Name one person who doesn't enjoy uncovering a new fashion brand? I'll wait. Even before I was a fashion editor, I would still get giddy about the prospect of finding something new, knowing not everyone would have it already, getting to see a brand really take off, and just generally supporting smaller businesses in an industry that's largely dominated by big-box brands. Once I became an editor, though, I quickly learned that I'm not alone in this endeavor. Plenty of industry insiders from editors to stylists to publicists share the same excitement about championing new labels, and lately, there's one source that everyone is turning to: @upnextdesigner on Instagram.
Founded by fashion publicist Albert Ayal, the page highlights small, new, and emerging design talent from around the world. Ayal not only has an eye for scouting exciting designers you've never heard of or seen in your feed before, but he also makes it his mission to connect these labels with the celebrity stylists, buyers, and editors who are constantly on the hunt for new talent to work with. The result? A community of industry insiders and fans of fashion alike who share a love and fascination with new talent.
Although founded several years ago, Up Next Designer has low-key blown up since 2021 began and it now boasts a roster of A-list followers including Bella Hadid and celeb stylists like Law Roach. Ayal shared that he's had plenty of success stories where his page has been the connection for stylists to dress clients like Kylie Jenner and Dua Lipa in smaller labels they've learned about through Up Next. In other words, if you want to find out about the under-the-radar labels celebs are wearing before they really take off, Up Next Designer is your destination.
Ahead, read our chat with Albert Ayal where we dive into his goal for the page, why it's so important to champion emerging designers, and find out 11 of his current favorite names.
You're a fashion publicist by day, so this project feels like a natural extension of your job. How long have you worked in fashion? What inspired you to launch @upnextdesigner?
I entered the industry eight years ago working for a fashion and lifestyle PR firm in New York. I worked initially as a PR coordinator for the streetwear label Sprayground and eventually grew into handling global PR for the brand. After my experience at Sprayground, I decided to break out and start my own fashion PR agency called Asquared Communications, representing various fashion labels in the industry.
While doing so, I became exposed to smaller brands and designers that were cutting edge and highly innovative but lacked the resources to garner serious awareness. I wanted to find a way to help these brands reach their potential and thus began @upnextdesigner.
"Great experimentation with fabrics here. The designer combines the intricacy of artisanal fabrics with wearable, easy shapes."
I love that you're using your platform and network to highlight emerging designers. What prompted you to launch it? What's your vision for the page?
As a PR agent, I am always on the lookout for emerging designers. I like to describe them as "up next designers and brands." My vision has been to work alongside them and help progress their brands. I began @upnextdesigner a few years back on Instagram by regularly discovering and posting new and emerging designers that I loved, those with exceptional, unique, and fun work. Through curating the feed and sharing these designers' work, I began forming relationships with those I was featuring.
I was simultaneously growing a community of people who were fascinated by the talents of these undiscovered designers and I soon realized that many were struggling to grow their small businesses, and once we connected, they expressed their gratitude for my support. The love and appreciation from the designers and brands featured inspired me to continue in my quest. I wanted to find a way to bring light to these talented creatives and showcase their incredible work to the world. I also found that many stylists, editors, and celebrities were interested in expanding their repertoire of designers, and I felt like I could create a space for everyone in the industry to come together and celebrate young, emerging talent.
"Love the resort wear and styles they produce. They're always sexy, clean cuts in beautiful neutral colors."
You have an unparalleled eye for uncovering designers before they really take off. What's your secret to finding them? How many hours would you say you spend researching?
For me, it’s sort of a lifestyle. I live and breathe it, and it brings me an immense amount of enjoyment. I'm pretty much doing research for the page 24/7. I continuously stalk fashion schools globally for their upcoming talent and get in touch with students to form relationships; I keep up to date on their progress as they love to send me what they're working on next. I also stay up to date on trends through influencers, celebs, runways, and fashion editorials from around the world.
"I love how their goal is to make the fashion industry more responsible. Almost every piece of fabric they use is deadstock and they make their products locally. Designwise, they focus on the body, not the pieces themselves. Their clothes are very comfortable yet still challenging the female form. All the cutouts, see-through spots are designed to complement the female body the best way possible."
You've managed to grow the page exponentially in the last few months and now it boasts more than 70K followers. What do you hope to accomplish with it?
I hope that @upnextdesigner can create a community of like-minded individuals that are excited about fashion and passionate about ensuring a more progressive industry in the future. I saw an opening for a platform that gave emerging designers the appropriate praise for the pieces they devote their lives to, and I hope the page can continue to grow and benefit the brands I feature, as well as give them the tools to succeed within the industry.
"Love how their signature is these unique cutouts—a fresh take on the trend we've been seeing a lot of."
When did you start to realize that your page was really taking off? Were there any "oh shit!" moments you had?
I started noticing some of the biggest names in fashion following my page, from editors and stylists to celebs and influencers, and realized that this had the potential to be something really influential and helpful for the fashion community. I think the first moment I realized the power that UND has to completely change an emerging designer's career was when I was able to connect a small designer from L.A. named Erika Maish with Kylie Jenner's team to create a custom dress for her using 1000 glass beads. I also had the honor to set up a FaceTime call with iconic stylist Law Roach so we could find ways to work together as he loved what I was doing.
"The colors and fabrics are just incredible. You can see the amount of hard work she puts into each design."
Who are some of your most exciting followers on the page?
The page is followed by some of the industry's most respected individuals, including stylists for names such as Zendaya, Cardi B, Beyonce, Travis Scott, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, Dua Lipa, Jennifer Lopez, Lil Nas X, Cara Delevigne, and Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Bella Hadid, Ryan Destiny, Debby Ryan, and Jenna Dewan, as well as global editors from Vogue, Business of Fashion, WSJ, GQ, Elle, The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, WWD, etc., and buyers and fashion executives from top stores like Moda Operandi, Farfetch, Ssense, Bergdorf Goodman, Selfridges, and Net-a-Porter; and brands such as Pantone.
"So chic! Love how all the pieces are genderless and how each piece tells a story even if it’s a T-shirt. I'm usually partial to a Parisian label."
"He is so young at just 20 years old, still in fashion school and at the same time growing his brand. So impressive. His work is wonderful. I love his vision and the sheer print looks he does. I discovered him when he was 19, and after posting him to Up Next, he skyrocketed."
What's the most gratifying part of highlighting young talent?
Engaging with the designers and forming relationships with the brands/designers I feature on the page has been the most rewarding part, and nothing makes me happier than seeing them connect with others in the industry and grow through my page. UND is a family of people that want to see others succeed and flourish, and I value the lasting relationships it's allowed me to form with these incredibly talented individuals.
"So elegant. I adore the way she uses silk to create such beautiful dresses and looks."
Do you have any "success stories" of brands that you've highlighted?
I was able to connect designer Fatima Minana with Kendall Jenner who wore one of her looks for a commercial; Kylie Jenner with designer Erika Maish for a look she wore while on vacation; Jade Cropper was worn by Kim Kardashian and Jorja Smith; Lil Nas X wore Mercy x Mankind; Marco Garro was worn by Nikita Dragun; brands Studio 404 and Trophy Wife were reached out to by top tier stylists for upcoming dressing opportunities.
"I'm so impressed how she takes men's suiting and turns it into the hottest pieces. Upcycling always impresses me."
Why do you think it's important to create a supportive environment for fostering new and emerging designers?
I’ve realized that in such an oversaturated market, it can be extremely difficult for designers to gain the recognition and exposure they deserve for their unique and unprecedented skills. I think a space like UND is an essential resource for stylists, celebs, and fashion lovers alike to gain knowledge on upcoming trends through learning about new and emerging designers.
"The netted fabrics and styles are so special. Plus, it's a genderless brand, which feels refreshing given the delicate nature of the pieces."
What are some ways that people can support these designers they're discovering, apart from obviously shopping their line?
By following their journey, reaching out for any celebrity and editorial pulls, connecting with them, and showing them your support! I value the followers' opinions and experiences the most, as I want them to look at UND as a community that caters to its members. I, along with the designers featured, love to see the feedback in the comments and DMs in response to looks posted on the page, and I always encourage the followers to reach out with any new trends they want to see more of.
We also do deep dives with designers and brands and have them take over on our stories to introduce themselves, show what they are working on, give advice to other designers, and answer some questions from the followers, etc. I also appreciate hearing who the followers want to see featured next or what type of designer they are looking to learn more about.
"Love the prints and how the designer uses a lot of scenery and puts together a head-to-toe look from jacket to shoes."
Up next, see the It sneakers everyone in fashion is losing it over.
Anna is an editor on the fashion team at Who What Wear and has been at the company for over five years, having begun her career in the Los Angeles office before relocating to New York, where she's currently based. Having always been passionate about pursuing a career in fashion, she built up her experience interning at the likes of Michael Kors, A.L.C., and College Fashionista before joining the team as a post-graduate assistant editor. Anna has penned a number of interviews with Who What Wear's cover stars over the years, including A-listers Megan Fox, Issa Rae, and Emma Chamberlain. She's earned a reputation for scouting new and emerging brands from across the globe and championing them to our audience of millions. While fashion is her main wheelhouse, Anna led the launch of WWW Travels last year, a new lifestyle vertical that highlights all things travel through a fashion-person lens. She is passionate about shopping vintage, whether it be at a favorite local outpost or an on-the-road discovery, and has amassed a wardrobe full of unique finds. When she's not writing, you can find her shooting street imagery on her film camera, attempting to learn a fourth or fifth language, or planning her next trip across the globe.
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