Is it relevant for an emerging label to take part in fashion week?

Expert Advice

As the Fashion Week circus comes to an end and the relentless Instagram catwalk show posts slow down, it is time to reflect on the purpose and value of emerging fashion labels participating in the main four fashion weeks.

The AW18 season saw more emerging labels take part than ever before, however my belief is that many had unrealistic expectations of what they would achieve from their catwalk shows, presentations or exhibition stands in the designer showrooms and trade shows.

I spoke to many designers at the start of London Fashion Week who expressed great delight in being given an amazing opportunity to show, since many of the larger labels had dropped out. I was surprised that they hadn’t questioned why these bigger brands were no longer participating. If the more established labels don’t see the value of participating in the main four fashion weeks due to poor return on investment, then why does a young label think they will do better?

At the end of the fashion week season, the delight for many had been replaced with despondency; realising how much money they had wasted with little or no return, as they had not written the orders that they had expected would come from participation.

Others were still on a high from showcasing their collection to a packed audience but had not questioned who was actually seeing the show and what returns they could expect other than a few Instagram posts?

In London, I saw the same ‘unknown’ faces sitting front row at every emerging label show, yet there is no way that they could be relevant to every designer. How would the editor and his entourage of a small edgy arts magazine or the writer for a menswear publication be a relevant guest at every show, whether it was a streetwear brand, couture evening wear label or a ready to wear women’s collection? This is often the result of lazy or poor PR management and a misconception that the show is just about attendees rather than relevance. Why were the PRs not ensuring their clients had the targeted press and specific buyers that would benefit the brand?

I found it even more shocking that numerous shows, both on and off schedule, were packed with students (I know this for a fact as some were from classes that I teach at LCF) who just blagged their way in – either by sending an email prior to fashion week to request tickets and being successful without having to give any evidence of writing for a publication or blog - or just queueing up outside on the off chance of being given entry – which they were highly successful at. These same students were even sat front row at some shows as the PRs had lost complete control of the seating plans. Whilst at the same time genuine seasoned buyers, industry players and press were declined tickets and/or entry, or given standing tickets – and the brands usually had no idea that their priority guests were turned away and this is hugely damaging for their relationships and long-term success. This happened at shows at all of the fashion capitals.

This mismanagement of shows is ruining the industry and makes a farce of the fashion week process; and too many designers and brands are ignorant of what goes on front of house. The brands need to take responsibility for ensuring their PR teams deliver a show audience that is appropriate to their brand and if the PR advise they would not attract an appropriate crowd, then they have the opportunity to make the decision about whether to go ahead with a show.

One of the other issues of fashion week is the competition of hosting an event in the packed schedule, which includes at least one show every 30 minutes and showrooms based all over the cities. Why do all the shows have to happen in the same place, at the same time, to the same people? With the advent of social media and new communication channels it is possible now for a brand to present their collection in new ways, in new places at different times.

For fashion labels that drop out of showing during the fashion calendar, it means they have the flexibility to present their collections to more people with less pressure on time and competition. It no longer makes sense for all brands to present their collections within a very limited four-week window twice a year, and certainly not for a young brand who cannot compete with the attention given to the bigger brand names. Some of the most exciting events on the fashion calendar now happen outside of the big four weeks, from places such as Kiev, Tbilisi and Copenhagen where new brands are doing things differently and the industry have more time to discover new labels. Or start up brands that host events outside of the fashion calendar who have more success in attracting local press and buyers with whom they can start to build genuine relationships.

Even if the show ticket requests are well managed and you attract a full audience, does putting on a catwalk show make sense to a newer label – what are they hoping to achieve from it? Does it really reach the people who are likely to purchase their brand, as evidence shows that most customers don't seek out images of the shows or are overwhelmed by all the imagery from fashion weeks. Is the show then missing out on reaching their potential customer and would it be better to open the show direct to the consumer, so that they cut out the middleman and drive sales direct from the show?

The huge cost of a catwalk show or fashion week presentation could also be put to better use for an emerging label – creating outstanding look books, videos, fashion films and social media content which they can use over a longer period of time. Or they could put the money towards building the relationship directly with the press and buyers, through meetings and smaller more intimate events such as lunches or dinners where they can actually talk to their guests.

So, whilst I can still see the benefits of participating in NYC, London, Pairs and Milan fashion weeks for the big brands who can afford to use the show as a pure advertising tool to promote their brand image and profile, in my opinion fashion weeks need reinventing in order to keep up to date with changing consumer demands and new technology. But more importantly, younger fashion brands need to stop focusing on fashion week events and trade shows as a sales opportunity which no longer exists and the fashion week organisers need to stop taking advantage of the naivety of emerging labels in order to maintain their schedules and jobs.