Although Ettina Berrios-Negron is showing her latest collection for her Berlin label Thone Negrón at Fashion Week, she said the event was not the main attraction for designers setting up in Berlin. Rather it is the relaxed community spirit and cheap studios which create what she described as a breeding ground for artists trying to carve out a career.
As well as her label, Berrios runs independent fashion store Konk, and despite lauding the community spirit in Berlin, has criticised the lack of funding and business support for a city abuzz with “creativity and talent.”
Berrios founded Konk with a partner in 2003 to sell their own clothes along with carefully selected pieces from other designers. The shop has since become an institution for those in the know, with customers including international stars such as Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon popping in for a browse, Berrios said.
But Berlin's bohemian air can have drawbacks, as setting up shop in a city many describe as “poor but sexy” means doing without the funding other countries pour into cultivating their fashion scenes. The city, with its high unemployment and fractured history simply has less money than its European counterparts.
“People are really open-minded towards fashion in Berlin. The only problem is, on the whole, they don't have the money to spend on it,” Berrios explained.
She said the city's wealth of design raw talent were lacking two important factors crucial for expansion; money and marketing savvy.
After all “having your own line of clothes is, in effect, running your own business,” Berrios said.
A spokesman for Project Zukunft, a government initiative which offers prize money to artists told The Local that there was “vast amounts of funding for fashion in Berlin.” Banks like the Investitionsbank Berlin, which help Berrios launch Konk, and various state programs all fund the scene, he explained.
“But if you want to do a show here, you have to fund it yourself,” said Berrios. “I know designers that can't go to Paris fashion week, for example, because it is too expensive.” This hinders a label in establishing itself abroad and expanding business.
In 2011, Berrios was short-listed for a “Start Your Fashion Business” (SYFB) award, a project run by Berlin's state government to help fledgling designers break into the fashion world. First prize was €25,000, with runners-up getting €15,000. In London the first prize for a similar award from the British Fashion Council was more than €200,000, according to a report in Die Zeit.
“€15,000 enough to invest in something carefully, but in the end it just isn't enough for someone starting out,” Berrios said.
And with young designers staring into the depths of a recession, bank loans are not as easy to obtain as they once were. “To launch a business, designers with no financial backing now have to be comfortable running the risk of a very modest lifestyle. Also, they have to do the marketing themselves, which they often don't know how to do,” said Berrios.
As the last champagne corks are popped on 2012 Fashion Week's closing night, it seems that many Berlin designers will be left behind scratching around for funding to help take their home-grown talent to the international runway.