Unsettling and Uplifting -10 Uncharted Paths to a New Direction for Fashion

We have to be unburdened by what has been to consider what can be.

– Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States

If you are creating art, there is no time schedule, no season.  Artists are motivated to create an object or image that is timeless – work that transcends time.  Fashion designers have this same desire and, historically, have been up against creating seasonal work to propel the speed and disposability of today’s fashion environment.

The pandemic was a relief for designers who were longing to get off the fast train, to look away from commercial mandates and revisit values. They worked tirelessly creating seasonal collection after collection, non-stop. This era presents a blank slate, an opportunity to transform how we envision, create, consume, appreciate, document, and preserve fashion. The time is ripe to upset the status quo, braze uncharted territory, and “unburden what has been to consider what can be”.

What you need to know? Correction, Contraction, Cessation. COVID-19 Calls to Action a Sustainable Fashion System and COVID Update will give you in-depth knowledge on the fallout and forecast of the industry, a foundation for moving in a new direction.  In addition, Mckinsey & Company’s the State of Fashion 2021 report offers a jolt of reality in numbers and the long haul ahead.

Shinique Smith: Refuge exhibit | California African American Museum, photo Rhonda P. Hill
Shinique Smith: Refuge exhibit | California African American Museum

10 Uncharted Ideas:

  1. No season. Seasonal cycles are over. Create fewer collections that are timeless and not season specific.  Scarcity can fuel demand so drop the name ‘collections’ and call them editions. Fashion, as collected editions, defines longevity in support of a circular system. With the surge of rental and secondhand markets, season-less, timeless pieces will add value and recyclability once they end up in these markets.
  2. Design like your life depends on it.  Whatever sector your business is, opening price point or luxury, put ‘make’ in your product.  Construct and engineer an inspiring composition of materials, quality, construction and adornment details, and technique. Most of all, design and pattern engineer with zero waste. This can be achieved at all price points.
  3. With a major reach, showcase once a year in an extravaganza event.  Generate hunger, scarcity of ‘what’s new’.  The event of the year!  Virtual or otherwise with all the theatrics, education, and engagement.  Alternatives to a runway show:
    • Outdoor street event – get the permits; invite the media; buyers; make it open to the public.  Parade style, protest style, or performance art – endless imaginative ways of a “must see” event.
    • Fashion storytelling videos – with a script, characters, and costume design [your limited edition collection], tell a story, not just any story, get people’s attention.
    • A virtual [or physical] museum-style exhibit with a curator-style tour.
  4. Attention buyers and media. Get off the constant flow of new merchandise and monthly magazine issues.  Your business model will have to change, too.
    • For mainstream media, quarterly or biannual visually and content rich magazine drops can play into the scarcity mindset.  These coveted issues can do as much business as the hit and miss monthly ones. The goal is coveted. Think Document Journal, Crash, or Ten magazines – digital or print coffee table issues to be read over and over.  Content? Tap into everyday folks and the stories of those up and coming.  Fashion is not just about what we wear.  It’s the converging of all things fashion.  Credible stories and photography on it’s historical and cultural significance will minimize it’s frivolous perception.
    • For buyers/retailers, the goal is a limited, season-less, targeted assortment [can you describe your consumer?]; and, once sold out, other than the replenishment of basic assortment, do not reorder. It’s great to sell out with fewer to no markdowns.  If you need a constant flow of merchandise, procure vintage or collect treasures from your customer’s closet.  Resale and recycling is and will be the new normal.
  5. The superficial, fashionista influencers that partner with brands will be a thing of the past, in time.  The selfies and internet posts pics of latest trends will self destruct. They generate an instant-gratification fan base versus long-term consumer loyalty and identity with the brand.  And besides, who are they to weigh in on the right path for fashion when they are financially incentivised.  Brands that need these influencers will diminish brand integrity over time.
    • A better path in connecting with your consumer and establishing brand loyalty is to give them something of value at point of sale.  Think of a collector buying artwork.  What comes with this purchase is the provenance, artist bio, a catalog of the artist’s work, in some instances a studio visit, and dialogue/storytelling, either from the artist or curator/dealer.  Fashion, of any merit, should offer a similar value proposition.  Consumers want to know the story behind their purchase – material origins, “who made my clothes”, supply chain transparency, care; and in the spirit of a sustainable world, where to repair, return, or recycle.
  6.  Educating the consumer is invaluable.  Knowledge is power. Treating the consumer as a stakeholder is a new path to marketing and validating their commitment to a circular economy.  An example: a day-in-the-life type educational engagement – educating consumers on how a product comes to life.  Exhibit [museum] style method can be used to illustrate behind-the-scenes materials and garment development.  Understanding the process, from concept to end use adds awareness and appreciation of where fashion comes from.
  7. Brick and mortar.  A digitized experience will never replace an in-person one and digital fatigue will drive consumers back into the stores. Get beyond social media. The number of followers, likes, and comments is not a sustainable means for engagement.  A new path or a throwback to a real experience is the brick and mortar touchy-feely-try-on-live-social experience. Record store closures today won’t negate the post-pandemic need for this type of personal and emotional engagement.  Don’t run away from the physical space to digital as the industry is doing.  Rents are in a free fall.  Think long-term, take advantage of the low cost [low rent] opportunities of a physical outlet.  Physical retail is destined to become the premier experience and monetizable media channel.  Imagine and create a space that entertains, sells an idea, not the product.  The experience and connection is what’s valued.
  8. Think glocalization – Many regions will be affected by travel and tourism.  It’s one reason to be local with a global reach, but not the main reason.  Be strategic in marketing efforts that involve the community.  Remember, your success, in a circular economy, is their success.  Local, invitation only, and smaller exposure events, such as [mask-wearing] pop-up shops and old-fashion trunk shows, are popular and productive.  As is done in the music industry, treat it as a ‘release party’. Consumers will want to get ‘offline’ and experience an intimate ‘special’ gathering.  Local also means, keeping the entire supply chain local – better quality management; uplifts the community and local economy – while distributing globally.
  9. Implement a circular fashion system.  This is a big nut to crack but the industry has no more excuses. If you are not sustainable, you cannot sustain your future. There are industry guidebooks and numerous studies that show consumers have shifted in this direction.  Here are a few:
  10. Diversity in the workforce.  It’s simple.  Eliminate the privilege hierarchical barriers – every company has them.  Close your eyes, hire and promote people with talent.  When you open your eyes, you’ll see that you are moving people through your company with diverse backgrounds and, mostly, because they have talent.  Their skin color or ethnic makeup won’t matter.

As unsettling as change can be, it can be uplifting for a better tomorrow.

Image: Artist, Shinique Smith: Refuge exhibit | California African American Museum, photo/archive Rhonda P. Hill

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Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor