And do the math.
MAD had a talk with Stefi Occhionorelli, production & sourcing expert, industrial designer and TRIAXES coach. She shares with us her views and experiences on the TRIAXES program, coaching entrepreneurs and her own ambitions.
Since when and how did you get involved in the TRIAXES program?
I joined TRIAXES in November 2018 from the start of the fashion program and I have had the chance to observe and test this new triaxial method. Coming from a strong background in R&D Departments in the private sector, this work method was already familiar to me as it replicates the model where sales, creative, production and marketing experts work in synergy.
What is your exact role and expertise within the program today?
My roles are Expert in Sourcing and Production for TRIAXES MOD and Expert in Industrial Design for TRIAXES PRO. All these activities can be grouped into the field of Product Development which is the bridge between design and production.
To be more specific, I coach and advise designers and entrepreneurs selected for the program on: sourcing a factory that matches their specific needs and values; creating a collection, planning and production calendars, establishing leadership with suppliers and avoiding delays with production deliveries, optimizing technical communication and establishing quality management practices. This process for growing the brand needs to start internally first of all, so important preparatory work is to build the internal structure of the baby company by setting precise roles and deadlines within the team.
What, in your experience, is the most important aspect of the program? What do entrepreneurs, who are starting out, benefit the most from?
Without a doubt, the triaxial method is the TRIAXES program’s greatest asset. From a starter’s point of view, it is important to receive cohesive guidance from a team of experts rather than being advised by individual consultants. Most of the work we do as experts involves hours of brainstorming about each mission. Being aligned on the vision and following a common line of action is essential: since our mutual goal is the growth of the brand , it is important to be heard as one voice. Launching a business as designer can be overwhelming for the first 2 to 3 years and our role is to guide them through this crucial step and to not increase decision-making pressure by advising in multiple directions.
What do you do besides TRIAXES and how do your different professions enrich each other (or not)?
Alongside my work for TRIAXES, I work as an independent consultant for other starters who want to launch their brands but don’t know how to kick-off the full set of operations. I’ve gained 13 years’ experience working with Asian mass production especially with hard and soft goods and it is important for me to keep working with mid-sized brands in their R&D departments on long term collaborations. That way I keep learning about new industrial practices and technical feasibility for different product categories, so I can apply my knowledge to complex production protocols on a smaller scale with starters and independent brands.
I come from a creative background myself, so alongside my nerdy passion for product development I started a graphic design studio called WEARESUGO that is focused on branding and editorial projects. I found my balance as a professional by building my profile along a cross-sectorial path and this helps me to approach each project from a different perspective and to think outside the box.
You are the only coach within TRIAXES who guides both fashion designers and product designers in production, what for you are the main differences within the two sectors and what can they learn from each other?
We could talk about this for hours, but I’ll try to keep it short. TRIAXES PRO is aimed at designers and entrepreneurs that are in the early stages of an idea and want to turn it into a product to launch. Often, we are only confronted with an intuition, with a dream to become a real product. The biggest challenge for a TRIAXES PRO expert is to verify with the designer whether the market really needs that product and then to check feasibility in terms of industrialization and costs.
TRIAXES MOD is addressed to fashion brands with a history of 3-4 years on the market, so with entities that already have an established identity and a tested market response. The role, as an expert for TRIAXES MOD, is to understand this identity deeply and to provide tools that will allow brands to grow further and strengthen their structure so they are ready to scale up.
The difference between the two sectors is the Time to Market. The fashion industry has a very short TTM and it moves at a very fast pace. With the Fashion Revolution and new awareness of sustainable practices applying to fashion items, things are slowly changing, but there’s still one rule if you want to be in the game: you have to be quick, reactive, and stick to sales schedules. This puts a lot of creative pressure on designers and entrepreneurs. The product design industry is slower and the TTM is longer, so the creative moment and development can sometimes take years (if we’re talking about furniture for example). The challenge for a product designer relates more to the industrialization and feasibility of the product.
I think that a blend between the 2 TTMs could be a good compromise. Fashion could learn from the design industry to be more detached from sales schedules and trends. The product design industry could learn from the fashion industry how to be more effective and pragmatic. What we observe at TRIAXES PRO is that some designers work on an idea for years before they launch it on the market, which results in a waste of time, investment, and opportunities. The search for perfection or a perfect final product is often a big obstacle for creative people. Sometimes, my advice to designers is to learn from the tech and IT industry: you need to launch a BETA version of the product and then adjust it according to market feedback.
What are the biggest production challenges for designers today?
A big challenge for a designer launching a brand is to gain control and leadership on operations. Very common issues are: severe delays with samples and production batches, lack of quality because of poor technical communication and QC procedures.
In the first years of activity, a big part of the initial investment is often used for buying raw materials, requesting samples and placing first orders. Without experience and a team following up on all these activities on a daily basis, the outcome of this investment can translate into wrong deliveries, misunderstandings and missed sales seasons.
Another challenge that designers often face is the financial aspect of their business. Most of the starters are creatives, so they’re very loyal to their vision and aesthetic and are often reluctant to make a compromise for feasibility and costs. Analyzing costs and margins is often a painful topic for designers who would prefer to spend money on expensive raw materials and well-known photographers for lookbooks rather than ensuring they have the margins they need to survive as business.
Which project, out of those you have supported as a TRIAXES expert, do you remember the most and why?
There are 2 missions in particular that taught me a lot as a TRIAXES expert and as a professional. Certainly, the first mission for TRIAXES MOD with 42|54 taught me that good team work with the brand and mutual trust are the key to success and growth. I remember it as an intense and extremely rewarding experience and also it was my first TRIAXES mission, so it has a special place in my heart.
Another important project in my work as an expert is the one with Sarah De Saint Hubert. In this case, the strong synergy between the experts involved in this mission was a mind-blowing experience. With Sarah, we imagined future scenarios and brainstormed alternative business models to apply on the brand. We are now working on making this change actionable and real by structuring the roadmap and action plan. A listening attitude and a willingness to learn from both designers and experts is important for a mission to achieve a good result.
What 3 pieces of advice would you give to starting entrepreneurs?
My advice would certainly be:
Delegate. Don’t do everything yourself. Build a strong team and accept help.
Be authentic and make sure your story corresponds to reality.
Do the math: a business without profit is only an expensive hobby.