After being surrounded by artists of all kinds in college, Elizabeth Hilfiger knew her fashion brand needed to be far from traditional. With small drops, artist collaborations, non-binary designs, accessible pricing, and a focus on sustainability, Foo and Foo reflects the qualities that this generation wants. But building a brand from the ground up is never easy, not even when you have insider knowledge of the industry. Here, Elizabeth talks about running the brand, how she strives to make it different from today’s traditional collections, and what she sees for its future.
This interview took place between Elizabeth and Tate at Palikao in Los Angeles
Editor: Makena Gera
TVPS: How did you get to where you are today?
EH: I always knew I wanted to do something in fashion. I went to Rhode Island School of Design, and I knew I wanted to have a brand called Foo and Foo. I didn't want to do a traditional fashion line, per se. I wanted it to have interesting details, not like normal clothes, but I wanted it to be accessible, so that's why I did hoodies and t-shirts. If I don't want to spend money on things, then why would anyone else?
After school, I wanted to start the brand right away, obviously, but I was like, “No, I should work first.”
Foo and Foo is known for celebrating emerging artists, do you think your time at RISD influenced that?
10000%. I'm still friends with a lot of people from school, and I collaborate with them all the time. I featured some of my friend’s work from RISD on my site, and I work with them on videos and photoshoots. One of my friends is actually helping me do an illustration for a graphic for the next season.
Did you move to LA right after you graduated?
Yeah and I interned at this company called DAILYLOOK — where you fill out a questionnaire and they send you a box of clothes each month. I did that to learn the backend side, and I also helped with their social media.
Then I interned with Zoe from Eckhaus Latta, and I also worked as an assistant to a production manager for a brand called Robert Rodriguez. I would say I learned the most there, but then I was like, “I'm over it.” I kind of figured out what I wanted to do and started a website with direct-to-consumer clothing.
How was Eckhaus Latta? What did you learn while you were there?
I learned a lot about design and also that there are tons of different ways that you can run a brand, and seeing how one works was fun. Mike and Zoe are both a huge inspiration to me.
Coming from a family that’s so well known in this industry, was it challenging to find your own space?
Someone once told me that the more I grow and the longer I'm around, people will start associating me with my dad less. Recently, there was finally an interview with me where my dad's name wasn't in the headline or the first sentence.
Because you're your own person!
I agree, but it's hard to be compared to him — I was in denial for so long that I wanted to do fashion.
When starting Foo and Foo, how did you figure out what needed to be done and then how did you go about doing it? How did you find your team?
Honestly, my dad does a lot of business stuff, so growing up I would hear him on the phone, and then more recently he started to help advise me.
But, it was just a lot of like being like, "Wait. Shit. What do I do now?” or, “Oh, I need this. Okay, let's do it." But I hired someone to help me do everything, and without her, I would be screwed — she was helping me with setting up the website and with the backend stuff while I was handling production and design and doing the photoshoots. We're not working together anymore, but we're on good terms and everything.
Then how I found my web developer is, after I graduated, I was talking to someone while I was out one night and they were like, "Oh yeah, my friend does web stuff." So I went and met with him, and he was asking all these questions and I didn't even have a concept for the brand yet. He was like, "Do you have clothes made? How many styles? How do you want it set up? I think it's going to be X amount for the most basic website." And I was like, “Holy Shit.” And I remember leaving crying.
Then later when I was ready, I went and met with him again and he helped me. My friends who did graphic design had made me a logo, but he was like, "Okay, no. Like, come on.” So then after he helped me with all of my branding. He gave me a few different logos and made templates for how my hang tags should be and a bunch of different stuff to just get me set up. All of those little things add up and end up making a big difference down the road.
But it's so hard in the beginning. It’s so expensive, and I was like, “I don't have any money. I can't pay you.” And you feel so bad. I mean, I used my Christmas money to put on my first presentation. I remember my first cost sheets — I fucked up bad, I was like $70 off, and had to redo everything.
I know that you have a huge focus on sustainability. Do you think the benefits outweigh the costs?
Yeah, but that’s also a personal measurement.
What is your definition of sustainable? What certain things do you implement into Foo and Foo?
We actually just found a sustainable dye house. And for some jeans, I just buy vintage Dickies, and then edit them. Oh, and also not making as many samples of things!
Nice. I think that’s so much smarter because the material is already there, the dye's already been done, and then you can tailor them the way that you want.
And that also saves all of the pattern making and yardage. I do also use the same material for different styles, and that helps. I also save on getting fabric locally, and there's this place where I get deadstock fabric too.
FOO AND FOO SS19
Photographed by Luke Abby
How do you go about selling your collections?
First, you have to bust your ass to try to get a wholesale appointment because it's so hard. Then once you have an appointment, you have to make everything look really nice — figure out the wholesale and retail pricing and then make a line sheet. When I first started, I just wanted it to be really accessible, so I basically gave it away to the consumer for wholesale price and then didn't make any money. I lost money. In retrospect, it was such a bad idea because then later my customers were like, "Why is it more expensive?"
But anyways, the retail stores — if they want to purchase something — will send you an order confirmation and then you add in whatever they ordered to your own production numbers.
I have a main warehouse that I work really closely with which is a huge help because they handle all of my shipping. So for instance, if I need to pull a style for a shoot, they’ll make it happen.
But the catch is that you don’t get the money from the orders until you ship them. So any expenses that come in before we ship our orders out, typically comes out of my own pocket.
Why is it important to you that your work is non-binary?
I don't think that the binary exists. I wear men's clothes all the time, but I'm a woman, and guys wear girl’s clothes. I just didn't want to put a gender on anything, and I don’t want to make people feel like it's not for them. Clothes are to play with and to wear. Why would I be like, "Oh, you have to be a certain gender." But I think that's also just part of our generation.
What do you see for the future of the brand?
I want it to not be so hard all of the time, but I think it'll always be hard. I want to have more collaborations and figure out a formula where I can constantly have more drops. I just want to be able to have a team, but I don't know if I want to have a store. Maybe I would have a store with other brands in it too, not just Foo and Foo. That would be sick, but I can't even imagine that now. I think it would have to be way down the road.
I'd love to see you in a gallery, or a space where artists can also show their work. That's how your website is now, so it would be cool to see that reflected in a physical space.
Yeah. I would want to do something that wasn't just about me. And maybe even starting a production studio or a space where I could help people with ideas for editorials and stuff.
And what advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?
Someone looks up to me? That's crazy. I think to trust yourself and not be too hard on yourself, but give everything your all, follow your instincts and only work with nice people. Don't let anyone step on your toes.
And if anyone wants to collaborate, hit me up on Instagram.