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Entrepreneur Rachel Zoe: This is the hardest time in fashion I’ve ever seen

Melody Hahm
West Coast Correspondent

Rachel Zoe has built up her brand in the fashion world for the last two decades, ebbing and flowing with the fickle nature of the industry. 

While Zoe has been able to successfully leverage her name into a handful of businesses, she isn’t so optimistic about the fashion industry at large.

“All of us are trying to find an opportunity. I think it is the hardest time in fashion that I personally have ever seen and I think that most of us have seen — at least most of my peers — whether you're succeeding on every level, whether you're excelling in certain parts of your business and not others, I think everybody's trying to navigate their own path right now and trying to really be nimble,” she told Yahoo Finance in an interview this week.

Starting her career as a fashion editor, Zoe, now 48, found a passion for being a celebrity stylist, starting in the music industry with clients like the Backstreet Boys and then moving on to TV and movie stars, ranging from Nicole Richie to Cameron Diaz.

CULVER CITY, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 09Rachel Zoe:attends 2019 Baby2Baby Gala Presented By Paul Mitchell at 3LABS on November 09, 2019 in Culver City, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Her professional journey hit a major inflection point in 2008, when Bravo debuted “The Rachel Zoe Project,” a reality TV show with Zoe as the centerpiece, catapulting her from closets of celebrities to a recognizable icon herself. Though the show was canceled after a five-season run, she managed to make a pivot into the world of entrepreneurship. Zoe launched a fashion and beauty blog, the reportedly profitable Zoe Report, in 2009, which she sold to Bustle Digital Group last year.

Zoe also has her own eponymous fashion line that’s available at Neiman Marcus, Net-a-porter, Revolve (RVLV) and Shopbop (AMZN) as well as a subscription box business. She currently has collaborations with Pottery Barn Kids and Teen (WSM) and Starbucks Asia (SBUX). Her collection at Janie and Jack (GPS), launched on Nov. 18. 

‘The place just meant so much to many of us’

The high-end fashion world has often been associated with rigidity and an air of stuffiness and snobbery, but that’s no longer a sustainable business model. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Barneys New York is shuttering its stores and liquidating its designer goods hanger by hanger.

“I think to Barney’s, it's just really sad, it's a really sad state in Barneys New York. [The place] just meant so much to so many of us,” Zoe said. 

The once-bastion of luxury retail isn’t alone. Hudson’s Bay, the Canadian parent company of Lord and Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue, agreed to a buyout by a group of private investors. Neiman Marcus got creditors to extend the timeline for debt repayment earlier this year.

Zac Posen attends the CFDA Fashion awards in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Beyond department stores, influential designers like Zac Posen are finding it untenable to continue their businesses. His dresses were a favorite among red carpet A-listers, and he even diversified his revenue by taking on new projects like designing Delta’s new uniforms. Last week, Posen shut down his label, which he created 18 years ago at the age of 21.

“Zac is one of the best talents in our industry and I think that he's been very candid and very honest. Listen, this is only the beginning for Zac and he's such a talent of his own. No one can take that away. I’ve known him honestly since the day he started. In many ways he’s still the wunderkind, and he's still young and he's classy and he's kind and he's all of these wonderful things and truly talented and truly makes women look and feel their absolute most beautiful selves and I think no one can take him away. I'm certainly very excited to see what’s next,” she reflected. 

“I’m really changing with the times and I think that while the internet and social media have really helped a lot of us in a lot of ways in marketing [etc], I think there's also part of it that has really hurt a lot of smaller businesses in the fact that people are not going to stores as much as they used to and I think there's pros and cons,” Zoe said.

Back to TV?

As Zoe tries to juggle her various projects, one can’t help but wonder if The Zoe Project 2.0 might be in the works. 

“Okay, what's next, right? I've had a lot of television opportunities that I've talked about with various people over the last several years, but I think for me to go back on TV, it has to be the really, really right thing that gets me very excited,” she said. 

“I have a really strong message to put out there and people are asking for The Rachel Zoe Project back constantly ... I would absolutely be open to The Rachel Zoe Project 2.0 but I have to really see and think about what that looks like and what that is now and how I can really sort of have that same impact on a lot of people and get them excited about it.”

And if the new batch of streaming war has reflected anything at all, it’s that nostalgia is the play — with Disney+ relying heavily on reboots like “Lizzie McGuire” and HBO Max with “Gossip Girl.” 

Just like with fashion trends, if you hold onto something long enough it will likely come back in style somewhere down the road — but in a new iteration.

Melody Hahm is a senior correspondent at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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