Clair Seffen: How I Made My Way to Fashion Business Consulting
Engy Elghannam
3/14/23, 12:00 PM

As it is the month of women, we are excited to shed light on women who are successful and accomplished in their fields. Clair Seffen is one of these successful women who founded The Design Narratives; it’s a boutique brand agency providing bespoke consulting to emerging talent in the region. Clair has worked with the most recognized fashion designers and brands across the globe. She provides the designers with all the strategies that would make their brand develop and stand out in a competitive industry.

 We would like you to introduce yourself, your educational background, and your career path to our readers…

I started my career in fashion in Melbourne, Australia (where I was born and raised) with Ralph Lauren (Oroton Group) before moving to Dubai in 2006 and that's really where my career developed. I worked with Al Tayer Insignia for 12 years, first with Ounass as a Retail Manager for 5 of their locations, then as a luxury fashion buyer for Bloomingdale's Dubai, Kuwait, and Harvey Nichols Dubai where I managed a portfolio of over 60 brands of which included names such as Burberry, Kenzo, See By Chloe, Alexander Wang just to name a few.

In May 2018 after leaving Al Tayer and moving permanently to Cairo, I saw an opportunity to support local and emerging fashion talent within the Middle East. I started The Design Narratives, a boutique brand and retail agency providing bespoke consulting to brands and retailers. 

In March 2022 I opened with my business partner and friend Amany Shaker, Story concept Store in Garden 8 which is a multi-brand concept store dedicated to Egyptian brands giving them a luxury platform to present their collections.

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Why did you start consulting especially in the fashion business?

When I moved to Cairo in 2014, the fashion industry was in its infancy.  Meeting and speaking to many designers at that time, I realized how much support was needed to help develop and give them the guidance they needed.  So, I started by developing my Fashion Business Masterclass, which allowed me to reach a wider group of creatives and teach them the framework of what it takes to build and sustain a brand.  My goal with this Masterclass was to help them link the creative and business aspects to create successful brands.  From that brands started to approach me to work with them more closely and The Design Narratives my consulting agency was created from there.

What are the challenges you have faced as a fashion business consultant?

In the beginning understanding the challenges of the local market and restrictions most brands faced and obtaining basic tools to move their brands forward was a bit testing.  As I understood the market more it helped me to support the brands trying to find solutions to any obstacles we faced, it's always important not to stop in face of any issues that could arise but rather find alternatives to move forward, sometimes though we have to accept things as they are.  

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From your experience tell us what is the importance of consultancy in the fashion Industry…

In Egypt, we have so many amazing talents with great ideas, as a consultant my role is to guide the brand to ensure they execute their ideas in a way that's going to be profitable for them and have the potential to grow into a successful business.  A Lot of the time designers are so consumed in the creative side of things they don't think about the end user if they have given their clients the options they need, the right price point etc. So, mentorship and guidance are so important to help them stay on track.

What is the most interesting part for you while working on a new brand or project? 

Each brand is a new personality, a new way of thinking and implementing ideas. So, something that worked for one brand may not work for the next. So, I enjoy getting to know the brands and the designers and coming up with new ideas. It's always a refreshing part of what I do.

Also creating and developing “Story” was an amazing time to introduce the market to a new way to experience retail and their perception of locally made products.  It's amazing to see the feedback to the store and how we have been able to accomplish everything we set out to do and we keep surprising them with more!

Fashion consumers have responded to the pandemic by dealing with the online world. 

Although 3 years have passed, did this affect the strategies and plans for the fashion business consultancy?

While the world constantly changes so does consumer behavior. We always have to keep up to date with what's happening and adapt our strategies accordingly.  Fashion isn't just about trends and the glamour of fashion weeks; we are providing an emotional product to the customer so it's important to understand their needs as we are designing and strategizing to ensure we connect with them in the right way. 

Under the circumstances of the prices becoming expensive, and of course, this also goes with the prices of materials. How far could you manage these changes?

While some brands have tried to refrain from increasing their prices other brands have and I encourage them to do so. Some may say but you made the item while the prices were still low. What people oversee is when brands go to buy the new materials with the new prices, this is when they face losses, furthermore a lot of brands have increased salaries for their workers to ensure a decent wage during this inflation. All these factors need to be covered in the final price of the product and we do so in a way that is fair.

Local brands are really trying their best to offer great products with great quality to their consumers and it's important that in such a period we support locally-made products no matter the industry.

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What makes a brand more profitable than others?

Sensible management of expenses! It's so important to calculate all your costs correctly, ensuring the right markups so that when you sell something it's not at a loss. Ensure enough margin so that if you want to sell in a store, you can afford to give them the agreed percentages without jeopardizing your cut. Another important point is to sensibly produce products in the right quantity and options. Sometimes brands get carried away and produce high quantities and huge collections that they are stuck with excess inventory and that's all money tied up!

How would you respond if you presented your suggestions to a fashion business owner, and they were skeptical about getting their desired results?

This has definitely happened before and I see the panic on the designer's face, but happy to say each time I have suggested a certain step or action to take, it's only been to the designer's benefit.  They definitely breathe a sigh of relief and trust the process more after that. It's normal that some brand owners might underestimate their potential in the market especially if they are new, so with my experience, I am able to give them better direction and understanding of what they are capable of achieving.

If someone is starting a new brand what is your advice to make this brand distinctive?

When starting a brand now it's important to understand that you are not just starting a brand but creating a community and experience. So, really study the market, talk to people, understand what problem you can solve, and create a concept that stands out. A brand should be one that connects and creates experiences, something that people will want to be a part of.

Clair ended the interview with a very supportive and encouraging message for women saying, Stay focused on your dream and vision and keep moving towards it.”

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Engy Elghannam

Hii. This is me Engy Elghannam. Fashion has always been my passion; it always makes me happy to create my own unique style combination. Reading fills up my heart, I love reading all kind of books; I spend hours lost in the pages of a good book. The more I read the more I learn and get influenced. In fact, this what really made me start writing as I wanted to influence, express and write anything that would be beneficial for others.