Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Fashion Leader?
An Interview with YOCISCO Founder Gabriel Medina
He’s the guiding genius behind the YOCISCO brand and a force to be reckoned with in the Denver fashion scene, but Gabriel Medina is surprisingly approachable. His easy charm and quick laugh have served him well in his current role as first male co-chair of the Fashion International Group, Denver. And as one of the shorter guys who has struggled to find fashion that fits, he’s been a great advocate for us here at Otero Menswear.
If you’re interested in the business of fashion—this interview is for you.
What sparked your interest in fashion?
I think that fashion allows us to express who we are. It sounds cliché and corny, but it’s true. Fashion is our first line of communication; it’s how we demonstrate who we are to the world without saying a word. The cut, the fabric, the style, the fit—every facet of what you wear shapes other people’s preconceptions about who you think you are. And even more importantly, clothing shapes your own self-perception. When you put on a new shirt or suit, it really does have an effect on how you feel, how you carry yourself. It’s like a statement of intent for yourself. When I have an event to go to, and I go out to buy the perfect outfit, I feel more invested in the moment than I would if I were to just throw on something from the back of my closet.
Even the parts of your wardrobe that people don’t see, like a really excellent pair of underwear, can change the way that you present yourself to the world. Ultimately, fashion is all about refining your sense of self. I believe that so strongly that I made it the tagline for YOCISCO: “Fueling a Moment of Confidence.”
For the individual, fashion is definitely all about confidence. But the process of taking fashion from the sketch pad to a viable consumer audience takes a lot of practical business sense, right? Tell us a little bit more about Fashion Group International, Denver.
Fashion Group International is a global organization for fashion professionals that was founded in New York City in the 1930s by a group of women including Elizabeth Arden and Eleanor Roosevelt, as a way to boost women’s careers in the fashion and beauty industry.
The Great Depression hit women particularly hard, so Arden, Roosevelt, and the FGI group were trying to define new niche markets that would allow women to support themselves and their families. Today, there are chapters worldwide, and the scope of fashion has opened up to proactively include male businessmen and male designers as well as male consumers.
Right now, I’m serving as co-chair of the Denver chapter alongside Kat Dudden, founder of the women’s fashion line katybelle.
It’s always a two-year appointment, so we’ll be here for the 2018-2019 seasons, and our primary mission is to advance the fashion industry in Colorado. A small portion of our job involves connecting designers to consumers, but the bulk of our work is designed to educate and support fashion and beauty professionals more directly. We sponsor Meet the Press events, which help young groups connect to media professionals and learn how to get the press interested in a new design concept. We sponsor networking events for Colorado designers, and we host educational events; for example, we’ve just launched a new “Green is the New Green” event which will educate Denver designers about sustainability in the clothing and beauty industry, including information on eco-friendly fabrics, new technologies, and new trends.
Twice a year, we also take advantage of the FGI connections to host invited speakers from NY to talk about global fashion trends and issues that are of universal concern to new designers.
Really, it’s a busy roster. We try to approach the fashion and beauty industries from every angle, and to share critical information that can help all of us to grow the fashion industry here in Colorado. And we try to give new designers a leg up with recognitions like our Rising Star Awards, which are a key piece of the Denver Fashion Week.
How did you become co-chair?
It’s an elected position. Kat and I were elected by the previous board members and by a general vote of the active FGI, Denver members. Most of the elected officials come into the office gradually. For example, I’ve been a member since 2014, and I started off as a board-elect member for Social Media. And, as you’d expect, I handled all of the social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, the monthly newsletter, etc.). It was a real challenge because I had to establish new relationships with influencers, spread the word, build membership, and then report back to FGI, Denver at the monthly board meetings.
There are a lot of different roles for anyone who’s interested in being more active in the industry. It’s great experience, and a very useful way to build your professional profile.
When most people think of “Fashion,” they picture New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—what is Denver’s unique contribution to FGI and the global fashion scene?
That’s actually a very important question, because Denver has a lot to bring to the table, and, in my opinion, four very critical advantages.
The first big factor is that Denver (as a city and as a fashion platform) is growing rapidly. Locations like New York and Los Angeles are fashion-forward, but they’re also extremely expensive and already saturated with established designers, so they are very difficult venues for up-and-coming designers who need to make a distinctive mark. In Denver, the retail locations are more affordable and there is a lot of room for innovation. For example, when I founded YOCISCO, I really wanted to challenge the existing market by designing a new kind of underwear that could be perfectly comfortable, extremely stylish, and entirely sustainable, all at the same time. I took classes at the Art Institute of Colorado, launched YOCISCO in 2013, and now the brand has an international following.
The second critical factor is that, because Denver is a growing fashion scene, it can also be uniquely collaborative. There’s room for new players, so the existing industry leaders do a really amazing job of working with new designers rather than squashing potential competition. Here in Colorado, fashion is more of a community. Anything that draws attention to fashion in Denver is great for all of us, so we have built a strong tradition of partnership and mentoring that is unheard of in more heavily saturated fashion industries.
The third factor is Colorado’s incredible geography. We are an athletic state with famously gorgeous rock formations, mountains, rivers, forests…and a huge market for performance wear. We have the athletes, the demand, and the practical expertise—Denver has the potential to become a serious leader in athletic wear, apparel, and design.
And, finally, Denver is also very ecologically-minded corner of the world. Our consumers value sustainable fashion. There is a growing awareness of the massive ecological cost of producing clothing, and many Colorado-based designers—like YOCISCO and Otero Menswear—are at the cutting edge of sustainable design. We want to feel good in the clothes that we wear, but we also want to feel good about the clothes that we buy.
Of course, Denver does have unique challenges—because it isn’t one of the huge fashion centers, there isn’t a lot of local manufacturing. For example, if a designer shows a line during Denver Fashion Week, and a buyer in the audience wants to purchase 500 units of a particular design, that designer might have trouble scaling their work fast enough for the purchaser. And that’s where FGI, Denver is committed to making a long-term impact by growing all facets of the fashion industry. We want all of those small designers to have the resources that they need to succeed.
What is your unique vision as co-chair?
Kat and I agree that our primary goal for 2019 is to foster an increasingly diverse collection of designers and entrepreneurs, and especially to reach out younger designers and entrepreneurs. To do that, we’ve decided to take advantage of the city itself—so, now we’re hosting events in a wide variety of trendy, up-and-coming locations that showcase the best of Denver’s unique energy. We absolutely value our older members, they have played a critical role in mentoring, and they’re very active. With their help, we’re consciously working to ensure that Denver stays on the cutting-edge of global fashion trends and that we remain remain sensitive to best-practice industry innovations. Last year, we did an event on streetwear—and that turned out to be huge this year. We’re always trying to stay ahead of the trends, because that’s what our members need from us. I think that the big trend for the coming year will be sustainability, and that’s the focus of our “Green is the New Green” campaign.
Of course, at the end of the day, we’re also a business-oriented industry. The flip side of working with younger designers is making sure that they can translate raw artistic vision to a scalable business model. Many brilliant designers fail because they don’t understand the numbers and marketing, and so we’re also determined to help improve professionalism in the Denver fashion scene by hosting events about manufacturing and different aspects of the business end of the fashion industry. Right now, we’re even talking to city planners about accommodating small manufacturing studios. That’s all still work in progress, but we have a lot of room to grow, and the city of Denver is very invested in helping us to build a thriving fashion industry.
Who can be involved in FGI, Denver?
All of our events are open to the public, members, and students. Denver has several incredible design programs, so we especially want to reach out to students who will come to play a role in the future of the industry. If you want all of the FGI resources, though, I’d encourage you to consider becoming a full member. To apply for professional FGI membership, you have to submit a resume demonstrating at least two years of experience in the fashion and beauty industry. And for those who just want to stay in touch with trending fashion, we also offer a “fashionista” membership for people who enjoy fashion but aren’t in the professional industry.
I also want to point out that FGI, Denver has a broad scope, because a successful fashion industry requires a lot of different professional expertise—photographers, graphic designers, people in the beauty industry, people in the home décor industry. Our scope is broader than just apparel design. Whether a single garment is sewn locally by hand or produced internationally in massive factories—the fashion industry encompasses many other industries. And our goal is to foster every part of that industry cycle by welcoming participants from all of the adjacent industries.
To that end, FGI Denver puts together a booklet listing all members, and FGI NY puts together a global version of the same directory. The goal is for all members to be able to network more efficiently. We are also working on our own website that will be able to connect local members, but it hasn’t officially launched yet.
Any advice for someone that is just starting out?
Absolutely, there are four critical things to know:
- Definitely know the business side. I honestly don’t think it’s enough to be a brilliant, creative, beautiful designer. You absolutely have to understand the business part of it, if you’re going to scale your work through the manufacturing and sales process.
- Stay in tune with your target market. Understand who you’re targeting, who you’re selling to, and what they want. Know that what your target market’s preferences will change, sometimes frequently. And because the manufacturing process takes time, you have to be several steps ahead to keep up with the current demands.
- Stay in tune with your industry. There are always advances in the industry best practices, in the legal requirements and restrictions, in technology, in fabric. The more that you can educate yourself, the better off you’ll be.
- Know your marketing and know social media. The marketing and the social media element has been monumental in the growth of my company. YOCISCO was built on social media—Instagram, Facebook, the works. If you don’t understand it, find someone who does, because that might be your most critical investment.
Basically, fashion can empower people to be confident in their bodies, but FGI, Denver empowers fashion and beauty professionals to be confident in their field. If you’re interested in developing the network and education that you need to survive in the fashion and beauty industries—or even just developing contacts for your adjacent business—FGI, Denver has a lot to offer.
Thanks again to Gabriel Medina for some excellent and insightful comments.