Jefferson Hack and Imran Amed on Fashion After Coronavirus

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The CEO and co-founder Dazed Media and the founder and CEO of The Business of Fashion speak as part on BoF Live, discussing the state of fashion in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic

As part of the BoF Live series – daily events offering insight, advice and inspiration for the global fashion industry – the CEO and co-founder of Dazed Media, Jefferson Hack and the founder and CEO of The Business of Fashion, Imran Amed, met (via Zoom) to discuss the state of fashion in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. They spoke on The Coronavirus Update to The State of Fashion 2020 – a report on what the “new normal” will look like in the aftermath of the pandemic – as well as the bounce back of the luxury and middle markets, the future of fashion week and influencers, the digital escalation (which is already underway), and how this crisis may inform the industry’s approach to sustainability and the climate emergency. The full conversation will be published as part of the BoF’s podcast shortly, but ahead of that, here are five takeouts from the talk.

On the bounce back ...

Jefferson Hack: There is a theory that luxury will bounce back more quickly than some of the other markets. What’s your perception on that?

Imran Amed: Yeah, the hardest hit market in the long term is going to be the mid-market brands and retailers. We’ve been talking for a long time now about the middle not being a great place right now, even before the pandemic happened. The luxury segment in the short term has been hit really hard – the prediction is that the industry will contract by up to 40 per cent this year. But we also expect part of the industry to come back more quickly as those consumers who have more resilient pocket books re-enter the market – they’ll be willing to pay for timeless, high-quality goods, as was the case following the 2008 financial crisis.

On fashion week ...

IA: I think fashion week as we knew it is over.

JH: OK, so that’s interesting. So what’s the new fashion week as we don’t know it? How might that look?

IA: Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’ll do my best [laughs]. I think fashion week still has a lot of value for the industry. And I’ll give you where I think the value still remains: one, at the end of the day, fashion week is a trade conference – probably the most glamorous, intricately planned, beautiful and global trade conference in the world. It’s not called a trade conference, but it is a trade conference. And what happens at trade conferences – whether they’re glamorous or not – is real exchange of information; business is done. I don’t often get to see you in London, Jefferson, but I will see you at fashion week. We’ll often get seated next to each other at a show, or at a dinner; we’ll exchange ideas. It’s those kinds of really organic conversations and exchanges that makes fashion week really important.

JH: And the art of the fashion show is really important from the point of view of the designer. It’s an amazing pop-culture phenomenon, the fashion show.

IA: It’s incredible.

JH: It’d be a shame if there wasn’t a future invention of that which adhered to new values and new systems, but that it didn’t disappear.

IA: Exactly – if you talk to a lot of designers, they recognise that the old system doesn’t work anymore but one thing that they want to preserve is the fashion show. They still see it as a really important expression of their creativity and if you see how the creative expression that manifests in a fashion show then percolates into editorials and window displays and all sorts of other things; that is the heart of the creative expression of our industry. So that’s what I think we shouldn’t lose. But the question is, how often do we need to do these shows?

JH: And how big are they?

IA: That whole scale and frequency and almost gluttony of fashion week ...

On influencers ...

JH: And what about influencers? Are influencers as important in your new crystal-ball vision of fashion week for the future? How important are influencers in that? Surely more important if there’s digital escalation, there’s going to need to be even more digital components to that, right?

IA: Well influencers are navigating this current moment in the same way that everyone else is. So you know, the really smart ones that understand their community, that are engaged and aware of what’s happening in the world, that aren’t living in a bubble, and trying to pretend that everything’s the same.

JH: By the way there’s a lot of people living in a bubble on Instagram right now. I’m looking at some posts and I’m feeling really shocked by how tone deaf people are by what they’re posting.

IA: Oh yeah, and then there’s certain “influencers” – look at what Leandra Medine is doing with her platform – who are recognising what’s going on and finding ways of engaging their communities. And they’ll have their followings when all this is over. But the ones who are a bit reckless and you know, not operating with a certain level of self-awareness, those are the ones who are just like the big companies which are tone deaf ...

On digital ...

JH: So how is digital going to support all of this change? What are some of the things you’ve been hearing, seeing, exchanging with people about how digital – the next digital escalation – is going to help us move forward?

IA: Well it’s interesting, this isn’t an industry that has been naturally open to digital. I mean I remember back in 2007, when I first started writing [for] BoF, I would talk to people about social media. I once got booed off a panel with a bunch of luxury goods executives at Harvard Business School because I was talking about Facebook and social media. They were like “there’s no way the fashion industry, or the luxury industry, will ever be on those platforms”. They resisted and resisted until hundreds of millions of people were on these channels and then they finally said, “oh, maybe we should be present there”. I think what’s happening now, as opposed to dragging people along the digital innovation curve, it’s happened all of a sudden, it’s happened by necessity – not by being strategic about it and thinking forward. So in a way this escalation or this acceleration has meant people are using tools and doing things that they never imagined they would do. Well the last four or five weeks have proven that we can still do the business of fashion like this [clicks]. We can still use our creativity and employ the incredible talent that exists in this industry by using digital tools that bring us together and I’m sure that some of these innovations that have happened by necessity now will have a profound impact in how the industry operates in the future. People are forming new habits, they’re trying new ways of working. We did some research with our community, 84 per cent of fashion employees are working from home and that was like three, four weeks ago when we did that survey. 79 per cent are using video conferencing, there’s more flexible working, there’s all sorts of innovations that are happening now that I think will become part of the way that fashion works.

On sustainability ...

JH: I have to say the global response by the global fashion community to the humanitarian need and crisis was really impressive – and for all of those companies to put the needs of others before their own was truly something that can make us all feel proud to be in fashion. And it was really across so many companies, and so many individuals. And they were very, very fast. I don’t think there was any other industry that reacted as fast as fashion. That shows a huge amount of empathy on behalf of the fashion industry, to society. And I think if that same empathy can be transferred to the consumer mindset now, the one that is in fear of a planet that is going to be further destroyed by capitalism without any boundaries, that’s really interesting to see if that same empathy will be transferred.

IA: Yeah and I think it proved to me that this is an industry with people who work in it who are inherently good people, right? It’s taken this situation to give us all a reality check and when you hear establishment figures starting to have conversations, like the ones we’ve been discussing today, I think that really is a signal that there has been some kind of recognition. Now that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy ...

JH: It also takes governments to back ideas, like green energy. Executives in the fashion industry can be looking for sustainable solutions but if governments aren’t making it affordable or giving the right tax incentives or building infrastructure for that to also be accessible by fashion, then things become more costly than they might need to be. Our industry could become more socially conscious but most of our governments are not heading that way. And that’s a part of the problem too.

IA: Yeah, well I’m not sure if you’ve met Brune Poirson who works in the French government, in Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet and she’s got many different portfolios but one of her portfolios is ecology and she’s the minister that’s put in this legislation that bans fashion companies from destroying products. Can you imagine how powerful that legislation is right now when they’re all sitting on this product? Because before what they would have done is they would have gone and burned it. They didn’t want to discount it. So I think that legislation and regulation has a role to play, I think companies clearly have a role to play, and I think consumers have a role to play. The change isn’t going to happen with any single entity, it’s going to be a multi-pronged effort. And if consumers are asking for it and governments are regulating it, and companies are delivering on it, then maybe we’ll start to progress and get into the direction that we need for this industry to live up to the potential you and I both hope it can be.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.