It doesn’t take a genius to note that now is not the ideal time to launch a new fashion business. If you are launching your new business, this season, you probably started way before this disaster of a virus appeared and it was too late not to see it through. Too much time and money has been invested to pull out. You’re not a quitter.
Left - In September, MATCHESFASHION launched its The Innovators Programme to help support young designers
It’s a bit like all those cranes on the skyline and builders finishing off their dense blocks of luxury flats. It’s too late to down tools, not finish them and get them on the market. But, fast forward six months and how many spades will still be in or breaking new ground?
There will a gaping hole of projects starting and the fashion business will have one of the largest.
The V shaped, bounce-back recession is ideal because it conserves this economic momentum and it just becomes a blip. Sadly, it’s not looking that way. There is still momentum in the market, but the longer Covid disrupts everything, momentum lessens, and the more time and energy it will take to get it all moving again. This will also make this gap even larger.
Fashion has a time lag. The time between starting and producing samples, to then show, get orders, make and then sell, and then get the revenues, is usually a long timeline. It’s a risk and nobody knows what the state of the market will be when you launch, even at the best of times. Today, many of those thinking about striking out alone and setting up their own thing will choose to put off starting well into next year when they can feel more confident about the economic landscape.
Without trade shows and fashion weeks - a vehicle to showcase to buyers - many stores and websites will reorder previous years’ product, with tweaks, from existing brands. This will only really start to show when SS21 hits the stores after Christmas and consumers will start to notice.
Fashion’s reason to be is newness, or the perception of newness, and a never ending supply of new brands and designers kept the whole industry feeling fresh and new, while established brands and giant luxury groups took most of the sales and profits.
Luxury multi-brand websites and department stores need newness to give vitality to its entire offer. It’s news, it’s buzz, it’s hype and they had it all without the financial risk. This veneer or gap needs to be filled and retailers and luxury groups are now realising that they will have to start supporting it or it won’t be there.
MATCHESFASHION has launched its year-long ‘The Innovators Programme’ designed to champion young design talent. It was built upon an existing womenswear project to include menswear and is a robust package of practical support including mentorship, preferential business terms and £1.8 million in marketing.
The programme was developed as the MATCHESFASHION team collaborated closely with designers during the Covid-19 pandemic. It became clear that many of the designers were unsure how their brands could thrive through 2020 and that practical support and ongoing commitment was required. The 12 designers are: Art School, Ahluwalia, Chopova Lowena, Stefan Cooke, Germanier, Halpern, Harris Reed, Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY, Thebe Magugu, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Bianca Saunders and Wales Bonner. Eleven of these designers were already partner brands and each designer was chosen "for having a unique and powerful DNA which is intrinsic".
“I am delighted that we have formalised our support for emerging talent, developing The Innovators into a programme that actually helps futureproof their businesses in what has been a tough year for the creative industry. I have worked with many of these designers for a long time and I am so happy that we are committing to their visionary collections in a practical, material way.” said Natalie Kingham, Buying Director at MATCHESFASHION. This group of designers will only contribute marginally to MATCHESFASHION’s group revenues, £372 million ended 31st January 2019, but they add far more to its brand as a destination for people who love fashion and a place to discover newness and the hottest design talent. This desire is insatiable and companies need this veneer of young designers and brands. A small financial outlay is worth the newness halo effect
In 2019, Liberty launched its ‘Liberty Discovers’ platform for up-and-coming talent. It supported designers by offering mentorship from the Liberty buying team and exposure opportunities via the brand’s communication platforms and access to Liberty’s two in-house product and fabric design studios, located within its Central London store.
Right - The LVMH Prize fund of €300,000 was split amongst the 8 2020 nominees
As for all the designer prizes, many decided to split the prize monies amongst the nominees due to the pandemic. The LVMH Prize finalists, Ahluwalia, Casablanca, Chopova Lowena, Nicholas Daley, Peter Do, Sindiso Khumalo, Supriya Lele and Tomo Koizumi all shared the €300,000 prize money equally. LVMH also pledged to support previous winners of the prize with a new fund, an undisclosed amount, and the six previous winners of the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize.
In America, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund was renamed ‘A Common Thread’. A Common Thread has raised over $5 million of which over $2.13 million was granted to 44 businesses in the first round of funding, $2.015 million granted to 37 businesses in the second round of funding and $500,000 granted to 47 NYC-based manufacturing businesses in the third round of funding for a total of 128 recipients across the three rounds.
Fashion’s tight production timetable and traditional cashflow model makes it very difficult for small designers and brands to survive. While the giant brands and retailers want to dominate, they also want a veneer of choice and newness. Expect to see many more funds, support and ‘prizes’ to appear from the large luxury groups and retailers.
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With a schedule now slimmer than one of the teenage models, London Fashion Week Men’s, or LFWM, needs to find a new reason for being. We’ve done diversity, inclusiveness and sustainability, but now, thanks to the BFC, there’s an over-riding umbrella term called ‘Positive Fashion’. Designers such as Nicholas Daley, Bethany Williams, Bianca Saunders and Ahluwalia all had PW (Positive Fashion) after their names on the schedule.
Launched in 2013, the BFC’s Positive Fashion initiative is “a platform designed to celebrate industry best practice and encourage future business decisions to create positive change”.
Left - The BFC's new LFWM graphics
Positive Fashion is led by 3 strategic pillars - sustainability, equality and diversity and craftsmanship and community - it says, In a statement from the BFC, “The BFC takes the lead in setting the standards for an industry that strives to represent equality and diversity on the global stage. Championing the importance of every person in the sector as a vital and valuable part of our industry entitled to be treated with respect and dignity.
“Supports the community of talent, skills and craftsmanship that make up our unique industry. Our initiatives are designed to develop connections and understanding between designers and manufacturers taking a holistic approach to the long term viability of the sector. We celebrate the wealth of talent and capability that is unique to British designer businesses.”
While this manifesto all sounds totally earnest and worthwhile it does reek of wishful thinking and what does it actually mean?The green movement is only going to get bigger and the fashion sector, said to contribute £32.3 Billion to the UK economy in GDP and supporting 890,000 jobs, is firmly on its naughty step. We’ve had a lot of lip service, but sadly, without government legislation, the industry will put off the difficult, and more costly, things until tomorrow.
To further ram home the point, the British Fashion Council has announced its intention to launch the Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF). “The BFC recognises that the fashion industry engages consumers daily, and whilst it is often seen as forward thinking, it also appreciates that through global supply chains the industry can have a negative impact on the planet.”
“Through the IPF, the BFC aims to create an industry blueprint by bringing together expertise from different areas to help brands in the industry navigate an often confusing to understand topic and kick-start a much-need comprehensive step-change. Informed by research, expert opinion, industry insights and the significant industry experience of individual businesses and organisations, the power of collective effort will amplify independent activity.”
It’s a lot of marketing speak, but it does have an influence if the costs aren’t too prohibitive. ‘Sustainability' has been a part of the BFC’s strategy since 2006. Their ‘Esthethica’ showcase put sustainable fashion at the heart of London Fashion Week before evolving into Positive Fashion in 2013. This is the first time I have seen it mentioned anywhere.
But, what has exactly happened over those past 7 years and how much carbon emissions, or however you want to measure it, has been saved?
Back to fashion week and many designers are thinking about how to minimise their footprint, but they’re also trying to survive very tough times. LFWM is currently very sustainable because nobody buys any of it. But jokes aside, the ambition is there and it feels like we’re in something of a technological and supply chain cul-de-sac. Patrick Grant’s premium E Tautz label was called ‘Brand New Second Hand’. In the show release he said, “As a designer I feel acute pressure to act. We need to change the message. No more fiddling while Rome burns. Big fashion can do ‘sustainable’, it can do ‘ethical’, it can do ‘conscious’. It all helps make consumers buy MORE.
“But what big fashion cannot do is small. It can’t slow down. What they will never do is tell you to ‘buy less, keep for longer, cherish, repair, pass on’. That however is exactly what we must do and what we’re asking you to do. E Tautz clothes will not change so much from season to season that you feel you need to buy something new. In fact we’re suggesting the opposite.”
Grant has worked with Astco, one of the UK’s largest clothing recyclers, to make new pieces from unwanted textiles. He’s also enlisted the Rolls-Royce of darning, the Royal School of Needlework, to give them that patched/repaired feel. What he should have done is shown last season’s samples with the repairs from actual wear and tear from being lent out to the industry. It’s fine to talk about buying less when a coat costs £1500, but when the collections are often funded by more affordable, high-street collaborations it can often sound hypocritical.
But, everything fashion does is hypocritical. The idea of replacing something while it is still perfectly useful will always put fashion into the negative fashion bracket. ‘Positive Fashion’ could easily go the way of ‘sustainability’ and become as meaningless as it sounds. Nobody is going to disagree with making fashion positive, it just needs to be explained. We want detail.
“The world is burning. Fashion plays a BIG part in this.” said Grant in his show's press release, “But as Ranieri sings in ‘Oh My Love’ ‘from nature we should learn, that all can start again’. Even Fashion.”