SLEMinar: “I say to you – Long Live Fashion!"

London – “Some people say that ‘Fashion is dead!’ But I say to you – Long
live fashion – as it’s part of our lifestyle and our biggest export and
most copied product! But we have to involve emotion and material knowledge
again,” stressed Flor Depla, chief executive officer at Intens41 Agencies
during her presentation at SLEM’s first conference on the ‘Future of
Footwear Business.’

‘We are living in an era of total change’

Although there was much heated debate during the day regarding innovations,
including 3D printing, one main thread which was mentioned throughout the
day was new, more social, business models are needed within the footwear
industry to ensure its future survival. Hosted by SLEM, the international,
innovation and educational institute for footwear in Waalwijk, The
Netherlands and featuring speakers such as the sector manager for footwear
at Inretail, Femke den Hartog, co-founder and designer of ConceptKicksLabs,
Daniel Bailey and strategy director at HELDEN, Arne Mosselman, the
conference revolved around on how to create a connected, more social
enterprise models for the future of footwear.

“We are living in an era of total change,” explained Depla in her
presentation, which discussed the reasons for the new enterprise model.
Although it is not the first time the fashion industry has been faced with
an era of change, in order for designers and entrepreneurs to continue
functioning in the future, they must situate the factory, business models,
sales and employees within a new enterprise model which offers “added
value” for humans, both physically and mentally, as well as consideration
for nature, she argued.

For years industry insiders have warned about the onslaught of issues
brought on with the rise of the ‘fast-fashion’ business model, which has
rapidly become a global problem with apparel and footwear market. Designers
and retailers have become disconnected from their supply chains as they
moved overseas which has led to a fragmented view of the industry. “We need
to understand the full spectrum of the industry – everything that goes into
making and selling a shoe – as information is power,” argued Daniel Bailey.

‘We have arrived at an era which now see fashion as disposable, a
political choice!’

But this knowledge and appreciation for the labour and work that goes into
the industry has become lost over the years in the pursuit of profit. “From
the 1980s on we initiated a massive scale production, cheaper and cheaper
and with bigger and bigger profit margins. This evolution has resulted in
the nowadays throw away consumption, without valuing neither the product
neither the production chain nor the environment. This was a political
choice, no fatality!” said Depla. “It was a political choice to start up a
massive ‘throw away consumption’, in order to maintain our social security
and our public finances.”

“We used or abused marketing to convince the consumer to buy and buy and
buy. Some say that retailers used and abused marketing tactics to convince
consumers to buy and buy, but I personally think marketing is destroying
fashion.” Depla is not alone in her opinion – ‘The True Cost’, a fashion
documentary produced by sustainable fashion advocates Livia Firth and Lucy
Siegle echoes her thoughts on , as well as industry
influencer Lidewij Edelkoort, who outlined her opinion on the current state
of the industry in her manifesto.

However, unlike Edelkoort who stated that the fashion industry is “unable
to react to the period,” (link) Depla believes that a return to our
European renaissance roots, built around the dream of arts, crafts, science
and innovation can revitalise the fashion industry and prevent consumers
from feeling stuck and depressed. “Such a return to our roots should be
facilitated by politics and supported by individuals as well as companies.”
This return will be guided by new business models, encouraged by a new
economy which is global, but operates on a smaller scale.

‘Brands need a story and emotional connection’

These new entrepreneurships should be created around certain values:
acceptance, participation, authenticity, guided freedom and social impact,
according to the speakers at SLEM, as together these values offer
innovation within the industry and encourage new feelings of satisfaction
from consumers and workers alike. Online platforms, such as arts and crafts
haven Etsy, have been booming recently because they offer these new
standards in an innovate way, which allows self entrepreneurship on a
shared platform in a flexible and manageable way, according to Ingrid
Meijer, head of communication for Etsy Benelux.

“Our mission is to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling
and lasting world.” With over 19.8 million active buyers and 1.4 million
stories worldwide on Etsy, the site is one model which has a positive
social impact on both its sellers and buyers whilst offering authentic,
handmade products and encouraging guided freedom. “There is no curation on
Etsy, we are not elite so to speak, as is we do not decide what is right or
wrong for vendors to sell but leave it up to the audience.” As long as
items fit into the platforms three categories: handmade, vintage or craft
supplies, sellers can list whichever creations they craft and sell them for
what they think is fair. Some sellers even go on to become part of Etsy’s
wholsale which offers the sellers products to larger buyers and retailers,
such as Nordstroms.

One of the main aspects which has contributed to Etsy’s success and is key
in the new enterprise is its social impact. “The best things do not pass on
by themselves, you need to share it yourself,” said Arne Mosselman,
strategy director for HELDEN, who believes strong storytelling is key to
good brand content. “Brands need a story and emotional connection.” The new
business models should place storytelling at its heart, in order to offer
consumers added value and enable them to feel more involved with the
manufacturing process.

“Brands without a real story of their own will not succeed in the future,”
warned Depla. “Consumers need to be retaught to emotionally consume.
Customers do not need to be pushed to buy a number of shoes only to the
glory of factories, brands and designers. If your brand is strong enough to
tell its own story and be loved for it, the final consumer will be
rewarding you and the retailers will be buying bigger amounts. It’s a
chain.” The new enterprise models should aim to offer as much transparency
and honesty within the business in order to satisfy consumers need for
story.

‘Innovation only happens with the right ingredients’

New business models will also be driven by “disruptive technological
breakthroughs,” which will change manufacturing techniques, as well as the
entire production chain, distribution flow and storage that together will
help re-enable unique production on a local scale again, added Depla. One
of these technological breakthroughs comes in the form of 3D printing.
“Because people want to become more involved in manufacturing and
mass-manufacturing does not fulfill the desire of personalization, 3D
printing is the logical answer,” explained Eva Klabalova, a graduate
candidate from SLEM as she shared her vision of the future footwear store,
which included new studio formats where consumers and designers come
together to create their own unique products.

“3D printing is revolutionizing footwear. It lets brands create their
vision without having to travel abroad. It’s a way for designers to get
their creative ideas out, with less worries for costs,” said Bailey.
Although 3D printing is currently thought to be too costly for many
consumers, within the new enterprise model products will reflect the
correct price for their production, “as the ones in store right now are
often in disproportion to the profits and circumstances in which they are
made,” highlighted Depla. “Consumers do not want to pay for the full price
– not any more. We have to understand that the consumer understands
discounts given during most of the year.”

“Therefore we have to invest in products with an authentic story and with
respect of nature,” concluded Depla. “People will consume less and that
will have a price. The future is to the long term trends, and therefore we
must dare to question the sales, the sales period and the discounts.”

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