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  • Megan St Clair Morgan

Working against fashion industry norms

Woman working on a sewing machine making a Raeburn jacket.
In the studio at Raeburn – Image by Ben Broomfield

The fashion industry has always, up until now, operated with a set-in-stone calendar of key dates, activations, shows and opportunities for brands and businesses to align to, and with. In recent times we’ve seen a seismic shift in fashion, toward a more malleable calendar offering flexibility for businesses in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Though for some, this flexibility is what their businesses were already built on, via alternative business models and a disregard for the seasonal collections calendar. Many Micro and Small businesses (MSEs) seeking to work in a more sustainable way, had chosen to operate away from the ‘standard’, long before Covid-19. But, for many this time is an opportunity for change – allowing for small businesses to choose an adjusted path, time or goal, and re-adjust their business model to fit their values, rather than working to the industry norms. Changing direction? Not quite. Changing their markers of success and key goals? Maybe.

Be that adjusting their collection release by a month or two, or shifting their focus away from the fashion week model entirely. Many brands are choosing to launch Direct to Consumer (DTC) e-commerce, brands are taking the reins and choosing their path, with both short and long-term development in mind... Shifting away from the wholesale, retailer led model which relies on stores to buy, in order to sustain the business.

Covid-19 has allowed us the opportunity to take a moment to think about the impact we have as businesses and as individuals, and the choices we have. Given the effects Covid-19 has had on the industry, it spotlights the reliance on systems outside of a business's control. This was a situation in which it was impossible to plan, and in so many aspects still is. As with any industry, fashion is led by key organisations and support systems, enabling those MSEs who can act as drivers for change towards a more sustainable future to succeed. But that support is often delivered within pre-determined and tried and testedformats. Those looking to be transformative in business have often found this challenging within a support model that does not always allow variation to the traditional annual fashion calendar and retail buying schedules.

With so many support systems across the fashion and creative industries, how can these organisations alter their requirements for access to support and funding, to allow for businesses who are taking a new step away from the traditional model? Many fashion MSEs struggle to access funding and support available due to working against system norms. – bucking the trend of seasonal collections for example... But, do designers lose out on funding or support due to this?

“I think up until the last couple of years organisations supporting emerging designer businesses were mainly focused on the traditional model of fashion, wholesaling via seasonal collections etc. But with the pandemic, online showcasing, marketing and direct selling has grown in scope and importance. Enabling designers to reach customers more easily and work to their own pace and rhythm. They still struggle to access appropriate funding, and often need help and mentoring to access possibilities.”

So, what is needed within the industry to allow for support and funding to be accessed in a more inclusive way for SME's who don't 'fit the mould'?

“The funding models are often predicated on stockists and growth targets, broader forms of support are needed that look more holistically at different forms of value creation. The support organisations are also beginning to change, and becoming more aware of alternative ways of working, some are beginning to consider the person/people as well as the financial success of the business, and we hope the [upcoming] outputs from the Fostering Sustainable Practices project can shine a light on different ways to do business, new product/service systems and different indicators of success. Finance is needed at different stages throughout a business’ trajectory, empathy and support over the longer term is crucial.” – Prof. Sandy Black

We as an industry need to take this moment, as an opening of the gates toward a more positive industry that is led by values and creativity, rather than strict timelines.

Prof. Sandy Black adds – “The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated and made transparent the fault lines in the fashion system, and increased awareness of sustainability issues and actions required. Support organisations have to respond to the realities of the new world where sustainability (beyond economic survival) must be embedded across the board. They need to facilitate this change in the industry through supporting transitions to alternative business models...”

It's now up to the designers to choose to continue working within the same system, or help create the shift the industry needs...


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