Flying Solo returned to New York Fashion Week, presenting their latest collections on Friday, September 7th at 3PM at Pier 59 Studios.
This was their fourth season, with over 70 designers from across the globe, showcasing in a unique collaborative and high-energy format with a wide array of womenswear, menswear and accessories. The show highlights over 340 looks inspired by space-age exploration and breaking borders.
Since its founding, Flying Solo has opened two locations, including the flagship store in SoHo and The Copper Room – catering to VIP clients, major stylists and editors, and celebrities including GiGi Hadid, Alicia Keys, Cardi B and Natalie Portman to name a few. Flying Solo also runs a YouTube channel featuring “A Day in the Life of” their designers, and an insider look at castings, fittings and day-to-day operations.
Launched and fueled by a community of designers in the summer of 2016, Flying Solo is a revolutionary approach to fashion houses. Elizabeth Solomeina, co-founder of Flying Solo said “We asked ourselves, ‘What if we collaborate instead of compete? What if we can create a successful brand that can change retail, and a model that can benefit designers?”
Cult fashion bible NYLON Magazine is their official media partner for this NYFW season, and will be covering the entire show; front house and backstage. Furthering their dynamic list of partnerships, Flying Solo is supported for the fourth season by ECRU New York for hair and make-up.
The digital home for Flying Solo is @flyingsolonyc across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitch, where the show will be live streamed, featuring exclusive designer content.
As the old-fashioned brick-and-mortar retail model continues to struggle and legendary stores like Barneys filed for bankruptcy last year, new retail models that combine membership and the sharing economy, like Flying Solo, where brands pay a flat membership fee and maintain all the profits from retail sales, have become more prevalent in fashion and retail. Flying Solo has had a slow and steady rise to notoriety, being consistently featured in magazines and publications such as Vogue, Elle, and The NYTimes while attracting celebrities like Cardi B and Gigi Hadid.
Flying Solo is starting off 2020 with a bang with a new 8,000-square-foot location, at 382 W Broadway in SoHo NYC. According to the company, there are more than 1,600 brands on the waiting list to join their membership ranks. The new three-level store will be featuring clothing, accessories and jewelry brands including Vivienne Westwood, United Nude, and Coco and Breezy.
“We’re excited, our wait-list and our partners are growing everyday. We’re glad others are seeing Flying Solo’s model as the future as well”, said Elizabeth Solomeina, co-founder of Flying Solo, in a statement. “Retail is a really tough industry right now and as traditional stores keep closing, it’s leaving brands and designers with less and less opportunities. There needed to be a new approach to retail with flexible delivery schedules, direct access to customers and gross profits going directly to brands. Brands are finally taking their destinies in their own hands instead and changing the landscape of luxury retail.”
A few years ago, Elizabeth Solomeina, owner of fine jewelry brand Solomeina, decided she would stop wishing for a New York City retail partner that let independent designers connect directly with their consumers—she would create such a store herself. The designer joined forces (and pooled financial resources) with nearly three dozen other locally based fashion, accessory, and jewelry designers to open Flying Solo, a marketplace that carries and promotes independent luxury designers. The retail shop was conceived as a highly curated environment that would lure stylists and editors—and on any day of the week, you’re likely to find both there. The shop’s business model is just as uncommon and borrows from both the consignment store and the community co-op. Designers pay a monthly flat membership fee that goes toward rent, marketing, and events, and are required to work in the store eight hours every week. The shop found popularity fast, and in June 2017, only a year after opening downtown, Solomeina and her partners relocated to a two-floor space on West Broadway. “I was selling in boutiques worldwide,” Solomeina says, “but at some point I realized that there might be a better way to do this.”
What was your initial idea for Flying Solo? It came out of my own need to have a central place to interact with clients, stylists, and press. And a lot of my friends who are jewelry designers and clothing designers thought we needed a place like this too. But it’s grown into so much more. Now it’s really an industry hub.
You moved into a bigger store this past summer—how did that change the business? We doubled in designers and tripled in size. We used to be 35 designers, and now we’re 68. We moved because we had a waitlist of designers that was so long, and there were so many amazing designers we wanted to showcase. We have around 11 jewelry designers right now [including GBGH, The Modern Tales, and Vitae Ascendere], around 35 clothing designers, and the rest is split between shoes, bags, and hats.
Beyond making sales, how does the store setup benefit the designers? A lot of our designers ended up not being anywhere else; they don’t like consignment, and they say the markups with traditional retail are too much. Flying Solo doesn’t take any commission on sales; 100 percent of profits from any piece sold goes directly to the designer. And on top of that, they can really experiment. Maybe they find out in the store that silver doesn’t sell so well this season, so they switch some silver pieces out for gold-plated pieces. The store allows them to experiment on so many levels.
How do you decide where to place designers’ goods in the store? We rotate the entire inventory every week so no one is stuck in back for long. Also, this makes the store feel fresh. In any given week, there will be new pieces in the store—designers are free to bring new pieces in anytime and see how they perform. They can even bring a sample and see how it sells—they don’t have to do a whole production run.
Flying Solo does its own biannual New York Fashion Week show—tell us about that. Yes, we did our second show this September. And this time around we got amazing [media] coverage, including from The New York Times. The show was so packed, we actually had to limit attendance to press only. We showcased all the brands carried in Flying Solo, and we added a few outside ones for the show. The jewelry designers showcase their collections at the beginning. It’s kind of a hybrid of a presentation and a runway show.
What do you look for in new collections and jewelry designers? We’re looking for something that’s really unique. It needs to be something exciting for our customers, something you cannot see anywhere else. Flying Solo is sort of how stores in Paris used to be—all unique designers and lots of one-of-a-kind pieces.
Jewelry from top: Elizabeth Solomeina’s own choker with baroque pearls and diamonds, $1,300; one-of-a-kind rose quartz and onyx tassel earrings by Glitter Trunk, $210; a Cone Diamond ring by Vitae Ascendere with 2.4 cts. t.w. diamonds in 18k gold, $12,000
For an independent designer operating in a world of mega-brands like Amazon, Zara, Nike and H&M, an old maxim may hold the key to survival: United we are stronger.
At least that was the thinking Elizabeth Solomeina applied when she was struggling to find a way to show and sell the jewelry she designs without spending huge amounts of money on rent or outsourcing her work to various boutiques.
“I needed a place to sell my stuff, I needed a customer base,” Ms. Solomeina said. “When stylists wanted to come over to my studio, I would tell them it’s in Brooklyn, and they would be like, ‘Never mind.’”
“I wasn’t alone,” she said. “I had friends like this, too.”
So in the summer of 2016, she gathered 34 of them and together they pitched in funds to open a boutique called Flying Solo on Mulberry Street in NoLIta. Within three months, the group had expanded to 45 designers. In June of this year, it grew again, adding more than 20 to the roster and moving to a two-floor shop on West Broadway, on the same block as Missoni, Aesop and DKNY.
The runway show included a variety of aesthetic visions. Most of the pieces were the kind you could walk out onto the street wearing, and all were available immediately after the show.
As techno beats and songs by Little Dragon, Migos and Sango pounded through the speakers, models strutted by in metallic and brightly colored pants and jackets (from Daniel Silverstain, who has designed for Solange and Lady Gaga); long coats with “Proud Immigrant” written across the back (from Ricardo Seco, a Mexican designer); tweed suits and knit dresses (from Kathrin Henon, who works with Dennis Basso); and much more.
Between each section of the show, models in silver pants and Flying Solo T-shirts created by the designers walked by with signs denoting the next designer’s Instagram handle.
Flying Solo operates somewhat like a grocery or building co-op, with members paying a membership fee that goes toward rent, production and marketing costs for events like the fashion week show. Each member is required to work eight hours every week, opening and closing the store, cleaning and helping customers on the floor.
When the team members opened their first store on Mulberry Street, they put together as much of the interior themselves as they could. “We designed the racks, the shelving,” Ms. Solomeina said. “Our designers were sketching, running to Home Depot, assembling racks.” They were ready for customers in three days. On West Broadway, it took all of four.
“It’s our sweat and I hope no tears,” Ms. Solomeina said.
Flying Solo has had help from outside. Early on, Ms. Solomeina secured funding from Alex Barnett, an investor who has worked with technology companies and charities. Mr. Barnett saw in Ms. Solomeina’s proposal a model for the future.
“A lot of them are really brilliant designers,” he said of Flying Solo’s members. “It’s a tragedy that the brilliance isn’t rewarded. A lot of times it’s who has a lot of capital or who gets picked up by a big brand or whatever the trend is at that moment.”
Speaking of the changes in the retail landscape that have been spurred by the advent of technology and the expansion of giants like Amazon, Zara and H&M, Mr. Barnett said: “I don’t think change should be feared. It’s creating space for innovation. Independent designers need to stop working against each other and realize they’re all on the same side.”
This New York City-based storefront is run by 45 independent designers (and counting).
Following a direct-to-consumer model instead of relying on wholesale accounts has become the norm among young, emerging brands. This type of business is primarily achieved online through e-commerce, but Flying Solo in New York City aims to connect with shoppers face to face from a storefront in Nolita.
Founded by jewelry designer Elizabeth Solomeina, Flying Solo is a DIY fashion collective made up of 45 independent and local designers who have joined forces to afford a 2,000-square-foot space on Mulberry Street. “We want to sell to customers but we have no place to do so. With this concept, we basically cut out the middleman,” says Solomeina. “Here, we can present our whole vision.” The foot traffic is perfect for Flying Solo. Located on a quiet side street filled with small boutiques — just blocks away from Broadway’s bustling strip of brand-name flagships in Soho — the shop welcomes a solid mix of tourists and fashion-loving locals. As a result, the designers benefit from hearing feedback firsthand, and in return, they can immediately improve their product and brand.
Flying Solo stemmed from Solomeina’s own struggles as a designer, from finding retailers that would take a chance on a new brand (a rarity these days) to production and inventory costs. “I realized that the industry is truly broken,” she says. After testing the concept with a series of pop-ups throughout the Upper West Side and Soho in February, Solomeina was able to find a long-term space to house 33 up-and-coming designers. With the help of an investor (who put down a deposit to hold the space), Flying Solo opened up shop in mid-June.
“We got the lease on a Tuesday night and we had to open on Saturday,” remembers Solomeina. “We didn’t have money for construction, so we had to do it ourselves. I had tears in my eyes when we opened. It was amazing to see what we could achieve as a group because we really wanted it to happen.”
Since then, the collective is nearing 50 designers offering womenswear, accessories and jewelry. Chikimiki, one of the newer additions to Flying Solo, is run by Elise Dealmeida, who creates ethically made, high-end apparel; Kalamarie is a luxury handbag line founded by two sisters; SoCal designer Karie Laks adds ease to her sophisticated clothing, while S/H Koh offers jewelry inspired by architecture, sculpture and geometry. Solomeina says she has plans to take on menswear labels in the future.
Approaching Flying Solo’s six-month mark, Solomeina hopes to provide free education to those outside of the collective. “I see all of the mistakes that independent designers make when they start their brands, and I want to stop them from making [them],” she says. At the store, she’ll hold seminars open to both professionals and fashion students on starting a brand, retail and finances. For the holiday season, Flying Solo will partner with a charity to present a fashion show and, most recently, the space held a meet-up for fashion bloggers and influencers.
Visit Flying Solo at 224 Mulberry Street from Sundays to Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.