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5 changes that shaped 2016

2016 will probably go down as the year when voters rejected a liberal approach to life. The economic recession of previous years that brought us austerity, and the fully pledged globalisation in industry and production, attacked the least prepared segments of society. It was another “industrial revolution”, this time a more silent one. Workers lost their jobs not only to technology but to other workers thousands of miles away. This time the state could not assist; austerity wouldn’t allow it…

Fashion industry wasn’t unaffected by these global socioeconomic changes. The last few years, the industry has been going through a major paradigm shift; the latter’s results becoming more apparent this year. Years of wrong investment decisions and knee-jerk reactions have slowly shaped the industry to what it is today. Either struggling to react to current needs, a great example of this are the ailing chain retailers bleeding customers, or an industry that has ripped up the rulebook in its need to survive. The brand that used to be the definitions of sexiness and turned into a geeky mash-up of lace dresses with snake appliques comes to mind.

But let me be more specific and consider 5 key changes and trends we have seen this year. 5 new directions that have defined the year but will also shape the industry; an insight into things to come.

Demna Gvasalia and the Vetements design collective

Georgian born Demna Gvasalia together with his brother Guram and 5 more friends (all met during their time at Maison Margiela), created the design collective Vetements. And in a couple of years have become the hottest and most coveted brand. Their concept is simple but extremely efficient and uncommon in the fashion world. Design for them is a democratic process of conversation. Every member of the collective, whatever their background, has an input.

Vetements show

Breaking free from the hegemony of trend, their clothes address what they believe people will like to wear. They are inspired by urban cultures and subcultures, online influences, and streetwise youth to offer season-less fashion for cool individuals. They aim at people in-touch with reality, instead of selling a fantasy. Selling a make belief has been the go-to approach for most luxury brands so far, an approach interrupted by the rise of the social media.

Vetements’ relationship with social media on the other hand, is very interesting and one to watch. They monitor what is going-on, and choose all their runway models carefully off Instagram (an ode to the real person who will buy and wear their clothes). They are never involved in a cat and mouse chase between what the people want and what a brand is offering. On the contrary, by simply analysing what is happening they can offer consumers what they don’t yet know they want. Who knew they wanted the huge angular exaggerated padded shoulders they offered? Even traditional retailers with a more conservative clientele see anti-trend, anti-establishment and uber-expensive Vetements directional silhouettes fly off the shelf.

Vetements is not necessarily creating revolutionary new fashion, but is re-thinking the methodology of fashion creation, and the relationship between a fashion brand and its end-consumers. It is all about giving them what they want but have not yet looked for. A very Steve Jobs approach, a true revolution in 2016’s Fashion.

Their success has not gone unnoticed and Damna Gvasalia has now replaced Alexander Wang as the creative director of Balenciaga. I hope that Vetements’ methodology will now influence the design giant and other brands by proxy. I hope in other words that designers will be allowed again to create.

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Robot-made clothes: an apparel revolution

I really do not know how I feel about this. Part of me is excited with every technological advancement, but then another part of me is a bit worried. Concerned about the changes this innovation will bring. What does a fully automated production of garments really mean for our industry and for the people who work in it? How will our world change if robots make our clothes?

Sewbo announced recently that it has managed to use an industrial robot to sew together a T-shirt. It overcame the big hurdle of handling soft fabric, aligning it is such a way that it could sew it together. An astonishing success. The process is rather simple; the fabric is cut then dipped in a water-soluble stiffener that makes it rigid, almost like metal. This way, off-the-shelf industrial robots can handle each piece of the pattern, manoeuvre it around, align it and stitch it together. When the sewing process is over, the finished garment is dipped in a solution to remove the stiffener and turn fabric again into its original soft properties. The special stiffener is then collected to be re-used. No waste there.

Video Courtesy of Sewbo Inc.

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The trouble with retail: we must adapt to move forward

It’s no secret that retail is going through some really difficult times. In previous posts I referred to the uninspiring product offer, the lack of VM vision, and the plague of constant discounting as a few of the reasons retail got to this point. Add to this toxic mix international unrest, economic downturn and most recently Brexit, and there aren’t enough plasters to patch up this problem …

It is true that our industry has faced challenges in the past and managed to overcome them and grow. But continuity and growth did not come from repeating same old. Revolutionary and innovative ideas were employed; adaptation became the only way to secure a future.  For those who were too slow to react, or too scared to take action the only way was out, out of business that is.

When the first department stores opened, and our high-streets were filled with chains selling the same stuff we lamented the death of the independent. Many independents did disappear en masse but some didn’t. Those who managed to survive did so by choosing product wisely; product that was relevant to their clientele and different from that stocked by the chains. They survived because they figured out that what made them different were their personalised services, and the in-store experience they were offering. Shops such as 14 oz. Berlin and Goodhood London stood out, became reference shops, and they flourished.

Goodhood shop front: image courtesy of ben

Do you remember how many people condemned online sales to sure death because “consumers wouldn’t want to buy something they couldn’t touch or try on”? Yes, some people did say that back in the 90s! How wrong they were. Consumers were so exposed to product, that associating image to touch was as easy as evoking memories of the hand-feel. Fit was a big issue with returns, but a few brands invested money in experts to help them with fit inconsistencies and reducing return numbers. E-tailing turned profitable. Those brands that have not adapted and did no invest in their online sales are now suffering.

Whatever the price point, all brands have one thing in common; they are trying to sell goods to a customer who is quickly changing. The new consumer is informed, savvy and consciously decides how and why they will spend their money. Old marketing tricks do not work anymore. Let’s face it; a pouty tall blond model does not have the same effect now.

Whatever the problems, there are changes than can be made to turn this ship around. It is so obvious what needs to be done, and it baffles me why not everyone is on it. Below I discuss 5 possible steps.

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The revolutionary Elsa Schiaparelli

Lately there has been a revived interest in the revolutionary Elsa Schiaparelli by designers around the world. Not many of them are eager to advertise it, because they want to avoid people accusing them of copying. But the signs are out there; the return to opulence (i.e draping, over-the-top hardware), handicraft techniques, experimentation with fabrics, eye catching playful prints and embroideries (lobsters, sea creatures, everyday objects, and other Instagram-ready images), and the list goes on…

An Elsa Schiaparelli Portrait

But who was Schiaparelli? Born in Italy in 1890, she was the first to show that fashion and art can coexist, and that when they do magic is created; her clothes are a great example of how Dadaism / Surrealism can inspire breath-taking fashion.  She revolutionised fashion by using traditional techniques such as the double stitch knit created by Armenian refugees, together with innovative fabrications and avant-garde pattern making. Through her privileged upbringing, her education in Philosophy, her rebellious and fantasy-prone character, and her mixing with artists, such as Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, Leonor Fini, and Meret Oppenheim, and by socialising with the it-crowd, she learned how to see things differently, and how to re-imagine clothes.

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