Schuyler Ellers, ‘96, is proof that knitting is not just for your grandma. His eco-friendly, crocheted clothing company, Lord von Schmitt, has become a success in a niche all its own.
Q: How would you describe your clothing line?
A: It’s a psychedelic recycled-repurposed clothing line. The focus right now is on recycled crochet, especially made from Afghan blankets.
Q: How long have you been doing this?
A: I started knitting when I was 24, and now I’m 37.
Q: How did you start?
A: I was living with some Irish girls in Barcelona who taught me how to knit. They had a sewing machine, and they taught me how to sew. From there, I was able to figure out a lot on my own.
I was in Barcelona for four years, and towards the end I was making these sweaters from recycled Afghan blankets.
I was an English teacher at that time.
If you end up a fashion designer, it’s because you (were meant) to end up a fashion designer.
Q: How did you start your business?
A: I created the original crocheted pants out of recycled Afghan blankets. My friend was doing a fashion show in LA, and at the same time, I opened up an Etsy shop (Bollywood Lizard), and it sold vintage loungewear and eyewear from India.
So I decided to put these pants on Etsy.
Q: What are your profits to date?
A: Currently, I have about 750 sales on Etsy.
Q: How often do you wear your pants, and do you have a favorite pair?
A: I have a couple favorite pairs, and I wear them every other day in the winter. I don’t wear any one garment for very long. I change my clothes about 10 times a day.
Q: Who is your target market?
A: That’s where I am different. I never defined a target market, and I still don’t have one.
I am selling to people who want to be different, who want to be flashy for no apparent reason. I have some clients that are 80-year-old men, some people that are athletes, that want to run marathons and stand out.
My market is weird. There was no “recycled crochet movement.” I waited for the market to wait for me.
I am kind of anti-fashion. In regular fashion, you find a market and define that market. But (in) anti-fashion, you make a product and see if anyone buys it.
Q: How is fashion different from clothing?
A: Fashion is sort of fun. It is a series of ideas, almost like philosophy or an art. Clothing is just what you wear, or what you buy at a store.
Fashion is a reflection of who you are and what goes on inside of you. Clothing is an expression of that style, that fashion, that abstract thing.
If you are putting forth a concept in fashion, be sure that people are ultimately wanting to wear it as clothing. You can have all these fancy ideas, but if no one wants to wear it, then it is pretty hard to make money.
And as I say this, I am reminding myself of these things, too!
Q: How has Etsy helped you with your business?
A: Etsy is pretty amazing because my product is strange and outlandish. (It) creates a framework and a structure for the product to exist in. Outside of Etsy, I would sell a lot at shows and things, but Etsy creates a framework for your work. It gives it a legitimacy.
I have no idea how individual designers worked without Etsy. If you have an unusual product, Etsy is the perfect place because there’s all this fantastically weird stuff and people looking to get your stuff.
Fashion is a weird thing. You can’t predict it. Who knows what people want to wear until they try it? People all over the world can see it, and maybe some people will buy it.
Sometimes you can even have a great idea, but no one buys it. Maybe because it’s too similar to other things, or maybe because it’s not niche enough.
It’s a fun game, using Etsy. I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much publicity without it.
Q: What personal obstacles have you overcome?
A: For me, my fashion work was always my thing, and I did it all. I did the modeling; I did the clothing design; I made the clothing; I took the pictures; I put them up online. But now I have relinquished some of the control of the company, and that was hard to do.
Q: What have you outsourced?
A: I have a seamstress. I have a model. That was a very good move: to hire a model instead of doing self-modeling. But the idea of having someone else photograph it, someone else make it, makes you feel that you’ve lost that mark. You are used to shaping the whole thing, and when you give that up, it is hard.
Q: How has the market changed for young fashion designers?
A: In a way it is harder to get noticed than it was before, so you really have to put out something spectacular and unusual, especially if you want to go into Etsy or online sales. Come up with something eye-catching.
Also, keep in mind that it takes a long time to pick up. But when it does happen, it’ll happen very suddenly.
You’ve got to think fast, but you also have to have a product that you can do it with. I eventually had to hire a seamstress because things were picking up.
But, remember, before you outsource the product, you first have to know how to make it. Also make sure it doesn’t take too long; make sure you have enough time to finish making your product, or else you will not get it out there in time.
Q: What advice do you give to students who are running their own fashion businesses?
A: Start with some really interesting, unusual and creative ideas. There is no point in playing it safe in the beginning. Go for something out there that represents yourself, and then put as much of yourself into it as you can. And then be ready to be the figurehead of your business.
Be almost the actor of your own company. Whatever you are making, whatever fashion you want to put out there, keep doing it over and over and over.
Q: What obstacles will someone who is starting their own fashion line encounter?
A: Getting noticed is the hardest obstacle because there are so many designers. The way for that to happen is if you put yourself in the picture. You spearhead yourself with your fashion – with your look – and then people start developing an interest in it.
If there is no face to go with your brand, then nothing separates you from all the other fashion brands that are on the Internet.
Promote it through social media, through friends, (and) through wearing your clothes on the street. There are also a lot of logistical problems when making clothing that you have to solve – figuring out who you are going to outsource it to.
But the hardest thing to do is that first step. Once you have a name and people follow who you are, the other things aren’t going to be very difficult.
You have to be your own artist, model and businessman. People don’t want to hear that they have to be all those things, but that is how I did it.