Kerry Bannigan: helping fashion designers advance

January 16, 2012

By Hannah Yakobi

Photography by Alex Mouganis

Nolcha Fashion Week in New York is a leading award-winning event for independent fashion designers. Attracting talents from all over the world, Nolcha helps them showcase their collections to a global audience of press, retailers, stylists and industry influencers. Since its launch in 2006, the event has become one of the most anticipated fashion events in New York and internationally. And the woman behind it all? Kerry Bannigan, a U.K. ex-pat, who runs the company with her business partner Arthur Mandel. FAJO Magazine catches up with the successful entrepreneur and gets a behind-the-scenes look at how she makes it all happen.

Kerry Bannigan.

HANNAH YAKOBI: Why did you decide to work in the fashion industry when you moved to New York from England?

KERRY BANNIGAN: I first had a corporate job, and then started to meet a lot of independent designers. It was so interesting to me that the business “know-how” that I took so easily was a struggle for them. I thought: these people are so talented and so interesting, and yet the field they are trying to break into is so competitive. I wanted to create marketing opportunities, and help put designers in front of stylists, retailers and media.

It all began almost six years ago but can you tell us about Nolcha’s background story?

We launched Nolcha in September 2006 but really started to grow the brand in 2007. My business partner, Arthur Mandel, has a legal background and I have a marketing and communications background. We originally launched Nolcha as an online space, where independent designers and photographers could come together, network and see how they can help each other. We then reached out to them and asked what they were looking for exactly. They said that they loved the online networking, but also wanted to connect in-person. So we started networking events, and one of the biggest discussions we always heard was that people were looking for professional and affordable runway shows. There are a lot of designers who don’t know where or how to put on a show. They just want to focus on being a fashion designer. Nolcha is their business partner – we allow them to remain creative and provide business opportunities for them.

What kind of designers can we see at Nolcha?

We generally work with brands that are independent and privately owned, and have been in the business for two to seven years. They come from all over the world, and 85 per cent of our clients are international. So far, we’ve worked with designers from Britain, Turkey, Italy, Russia and Iceland among others.

Bannigan (right) with guests at a Nolcha networking event in September 2011.

How exactly do you help designers get the exposure?

Designers generally come on for a two or three-month campaign. We provide them with online marketing, social media [promotion], press releases: they basically get an experience of having us in-house to help them prepare. They attend events with potential mentors, partners or investors. They also work with a fashion director, as well as the hair and make-up teams. Designers have all these resources at their fingertips and it’s all managed by somebody else. Our goal is to be a launch pad for designers.

What does “Nolcha” mean?

It means “the sun in the sky” in Native American. We chose it because it had nothing to do with fashion, and we wanted to just be able to grow our brand, so that people saw it and associated the name with independent fashion, events and discovery.

You are constantly immersed in the fashion industry, surrounded by so many talented designers. Whose clothing do you tend to wear?

I love Estela Balan – her clothing fits me phenomenally – as well as Maleku Jewelry.

I also love shopping in England: I love the style and the cuts that I see there, especially in London. I think it’s always a few steps ahead, especially the street fashion – people there are a little more daring. And I love going to Paris; there is something very special about it, I think it’s a very beautiful city. I love getting hats and scarves from there. They are very chic.

I have also just started getting into the online shopping world, and I’ve become addicted to I never knew that online shopping could be so fun! But my favourite thing to do is walking around the city and finding independent boutiques.

Bannigan says that she loves wearing the clothing of independent designers.

What advice would you give to designers who are trying to break into the New York market?

Focus is key, as is doing very good research. You need to know what you want from the market when you get here, because there is a lot of noise and a lot of services that may not benefit your brand. Referrals are important, but remember that every brand is different, and what works for somebody may not work for you.

What is your favourite part about working at Nolcha and in the fashion industry in general?

All the creative personalities that I get to meet. For example, it was wonderful to see the designer Danilo Gabrielli at Nolcha last September. He has worked in house for very big names, like Vera Wang, and now he is doing his own line and returning to Nolcha in February. For me, it’s always great to see what happens afterwards.

I also still get blown away by designers’ vision, and how they create a silhouette or an outfit, transforming it from sketch to reality. It’s wonderful to be able to help people with their dream and the business side of it. It’s such a lovely thing to be a part of!

FAJO Magazine is a proud media partner of Nolcha Fashion Week.

To find out more about Nolcha, visit

For FAJO’s in-depth coverage of the shows from last season, click here.


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