The 30th IAF World Fashion Convention had the big challenges in the industry as underlying theme. The industry faces a downward spiral of price pressure in retail markets running headfirst into a wall of rising production prices and pressure from consumers and governments to create better working conditions. It is a system’s crisis caused by the total effect of all players added together. The combination of near constant sales periods and the emergence of giant retailers with fast fashion systems has convinced consumers that clothing is a cheap product. This is also touching premium brands. It touches the price perception of all products and it pulls away the attention from the value of quality.
But the situation is improving. This was clearly shown in Medellín. Across the industry, firms are finding ways to reverse the negative spiral. Either they deal with rising prices by making the supply chain more efficient, using other ways to save money than trying to decrease labour costs even further. Or they create new value in their brands, fulfilling the desires of a new generation of customers. Or a new generation creates new companies, setting them up partly outside of the system as we know it now.
Therefore, at this year’s Convention, in Medellín, Colombia, local and regional networks with international connections, customer engagement through all channels and technical innovation and design were the optimistic buzzwords.
Strong Colombian brands, but also the story of the birth of designer jeans by Adriano Goldschmied showed the importance of local networks. Craftmanship is becoming more important to differentiate products on the local and global markets. Artisinal skills are often rooted in a collective experience in specific areas and taught at local schools. Even in high cost areas, a move towards local artisanal networks is occurring, as was shown by the Amsterdam ‘House of Denim’ example. On a global macro economic level, even the World Bank is changing its policy to this new reality. Interestingly, it sees in fast fashion an opportunity for local networks of manufacturers and retailers less reliant on the lowest manufacturing costs and therefore allowing growing clothing industries in emerging industries to offer its workers better lives.
But it is the global connections that make the local networks really strong. Perhaps the most hopeful glimpse into the future of the industry was offered by Stefan Siegel of Not Just a Label. NJAL connecting 17000 young and upcoming fashion designers from all over the world to clients from all over the world.
Siegel showed the systemic change which these designers are creating. Many have taken themselves out of the seasonal approach working in a more artisanal way. But they embody in this way working in local networks and being connected globally. Part of their design and technical input they obtain from this large, global ecosystem.
Of course, these trends are not happening only with small brands and designers. Larger brands, looking for the authenticity and artisanal approach their clients are demanding, are starting to support local design communities. Tom Julian, of the Doneger Group from the US named innovation through product, embracing a lifestyle experience and branding by storytelling as best brand strategies to reach the valuable ‘millenial’ customer group. Storytelling is best based on authenticity.
Not only Tom Julian, but many other speakers were clear about the growing importance of product innovation. President of Alvanon, Ed Gribbin, summarized it very well in his speech when he said that design is not only about how it looks anymore in the fashion industry, but it is also about how it works. Adriano Goldschmied told us that the future of premium jeans is in raising the comfort level of denim fabrics by using innovative technology.
Big brands Desigual and Disney showed how to communicate all this value added. Claudio Chiaromonte. Executive Vice President and Managing Director for The Walt Disney Company Latin America showed the audience how big companies have perfected the art of delivering to consumers anytime, anyplace, through any format, by any payment. Horacio Broggi. Director of Desigual Latin showed us some secrets of the success of the phenomenal growth of Desigual, from 8 to 800 million euros in 10 years time. It is able to transfer real emotion into the very distinctively printed and seductively lined products. And its multichannel approach leads to great visibility, bringing design and craftmanship to its highly succesful customer proposition.
Medellin and its very successful cluster of growing fashion brands serves as a great example of how local networks can be a great basis for capturing a global market. Colombian brands such as OndadeMar and Vélez showed how companies that embraced their ‘Colombianness’ through their product and branding were embraced by a growing group of international customers.