Monday, June 25, 2012

The Problem Identified

No one individual runs the fashion industry, here or abroad. Of course there are extremely powerful people who exert enormous influence, but they, to our knowledge, do not act in concert so it can't even be said that there is an oligarchy that controls everything. That said there is a great deal of "following" that goes on. We have become an industry of sycophants. An influential person confers status on a designer or brand and to curry favor people echo in an empty headed chorus. It matters little if the designer is talented or the designs are good. This is what has allowed the triumph of money and marketing to drive us to our current state. I want to stress as I have said in the past that I do not believe that there was some mythical golden age of meritocracy in the fashion industry. I do loudly proclaim however that the industry is as far from success based on quality as it has ever been.

If you've been reading Designer Matters, or been aware of my work on modaCYCLE, or met me then you know how I feel about the fashion media. I will not bash my bloody head into that wall of bricks once more here. The element of the equation that I wish to expose here is what the current role of buyers is in today's fashion industry. There is an enviable purity about the buyers job. A buyer from Saks once told me that her job was to be right 100% twice a year. If a buyer is not that accurate they get fired. A fashion buyer buys what they believe will sell to their client, period. Add to that stricture the current economic situation and you end up with an extremely conservative environment where buyers are not merely unwilling but literally unable to risk buying and unknown designer. The word "unknown" is critical to the point I am making. If being known, having "buzz" is what drives sales then  what new designers need is exposure. But exposure requires either a lengthy period of time or a large amount of initial money. Emerging designers unfortunately usually have neither. This is why many of the fastest rising new brands have been started by "designers" who either have or have access to money. This is by itself not new, many famous designers have never been hungry a day in their lives. However it has always been possible for a designer to attain great heights based on the quality of their designs. The designer creates great work and hustles like made putting them self out there to buyers, editors, stylists, and style icons. Given the current climate and the forces arrayed against them for emerging designers this is next to impossible today. What is needed is a way for the best and brightest new American based talent to be presented to buyers.

The CFE in the UK has done an outstanding job of this the CFDA in America has not. The CFDA Incubator was the CFDA's response to the problem at hand. The trouble with it so far is that in order to be eligible a designer already has to, "Be a designer of demonstrable talent, i.e. have garnered substantial editorial coverage, and have support (orders) from top retailers". In my opinion that restriction defeats the purpose. Labels that have been in business for four seasons, have retail accounts and have major editorial coverage don't need help. However there are a great number of exceptionally talented designers in the city who do or they are in danger of going away. That is where we as an industry must focus our efforts. I've been trying to organize a program based in the garment district that would help support designers in every way. From design, through production, into sales. But it's been tough going. But that's what we need and so I will keep going after it. Just FYI all of the designs featured in today's post are from designers and brands who have either failed or are on a hiatus while they plan their next move. They didn't sell and for the life of me I don't know why.

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