Is fashion over?! Not again, sigh. It has been living up to its ominous premise as monitoring fashion business headlines feels more like browsing the obituaries section. Coronavirus lockdowns and global supply-demand chain disruptions deeply affected the fashion industry across all segments. Heritage brands: Brooks Brothers celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018 and filed for bankruptcy this month. Designer labels: Diane von Furstenberg cut 75% of her staff and closed all boutiques except the flagship store. Mass market retailers: New York & Co. is shutting down its network after the parent company went bust. It seems that nearly every aspect of the fashion market today requires urgent reinvention. Prior successful operational models are no longer applicable. This presents a challenge and an opportunity for those willing to experiment and take risks. In the spirit of hope and progress, Paris Haute Couture Week took place entirely online for the first time ever. Zoom is buzzing with daily panels discussing possibilities in education, media, and retail.
While the fashion giants are braving the brunt of the storm, a new class of professionals is getting overdue attention. They have been quietly pioneering alternative spaces to streamline design, marketing, production services for the smaller brands with the flexibility, ingenuity, and perseverance that maybe can save fashion.
Forbes Magazine met with one such maverick – Anna la Germaine, the founder of Fashion Politique, a multi-format platform that includes among other things: a marketplace, a magazine, and a PR agency – all based in Europe, with global ambitions. Their conversation went through ‘all the stages of grief’ for ‘the way things were’ and visualizing the future to come.
- As a regular at fashion weeks, what did you think of the latest digital-only trend?
So far, digital fashion weeks lack the wow effect. My impressions and feedback from my colleagues were not great. We are emotional beings. Brands should bear in mind digital emotional intelligence. People don’t want to watch pre-recorded videos on schedule. Fashion TV has been doing this for years. What’s new?! Anything can be digitized, but technologies complement the physical world, they don’t replace it. I am convinced that brands will start using more personalized experience for customer support focusing on the human touch and one-on-one conversation.
- This is not the first big shift you’ve witnessed in the industry. How was your experience of the print to digital media transition?
When we launched F’OLITIQUE in 2011, it was on the very first digital fashion publications in London. We found it extremely important to support game changers, scouting new talents, giving forum to small and medium brands. Many people told me it was a bad idea! A competitive new magazine had to be printed on fine paper, that you would love to touch it, hold in your hands and save in your home library. We are still going strong! Now you hear the phrase about needing to physically feel something to make a purchasing decision again, but at this point it is about fabrics and materials products are made of. Consumers have embraced digital media fully, so I think buyers will adapt to online wholesale as well soon.
- What made you decide to challenge the fashion status quo?
I had my own private fashion brand and we faced common problems in communications, manufacturing, sales. I thought there must be other ways to do things! To change the system is quite hard, but a decade later we see huge differences. My goal now is to make dreams of other creative minds come true while building real relationships with the customers. Many buyers still don’t want to risk investing in young and not famous brands. Does it mean all these talented designers should just give up? Absolutely the opposite. In 2012, we created a marketplace channel for the small brands we generated publicity for. We started with 119 brands from over a dozen countries. No niche is too small anymore!
- What is the business reality for fashion start-ups now?
For some reason, most young designers dream of finding an investor. Fantastic! As in, not realistic. Fashion is not considered a good investment in the majority of cases. So, they need to learn to thrive. Designers can have the most stunning high-quality products but absolutely no knowledge about basic accounting or effective media kits. Platforms and services like ours can help with that. The biggest practical and conceptual shift is in the model itself. It used to be “creation, production, sales”. Now the paradigm is “creation, sales, production”. This is allowing many brands to grow sustainably.
- Reinventing an industry is a team effort. Whose work inspires you to try again and again?
The industry had already been moving in the right direction of Big Changes before COVID-19. I believe everything has just sped it up and for the better. I recently spoke with Angelo di Segni, the WW retail director at Santoni. They are doing really interesting things to connect the handmade Italian goods ethos with the contemporary luxury consumer consciousness. Truly, we are seeing Darwin’s laws in action. It’s not the biggest organism that survives, but the one who knows how to adapt best. I also admire how Federico Marchetti has been implementing technology with the Yoox Net-A-Porter Group. They are constantly in search of new opportunities, new ways to do everything. But to make this happen on a global scale, we also need understanding and support from the customers, as well as trust, a lot of trust!
Article By: Saba Shaikh