Bullish for Fashion Week: 3 Surprising Career Philosophies from Designers

It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission

According to my dad, that’s something they say in the Navy.

In an institution in which, literally, everyone’s job has a manual covering every possible eventuality, you really can’t get an exception made for your brilliant idea. (What if the boat sinks?!) So, if you’ve got a brilliant idea: it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.

Here’s one of my favorite stories of clever rule-breaking. From a Harvard Business Review interview with Kenneth Cole:

 

In the early 1980s, there were two ways of addressing shoe buyers. One could take a room at the Hilton Hotel with about 1,100 other companies, where the buyers would walk all the rooms. Or one could take a big fancy showroom near the hotel. I didn’t really have the resources to afford either. So, on a whim, I called a friend who was in the trucking business and asked to borrow one of his 40-foot trailers. Then I called the mayor’s office and said, “Excuse me, how does one get permission to park a trailer on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 56th Street?” And they said, “Sorry, son, they don’t. This is New York. You get permission only under two circumstances: If you’re a utility company servicing our streets, or if you’re a production company shooting a full-length motion picture.) So I hung up the phone and changed the name of my company to Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc., and the following morning I filed for a permit to shoot a motion picture called The Birth of a Shoe Company. I opened for business on December 2nd. I had a cameraman, stanchions, and klieg lights. Within two and a half days, I had sold 40,000 pairs of shoes. And the company today is still Kenneth Cole Productions to remind us of the importance of resourcefulness and problem solving, and that the best solution is rarely the most expensive and almost always the most creative.

Apparently, you can do anything if you make a movie of it. Or, more generally, if you exploit the rules for all they’re worth.

See Bullish: How to Sell Without Selling for a less impressive (but still clever, I think) story about marketing a business with no money.

Somewhat ironically, Fashion Week occurs just as the season ends for my favorite look — wearing a bikini while holding a work session with my laptop on my balcony (see Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE.)

And yet, I’ve enjoyed researching and writing this column. Molly and I often talk about how you can’t make it in the art world if all you want to do is make art -you’re running a business, and it takes a fiendish work ethic and the willingness to look outside your own field for ideas and expertise.

The fashion world seems to operate in much the same way: unless you’re born into a famed fashion family, you’ll have a hard time making it in fashion if all you care about is fashion.

As always, the magic ingredients are an undeniable expertise in your field (generally developed through difficult and solitary single-mindedness), surrounded by a penumbra of fiendish hard work, networking skills, marketing acumen, comfort discussing and asking for money, ballsiness, and willingness to circumvent rules and requirements for a higher purpose.

Send in your questions to bullish@thegloss.com or follow @jendziura on Twitter. See a Bullish archive he

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    • Tiffany B

      Loved the article! Definitely jammed pack with great information on how to make it in the business from someone who has made it. The last advice of not following the rules or finding a loop hole wasn’t something I had thought of as to being successful.