Fashion Business Forum in Athens

By Elis Kiss | |

" Fashion is about persuading people that items that don’t have to be replaced, have to be replaced " said British journalist and author Colin McDowell in a candid speech recently in Athens.

Turning this lust into sound business was the subject of the inaugural Fashion Business Forum which took place on January 17. Organized by Marketing Week, it was the first of its kind in Greece.

Photo by Elena Pakou

Lust for fashion is a completely artificial thing "
Colin McDowell, Founder, Creative Director, Fashion Fringe

Colin McDowell, a longtime fashion commentator and industry insider, treated his audience to a number of designer stories, from Tom (Ford) to Marc (Jacobs) to Alber (Elbaz), giving his audience a glimpse of the kind of world that he has been inhabiting over the last 35 years. He also offered some insight into the state of the field today, commenting on the emergence of China -- both as a manufacturer and a client of fashion. "People who articulate fashion these days are the stylists and the photographers, they are more important than designers," noted McDowell, who described fashion as something which gives people confidence while protecting them from the rest of the world.

Photo by Elena Pakou

The conference brought together international and local industry experts, a team of eager fashion bloggers, very few fashion journalists and a small number of Greek designers. Attendance seemed to reflect the overall state of the local fashion system, which is defined by a general lack of synergy and structure.

Missed opportunities

Though Yannis Tseklenis has now spent some 20 years away from fashion, his experience makes him an authority on Greece’s missed opportunities in the field. In his speech, he traced the country’s history in textile manufacturing, describing how in the 1970s and 80s, local production units worked on high quantities of garments for global apparel brands.

Photo by George Dimopoulos

" Especially in the 1980s, he said, Greece was equipped with state-of-the-art machinery, but instead of creating synergies with local creative talent and developing Greek designer brands, manufacturers just kept taking orders from abroad, acting as “price takers” and never turning into "price makers."

He also shared a tip given to him by prominent international fashion players many years ago: Greek fashion ought to make good use of the country’s light and warm weather conditions, in other words, it should focus on so-called "resort."

Established fashion industry business models and their current relevance were the subject of William Plane’s keynote speech. A British investment banker with Savigny Partners, a boutique advisory company specializing in luxury goods, Plane talked about today’s hot brands -- think Burberry and Lanvin -- but also designers like Tory Burch and Phillip Lim who have made a fresh splash in the industry. He further noted that fast-fashion chains are increasingly gaining credibility, with companies such as H&M collaborating with star designers and houses. The way to go for apparel brands, said Plane, is to reduce seasonality, in other words to come up with up to six collections a year, including pre-collections and inter-seasonal collections.

Photo by George Dimopoulos

Menswear, he stressed, is a developing sector of the industry: While womenswear is completely saturated, menswear’s general stylistic rule is that men tend to dress similarly around the globe, a fact which makes it easier for brands to export, while the rise of male customers in China is another promising factor. Plane also offered his view of the Internet, underlining its potential.

Fashion online was on the majority of speakers’ lips, ranging from pure e-commerce to the use of social media. In the case of Greece, the figures point to 1.4 billion euros spent in online shopping in 2010, which represents a 75 percent rise in turnover compared to the previous year.

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