Future of Fashion – Thinking about my industry - Where do we go from here?

Having worked in this industry all my life it is interesting to reflect upon how things have changed and continue to do so. Both positively and negatively.

Some of this is obvious, such as the advent of globalisation and the retail fashion context which has created a 24/7 world of online selling and retail. Concepts such as ‘showrooming’ and the online v offline debate rage on.The future of fashion subject has concerned me for a while and it is thought provoking enough to warrant writing down these thoughts. 

So where do we go from here? It seems anything is possible –any brand is international if they want to be and we can manufacture globally wherever we find the ‘right’ factory that meets our requirements and most importantly those of the customer. Anyone can write about fashion and any celebrity can create a fashion brand, the democratization of fashion has allowed this all to happen. The customer is very much in the driving seat and hungry for more. But what is next?

There is much talk of back shoring supply chains and a return to local manufacturing but that requires investment in the entire chain and not just the finished goods. The Chinese success in this area proves the entire supply chain is required in close proximity. There is a continual race for the next sourcing hotspot and we see and hear about places such as Africa and in fact recently Burma as the latest ‘new’ location. Of course much of this is fuelled by speed of response and availability which created ‘fast ‘fashion as an accepted practice and business model in our industry.  

So in fact having reflected on the state of the industry I probably have more questions than answers but one thing I do believe in is education in the industry and that means informal as well as formal. 

I spent a considerable amount of my career at Courtaulds Textiles in product development and one reason I was able to do this was because I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to learn on the job and importantly there was much investment in staff training at all levels. In order to create trust and value in a fashion brand or business we need to trust and value the people we employ from the sewing machinist in Bangladesh to the Creative Director and CEO.  

To create a future fashion industry that is fit for purpose and those leaders we need to ensure that where we manufacture we do so with integrity based on clear decision making and we can manage and live with any potential risks. I cannot predict the future of fashion, indeed who would have thought 25 years ago that we would be experiencing such volatility in the industry. Our customers have never been more demanding or expected so much in such a short space of time.

The pressure on the industry is high and it creates an exciting environment but it seems the best way forward is to value authenticity, which may well be an overused word. For me it is about being true to ourselves and to the brand and goes to the heart of the business. If it is not right then don’t do it whether it be product, a joint venture or a new supplier. Authenticity is what we should all be striving for now, and for the future success of the fashion industry.

Author: Virginia Grose, Rise Committee Member & Course Leader & Principal Lecturer, School of Media Arts Design, University of Westminster