University of Fashion Blog

Category "Sustainability"

The Future of Fashion: Power in Numbers

Year 2020 is upon us, and there’s no better time to take pause, reflect on the decade gone by and plot a bright new course forward.

In the past ten years, the fashion industry has seen some major shifts. In New York alone, the home of fashion week has bounced around from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center to the piers and beyond as designers have adjusted to a changing industry. Once extravagant runway shows have turned into presentations, private viewings for buyers in showrooms and studios, if not online iterations designed to showcase offerings. The power of social media and social media influencers have changed how designers market, brand and promote themselves. And the topics of sustainability, slow fashion and increased concern with how, where and by whom clothing is made have taken center stage.

Consumers have changed, too. In response to the fast and furious pace of social media, “I want it now!” mentality has driven designers to a see now, buy now cycle of production and selling in order to get their customers the clothes they want the day after they see them posted on Instagram. But consumers have also become more thoughtful with the fashion dollars they spend, taking into consideration the consequences of “fast fashion” on the environment and the humans behind the sewing machines making 9.99 trend-of-the-moment pieces.

All in all, the age old model of designing as an independent “head of house” designer, showing a collection, hoping buyers will bite, producing orders and delivering garments six months later to retailers has been turned upside down. Today designers are required to innovate, create, collaborate and develop a path in the fashion industry that will keep their design dreams alive.

The upside of this upheaval is that a bold new day in fashion is upon us—a future that is less about ego and more about educated decisions, less about opulence and more about open conversations about the real challenges our industry is facing. Running a profitable fashion business is a multifaceted operation, with more roles that need to be filled than any one human can possibly sustain.

In our opinion, the path forward will be paved with groups of designers and experts coming together for a common goal. Think of creative factories where there is no singular Marc Jacobs or Ralph Lauren, but instead a group of people, each with a particular talent, banding together as they work toward a common creative vision.

Consider for a moment the power of putting together a team of the following:

Sustainability Expert – Someone who can focus on making affordable and sustainable decisions in terms of materials and processes used. A sustainability expert may also focus on in house sustainable labor practices and options, think creating structure so that all involved enjoy a work/life balance and a healthy environment while at work.

Innovator – A designated innovator is one who can research new methods, ways of producing, materials, structures that support the efficacy of the the team’s common vision. An innovator is focused on the next step of the group’s progress.

Designer(s) – This individual or group of individuals set the aesthetic vision for the group. Imagine bringing together a team with specializations in womenswear, menswear, accessories, etc.

Pattern Maker(s) – Pattern maker(s) carry out the technical aspects of the groups vision, whether by traditional flat pattern or using 3D software, pattern makers create a library of patterns for the group.

Social Media Guru – Someone who thrives on the fast paced, changing world of social media and understands which channels appeal to the group’s customer as well as when and how frequently to release content plays a key role in any successful business today.

Influencer – An influencer who has a significant social media following and who aligns with the vision of the brand can truly alter the course of brand awareness and sales.

Brand Manager – Someone who acts as a liaison between photographers, a social media guru, designers, etc. and makes sure messaging is consistent. A brand manager may also seek out partnership opportunities that support the group.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive…there are models, photographers, and so on to consider. However, just imagine as an emerging designer, dedicating as much time to finding your tribe of like minded people with strengths different from yours as you do to learning how to draw a croquis.

Imagine pooling resources as you build a fashion business.

Imagine having emotional and professional support as you go through the typical ups and downs of any business venture.

And imagine not feeling the weight of an entire fashion brand on your shoulders as well as having a supportive team around you to celebrate the successes you will experience.

This notion of “better together” is already starting to take shape. In a recent WWD article, 7 New Designers to Watch for Spring 2020, you’ll notice only a couple of independent designers. The rest are brands made up of two, sometimes three designers under a common label.

The team at Colville Image: www.drapersonline.com

For example, in Milan, Colville is made up of Lucinda Chambers, Molly Molloy and Kristin Forss, three designers that met 15 years ago while working at Marni. Collectively, they share experience in styling, journalism (Chambers is the former British Vogue fashion director) as well as both menswear and womenswear. They speak to this idea of power in numbers when they say, “We are surrounded by amazing people who have become our mentors and influencers, friends, colleagues and each other. We involve friends to work and collaborate with us, we are building a Colville community, the collection isn’t just one voice and not even three but many, it’s an inspiring way to work.”

The team at Commission Image: @commissionnyc

In New York, Commission, a brand by designers Jin Kay, Dylan Cao and Huy Luong, is a great example of a tribe of designers with a common creative vision. All three designers are first-generation immigrants from Asia and inspired by their mothers’ style. They share an impressive collective resume of experience. Kay has designed for Gucci, Narciso Rodriguez and Prabal Gurung. Cao has taken turns at Alexander Wang, 3.1 Phillip Lim and R13, and Luong is a photographer with a background in visual communication design. Not only does this tribe of artists share an extensive list of strengths and a creative vision, they are also tied to a greater purpose of combatting the stereotypical and literal translation of “Asian” beauty and culture in the fashion industry.

It’s been a decade since I showed my graduate collection for the Academy of Art at NY Fashion Week (in Bryant Park!) and I never could have predicted how fashion would change. But now, ten years later, I am inspired by the thought of future designers banding together for the ride. Fashion is such a wonderful world of creativity, passion and excitement and it’s meant to be shared. In 2020, my wish for you is to honor and recognize your own strengths and seek out your tribe for the rest!

Are you inspired by other design teams? Please share below in the comments.

 

 

 

 

All Hail the Queen of Raw

Nothing makes us happier at the University of Fashion than featuring power players who are making positive change in the fashion industry. And little did this designer realize I would have my design and production mind blown by the incredible woman you are about to meet.

Enter Stephanie Benedetto, self-proclaimed Queen of Raw.

This former corporate attorney on Wall Street and descendent of an Austrian immigrant turned Lower East Side master furrier is realizing her mission of turning pollution into profit. And maybe more importantly, she’s contributing to a world in which her son can grow up and thrive by breathing in clean air, enjoying access to clean water and wearing non-toxic clothing.

Benedetto suggests turning our traditional design process on its head in an effort to make design sustainable by powering design with dead stock fabrics.

Benedetto explains: Pen to paper or stylus to screen, designing a garment can be one of the most special and intimate experiences an artist can have. It’s no mystery why designers want to start their process with this creative expression. But it’s taking its toll on our world. Where is the business or environmental sense in designing a garment with a fabric in mind without having secured the specific material, figuring out the quantity available, knowing where it’s located, and the ethics in its production? The funnel is broken. Starting with design leaves the rest of the battle uphill.

Have you ever had one of those designer a-ha moments, where everything you’ve been taught somehow goes out the window, and suddenly you see your craft in a new light? Keep reading…

The Queen of Raw continues: The back and forth of swatching and communicating shipping, confirming color, managing orders, the possibility of the material becoming unavailable in the midst of communication – it happens all too often. What if (just trust me for two seconds), what if we started with a material? What if there was a way to see that something was already manufactured and ready to go?”

Once again, a-ah. I’ve faced this production quandary and it wasn’t pretty. On the flip side of things, as an emerging designer with only small orders to fill, I found myself wanting to use fabrics that I could only get by meeting the manufacturer’s minimums. This unfortunate situation left me with all kinds of extra fabric for some garments in my collection and running out of the right fabric (as Benedetto describes above) for others. Had I of started my design process with specific, available fabrics in mind, oh my, how things would have turned out differently.

As if reading my mind, Benedetto continues: You have all the information on where it’s [fabric] coming from, how much is available, how it was made, and it’s cheaper at the same quality you’re used to because it’s “dead stock.” What if designers began with what’s available instead of creating all the problems (for themselves) that slow production down by using/creating new? 

Benedetto will tell you exactly how a fledgling (or seasoned) designer’s business could benefit from this fabric-first design model, and this designer will concur.

Bottom lines would improve.

Price points on finished goods could be more accessible with production costs severely lowered.

Billions of gallons of water would be saved in using already existing excess (700 gallons per yard repurposed).

And fashion could move to the forefront of the sustainable mission instead of being the second biggest contributor to climate change.

Take in those last few words…fashion is the second biggest contributor to climate change. As responsible designers and global citizens, it’s important for all of us to consider all the design and production resources (and options) we have at our fingertips, thanks to thought leaders like Benedetto. If sourcing existing fabric options first makes sense to you, waste no time visiting Queen of Raw. As a bonus benefit, Queen of Raw will calculate the environmental impact of your order free of charge and you can pass the good news (and the savings) on to your customers.

Finally, we couldn’t write a post on responsible design and sustainable uses of fabric without giving a shout out to our friends at FabScrap. This incredible resource transports unused fabric from designers’ factories and warehouses to its sorting location. Then FabScrap either recycles scraps or prepares them for sale at a lower cost for designers and crafters. FabScrap even offers fabric sorting volunteer opportunities where you can earn fabric in trade. If you are in NYC, take advantage of one of two FabScrap locations!

If you have sustainable resources of your own to add, please don’t hesitate to comment and share what you know with our community below!