One last word about TOWNHOUSE WORK/SHOP?

FRANCK DELPAL

Very favorable impression! I’ve seen the birth of this project, which isn’t a project anymore. It’s extremely moving. Especially since this platform is ready, it has matured, and it has a remarkable attention to detail. It’s the right time to exist, given everything that is going on on the Paris retail stage!