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A Fashion Designer's Business Designs

Norma Kamali didn't exactly see the recession coming. She just happened to be positioned perfectly when it hit.

"Before the downturn in the economy, the opportunity to do a collection with Walmart came up," Kamali says.

She says she wasn't concerned that making clothes for Walmartmight hurt her brand.

"They duplicate my samples and I have approval on the quality and the fit...I'm probably working with some of the most efficient manufacturers that I've ever worked with in my career."

The line launched last year, so when the economy collapsed, Kamali fans who could no longer afford her regular fashions discovered they could buy her stuff for $20 at Walmart. "We're selling a lot of the Walmart merchandise to people who have never shopped at Walmart before."

Then a funny thing happened.

Some of her Walmart merchandise started showing up on Ebay .

People were reselling it at higher prices.

"We saw an opportunity there," Kamali says.

Last month she launched NormaKamaliBay at Ebay, where most items are $250 or less.

These newer outlets at lower prices are making up for fewer outlets available on the higher-priced side. Many traditional Kamali stores have too much inventory to buy much new stuff. "There are a lot of stores that we're not going to be working with anymore, and I think the consumer should have access to the clothes that I would be selling to them." Ebay and Walmart help fill that gap.

That's not all Kamali is doing.

She's using technologies like Skype to meet with clients and manufacturers-after all, it's free!

She says, "We've got lots of ideas going, and some of them work, and those are the ones you run with...for every good idea, there's probably 20 that didn't work."

Kamali believes it could be as long as ten years before the economy bounces back "in a real way," but, in the meantime, consumers have gotten used to choice, choice in buying apparel at a variety of places at a variety of price points. "What I do for Walmart, and what I do for Ebay, and what I do for my line, are all very true Norma Kamali, but they're all very different" she says. "It's not two watered down versions of the designer line."

She continues to come up with new ideas to try to adapt. "The minute I saw the economy compound all that was happening in technology, I saw that if I just keep doing everything the way I'm doing it, it's not going to work. And fear and excitement, combined together, create new ideas. So I use that little cocktail to keep me inspired."

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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