The end of the fashion dictatorship

Berlin fashion label Front Row Society is a kind of fashion democracy. A community decides which design appears on the market

Photo: Front Row Society

Florian Ellsaesser is sitting in a café, drinking a cup of black tea and talking about women’s leggings. He does this seriously and enthusiastically. Women’s leggings are a kind of hobbyhorse for Ellsaesser. In 2011, the native Berliner founded the Front Row Society (FRS) fashion label. The company specialises in leggings – as well as women’s tops, bags and scarves. Above all, FRS has settled on a unique concept for the development of its designs. „We are a fashion democracy,“ says the 31-year-old. For the young label, fashion has become a kind of referendum. Everyone is allowed to join in and voice their opinion, and every vote is counted.

Ellsaesser can draw from a creative source that seems to be endless. The concept is as simple as it is brilliant. The label founded a community that now has more than 30,000 members worldwide. People in El Salvador and Italy have registered. And from Cyprus and Madagascar. Or New Zealand and Serbia. They all have one thing in common: they enjoy fashion and design. „Absolutely anyone can join in,“ says the company founder. For example, the mother of six children. Or the young man from Portugal, who is actually a chef in real life and creates design patterns in his free time. And they are so good that he’s already won several competitions on the label. The people responsible have already advertised their concept through many channels. They went to universities and design schools, were active on forums and blogs, and even spoke personally with designers. „However, by now it has become self-sustaining, by and large,“ says Ellsaesser.

As soon as a new design is being sought, what is known as a design challenge starts. The community members then have two weeks to submit their proposals. We can receive as many as 1,500 proposals. An example of one topic: leggings with a motif of sacred art. Or scarves with an „enchanted forest“ theme, with beetles, birds, entwining branches and leaves. The design pattern that gets the most votes wins. At this stage, around 50 to 60 designers make up the core group, so to speak. Not only do they regularly submit proposals, they also regularly win. However, this is not about to make them rich – or not yet anyway. At present, 200 euros is awarded for each competition and design, and 30 designs are produced each time. The total budget for the designers is higher than for the personnel costs of FRS.

Bruce Hamilton, the Scottish-born Head of Production, describes FRS’s fashion as follows: detail-oriented and to an artistic standard, playful, complex and feminine, for women between 25 and 35. The idea is a success: the designer pieces don’t just exist on the internet; they’re also available to buy. For example, in Berlin at the Kaufhaus des Westens, better known as the KaDeWe. Or at Ludwig Beck in Munich, at Breuninger in Stuttgart or in the Alsterhaus in Hamburg.

It all began in 2011, when Florian Ellsaesser emptied his bank account and put everything into his dream of having his own company. This was a difficult period, recalls the young entrepreneur, who previously studied in Britain. In the meantime, others have also recognised the potential of the fashion label. For example, Harald Meilicke of the Breuninger department store. He joined in as an investor. „Fortunately we have investors who don’t merely want to invest their money. They’re involved with a passion,“ says Ellsaesser. In the coming year, the company aims to make a profit for the first time. If things continue like this, the 31-year-old may one day fulfil his desire. A company „that exists beyond us“.

Stefanie Paul
Kluge Köpfe 2013