3 key takeaways from Simon Collins’ Fashion-Culture-Design event

Fashion Culture Design, an event committed to challenging the fashion industry to make it better

This is not a conference, it’s a movement- said Simon Collins, the former Dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons School of Design and founder of the Fashion Culture Design (FCD) unconference.

Based on the end-of-day response from attendees (cell-phones ablaze with social media updates from the days events), the movement is beginning.

Collins goal for FCD is to create a platform where fashion industry leaders and insiders can come together and have honest conversations about industry challenges.

The New York unconference featured 48 panelists tackling issues including: “How do you solve a problem like Fashion Week?”, “Is sustainable sexy?”, and “Instagram vs. a September Issue”.

FASHION CULTURE DESIGN A new conference hosted by Simon Collins- asked all the big industry questions

FASHION CULTURE DESIGN A new conference hosted by Simon Collins- asked all the big industry questions

In an era of smartphone distraction, Collins and team played it smart: if you can’t beat ‘em, get them to join you. Each panel opened with a thought-starter question (“Is sustainability a factor when shopping for clothes and accessories?”), attendees answered via a website link and results were broadcast live on the main stage.

Buzzwords beware – no place for you at this conference. A swear box sat center stage and panellists had to place money in the box (calm down, the funds are going to charity) when phrases like “lean in”, “game changer” and “big data” were used.

But what about the conversations? What did we learn from the first unconference, besides the fact that people love a good survey question? Read on for our top takeaways:

Sustainability is not a good word

Throughout the day, the overall consensus is that the term sustainability is dated and/or not accurate. It’s just a little bit too bland granola in an era of the ‘gram (a new moniker for Instagram – shout out to the WGSN marketing team!).

Laurent Claquin, head of Kering Americas, doesn’t like the word and agrees that we need to find a new one. For Claquin, sustainability means quality and opportunity. “Sustainability is about staying in business … protecting our resources; leather, cotton gold. In my point of view, sustainability should be a priority and not just for marketing.”

John Moore, partner and creative director of sustainable menswear brand Outerknown, agrees, “Sustainability is a big word…it’s about staying in business, making mindful decisions with everything we do – it’s responsible innovation.”

But what do we call it? A myriad of suggestions are on the table including socially conscious, eco-efficient, and ethical design. While a definitive alternative has yet to be determined, there is no doubt that sustainable design is sexy (the topic of the panel). According to Moore, “Sustainability is smart. Smart is sexy. Clean living is sexy.” Agreed.

Body Types Redefined

One thing was clear during the New Beauty panel – the traditional category labels of plus-size and big-and-tall are dated.

Ashley Graham, James Scully

Ashley Graham, fashion talk: on beauty and diverse body sizes.

Full-figure model Ashley Graham and casting specialist Gilleon Smith feel ‘curve’ is a modern alternative, one that Ivan Bart, president of IMG agrees with – IMG’s full-figured female modelling division is called Curve. Brawn may replace the big-and-tall title and if the moniker sticks (cue the fetch scene from Mean Girls), the naming credit goes to Bart who named IMG’s recently introduced male plus-size division Brawn. Bart told the audience “brawn has a body positive message. Brawn is physical strength.”

To Bart’s credit, at the end of day we overheard four attendees use brawn in casual conversation. Let the revolution begin.

Digital is an opportunity not a barrier

Tony King drew the largest crowd applause and simultaneous laughs when he stated that, “retailers fucked themselves. They saw it [digital] coming and didn’t prepare.” King, the CEO of King & Partners, is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of luxury e-commerce and digital platforms and strategy. King noted that particularly in the US, retailers have been slow to adopt digital strategies. “If you look at other countries, they’re not blaming digital, they’re changing their retail environment.”

Clair Distenfeld, owner of Fivestory, a multi-brand womenswear boutique with a cult-like following agrees that the future of retail lies within balancing brick-and-mortar with click-and-order. “Retailers still need a physical space. It’s easy to shop online but people still want to touch things and have an experience. It’s not one against the other, digital vs instore. It isn’t who is going to win? They need to work together.”

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