Fashion is such a visual and evocative industry, its no wonder that we all get caught up in the presentation of it all.
"There's just so much design activity in the international industry that it's impossible to keep up."
Designers who create a concept want to "get it out there" -- this I can certainly understand because it takes so much emotion, energy and effort to produce a collection. I've seen numerous examples where the end-all for a collection is to get it on a runway. I suppose this stems from a long tradition in the industry where designers would host shows in-house to feature next season's collection for buyers -- a familiar story of the first ready-to-wear designers in the 20th century. The thinking being that buyers wan to discover the "next big thing", so naturally they'll expend the effort to seek out all the new runway shows. Of course, there is just so much activity in the international industry that it's impossible to keep up, and our current reality is far different from this original system.
The issues are these:
The fashion industry is flooded with a long-tail of emerging designers. This trend will continue to expand as our creative industries continue to grow and access to design equipment becomes even easier. These designers are producing products of various types, quality and price-points. It's a lot to keep up with.
As consumers we shop differently. This requires wholesale buyers to behave differently in how they source and secure product. There's less room and time for discovery, and decisions are often made via existing relationships in the network.
Fashion weeks and runway shows around the world are now primarily spectacle and less a means to acquire coveted wholesale accounts. It's about the buzz.
Then there is the rise of direct-to-consumer opportunities. This brings with it an increased cost to emerging brands, but also the benefit of actually knowing and learning about the customer. Not to mention, opportunities for improved margins.
The exciting thing about these changes is that it opens the door for ACCESS -- it may require new ways of working, but designers now have greater access and ability to design not only their collections, but their business models. You no longer have to fit into a mold defined for you by a legacy system.
What then is the purpose of a fashion week?
This is why the new direct-to-consumer model pioneered by Fashion X is so refreshing. At Austin Fashion Initiative's network event on June 6th, I sat down with Matt Swinney, the founder and CEO of Fashion X, to discuss his role in Austin's fashion industry.
What I love about talking with Matt is how genuine and honest he is. When he agreed to join me for an in-conversation presentation, I knew I wanted to address some real criticisms that I've heard of the Austin Fashion Week events in the community. Mainly that he's "in it to make money" and that as such, the business model takes advantage of emerging designers by charging them to participate in the runway show without the promise of wholesale buyers from top national and international retailers. Realizing this, I approached our conversation as an opportunity to go behind-the-scenes and take the time to talk openly about the role of Austin Fashion Week in our community.
Fashion X Austin (aka Austin Fashion Week) is a large part of the visibility of our local industry. The event is now the fourth largest fashion week in the USA (behind New York, LA and Miami). Since this year's event was the 10th anniversary of Austin Fashion Week, it was the perfect time to reflect.
True to Matt's personality, he dove right in during our conversation, and really talked about why he made the decisions that he did throughout his business journey and the implications for the sustainability of his business model. The reality of every business model is that it has to be economically sustainable; a revenue stream must be generated to make it work.
"Fashion X leverages -- perhaps even before its time -- the evolution of our industry in empowering direct-to-consumer models."
Coming from my first experiences with Fashion weeks in London, New York and Paris, I personally found it so invigorating the way that Fashion X leverages -- perhaps even before its time -- the evolution of our industry in empowering direct-to-consumer models. Fashion X is an event designed to celebrate the participants in our local industry. This is evident in the cheers, applause and well-wishes you hear as designers, models and 'looks' make their way down the runway. The audience was filled with the diversity of Austin's creative community, from wealthy philanthropists and patrons to fashion-forward professionals, the avant-garde instagram influencers, and aspiring youth. Any of these audience segments could be a potential supporter / consumer of a newly discovered label. Plus the format of the event -- a four hour production -- means the audience is present and engaged. [I've found the constant traversing from location to location between shows at other fashion weeks to be distracting and generally wasteful.] The extended production value means that it greatly reduces the cost of participation for designers in London or New York, which can start at $30K and include the added cost in time of managing the production of the show. Plus the professional photography is a great 'hack' for getting high quality images for marketing assets and lookbook materials.
The atmosphere of Fashion X is jubilant, and I love how it's turned what we thought a fashion show was for -- buying -- into what it actually has been for more than a decade -- a true spectacle and celebration of the things with which we adorn our bodies. It takes the 'come as you are' culture of Austin and makes it a whole lot more fashionable. I'm already looking forward to next year.
Many thanks to our sponsors who help make our events special.
Jennifer Millspaugh is the founder of Austin Fashion Initiative. Through monthly network events, she's creating opportunities for engaged networking and inspiration from (and for) Austin's leading creative entrepreneurs and business professionals. You can join AFI in taking the initiative by becoming a member to gain access to a formal network of creatives, entrepreneurs, thought-leaders, and innovators doing their part to establish Austin as a global creative capital.