V.BELLAN’s Vanessa Bellan: How I Landed My First Retail Partners
One of our stated goals here at The Folklore Connect is to increase the visibility of diverse, fashion-forward brands on a global stage, and help facilitate their access to new markets as they expand their wholesale business. A part of how we do that is through our webinar, Speaker Series, which invites fashion insiders and industry professionals to share their advice and experience with our brands.
The latest instalment features Vanessa Bellan, the founder of one of The Folklore Connect’s very first brands, V.BELLAN. Since joining Connect in September 2022, Bellan has successfully launched her jewelry brand online and in-store at iconic retailer Bergdorf Goodman as well as e-commerce giants REVOLVE and Shopbop, with replenishment orders made within weeks of the launch.
Vanessa Bellan sat down with The Folklore Founder & CEO Amira Rasool to share her wholesale journey
The brand, targeting millennials consumers, focuses on creating versatile, hand-made, gender-neutral quality pieces designed to accompany wearers through everyday moments and special occasions.
After enjoying success as a direct-to-consumer retail brand since it was founded in the summer of 2020, Bellan made the decision to enter the wholesale market, and wanted to work with a platform that would provide direct access to buyers and opportunities to connect with retailers. For the Speaker Series, Bellan shares her wholesale journey and experience from her very first market meeting to seeing her products on the shelves of the retailers she connected with on through The Folklore.
The decision to explore wholesale emerged as Bellan sought avenues to broaden brand awareness and reach new customers. The Folklore Connect presented itself as a unique opportunity. A week after contemplating expansion, Bellan received an email from The Folklore Connect, introducing her to this wholesale platform. Intrigued by the mission and values of The Folklore, Bellan made the bold decision to bet on herself and her brand. Opting for the paid plan, she joined The Folklore Connect and had her first market event in just a few months.
“Honestly at that time – as a lot of entrepreneurs know – you have your good months, you have your slow months,” Bellan says. “And by the time that I decided to move forward with The Folklore, I had just enough for that paid plan tier. I just thought, “We’re gonna do it”, and the rest is history. So it was really one of the best decisions I made.”
The market appointment experience
V.BELLAN’s first market event with Connect took place in February at the New York Fashion Week Showroom. Armed with a compelling elevator pitch, Bellan strategically conveyed the V.BELLAN brand story, DNA, and values during short meetings with the buyers she met, leaving a lasting impression on potential retail partners.
“That was the first experience and I was nervous and didn’t think anybody would be interested,” Bellan says. “I just shared our story and what we’re about, what we are looking to do. And through those short meetings and interactions, I had the opportunity to follow up with some of the retailers I met.”
Prior to the market appointments, Bellan diligently researched buyers and retail stores, tailoring her pitches to align with each retailer’s audience and existing product offerings, which showcased her proactive approach to building meaningful connections. “I made sure that I knew what I wanted to say in that short amount of time and to also speak to how our products can live in their retail spaces and how it intertwines with what they’re already doing,” says Bellan.
At buying or market appointments, some retailers are open to sharing where your products could possibly live in their store, or if they already carry similar types of brands, which is something that can be conveyed in a pitch. This could also help anticipate the questions they make ask, allowing you to share what you know about their assortment.
“Because they only really have a short amount of time, most of the questions I got asked were, ‘Who are you?’ or ‘What are you selling?’ and ‘What are your plans?’ So obviously, it’s your brand story. I talked about my ‘why’,” says Bellan. “And I just went through the collection quickly. For instance, with Bergdorf Goodman, I noticed they mostly purchase fine jewelry, so I started with my fine collection because I have two categories. It’s knowing which angles to start with and just going from there.”
Effective communication and follow-up
Clear communication and timely follow-ups played a pivotal role in securing retail partnerships for V.BELLAN. After her meetings at the Showroom, potential buyers were sent line sheets, which connected Bellan and the retailers through email. “From there, it a matter just following up to see if we can set up time to discuss,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s going over the collections again and having that one-on-one appointment.”
Bellan advises to keep in mind that you can get feedback during those short market meetings that can inform your next conversations to improve your chances of getting picked up by a retailer. “They can say, ‘Hey, this is great. I know we need more earrings in our assortment’,” she says. “So then during your follow-up appointment, you lead with the earrings, or you show more earrings that maybe you didn’t have at the market appointment. It’s about showing them what you have to offer and starting that conversation.”
During buying appointments, Vanessa strategically conveyed the V.BELLAN brand story, DNA, and values
After making contact with their buyers at the Connect Showroom, Bellan had follow-up meetings with retailers REVOLVE and Bergdorf Goodman. “I had a Zoom call with REVOLVE to walk the buyer through the collection and we talked about what they’re missing,” she says. “With Bergdorfs, since their offices are in New York City, I actually had a follow-up meeting at their office.”
The designer’s commitment to reaching out once a month after the initial launch also ensured ongoing communication and strengthened relationships with retailers.
Adaptation for wholesale
Transitioning from DTC to wholesale necessitated adjustments to production costs and retail prices. “Once I decided to start those partnerships, I had to adjust my retail,” says Bellan. She also learned valuable lessons about proper pricing, considering factors such as packaging, shipping and labor.
“I was basing my prices off of my cost, but I wasn’t factoring in packaging, I was in factoring in labor, and all of those things that you should be. So it’s just keeping that in mind when you are going with your retail partners, that you’re still making a profit at the end of the day. You have to consider how much it takes to create this item and to ship it, not just how much it is. You have to factor in everything that goes to getting this one item out of the door.”
She also advises to “do research to make sure that you are pricing your product with what’s fair, and what you think it should be. Do market research to make sure that you’re also aligned with what’s out there, especially with the retailers that you’re working. Make sure your price points match because you don’t want to offer products that don’t meet the requirements or the price points that those retailers sell.”
Navigating negotiations and terms
For Bellan, negotiations with retailers involved discussions on margins, payment terms, and additional fees like marketing recoup percentages. Understanding the unique stipulations of each retailer and negotiating fair terms were crucial aspects of V.BELLAN’s success.
“Each retailer that I’m partnered with actually have their own stipulations, but it’s just making sure that it’s fair for both sides,” shares Bellan. “There were some negotiations that I’ve had to do in terms of margins, and payment terms to keep in mind.”
“There was also the fee that I didn’t really think of before but it makes sense,” she continues. “A lot of retailers throw in a marketing recoup percentage, which is an additional deduction that they take from the wholesale costs. Essentially, it is an additional discount that they use for marketing initiatives, such as social media ads. For instance, REVOLVE does a lot of ads and they do a lot of partnerships, so the fee is a percentage they take in order to include you in those initiatives.”
Retailer onboarding process
Bellan also navigated diverse onboarding processes, including obtaining EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and GS1 (global system of standards) barcodes for certain retailers. Each retailer had distinct requirements, emphasizing the importance of flexibility and adaptability for brands entering the wholesale space.
Bellan recalls that before launching with one of the retailers, she had to make sure that she was signed up for an EDI and a GS1. “I’m still learning it all,” she says.
“The GS1 is kind of an official SKU number for your product and you have to buy in bulk. It is a universal SKU number that they know is attached to your brand attached and to your product, and it can be used for many different retailers once you have that number,” Bellan explains. “The EDI is what they use to submit POs, and it’s a way to communicate electronically without emails getting lost, so you have to pay for a membership. These are some of the hidden fees that you have to factor into your pricing. Some retailers don’t require that but that’s an aspect of the onboarding process that I had to do in order to partner with that company.”
Retailers often observe brands over multiple seasons before making purchasing decisions. V.BELLAN’s launch at Bergdorfs, REVOLVE and Shopbop within just a few months of initially connecting with buyers is a rare in the industry. For brands that are yet to make the transition to wholesale and get stocked at a retailer, it’s important to not get discouraged if the first collection you show doesn’t get picked up because it’s not the end.
“I’ve had feedback from a store that I really wanted to partner with and they mentioned that they wanted to see the evolution first, Bellan shares. “They weren’t all easy and straightforward. But it does give you the encouragement to keep going, and it pushes you to be more creative and figure out how you’re going to evolve.”
When you do catch the attention of a retail buyer and it seems like they really love your brand and would like to move ahead with an order, you should keep in mind that it’s not always a linear or quick process. “What I have learned from going through the process is that your buyer has a boss. So you have to wait for their authorization or sign off. There are steps they have to follow, too, before they finally place a PO if they want to move forward,” says Bellan.
“There are a lot of conversations that are like, ‘Hey, let’s go through it again’, or ‘OK, this is great, let me sit on it and get back to you’. Then it could be, ‘I’m interested in this style but let me get approval’, then you wait for the approval, and then you go through the terms and agreements. Each follow-up could be a different conversation, but they also have to go through their own protocol and buying process.”
V.BELLAN’s first market event with Connect took place in February at the New York Fashion Week Showroom.
Bellan’s experience highlights the importance of persistence, creativity, and a commitment to evolution, even when initial collections don’t lead to immediate retail partnerships.