INTERVIEW | KATIE BARON

white fur coat with red and blue print
white fur coat with red and blue print

How are we to define fashion industry today?

Industry stalwarts like Inditex have blended high fashion with accessibility; a design just off the catwalk can be replicated for high-street few weeks after. The digital sphere is booming; a single Instagram post can spark a world wide trend; one is able to receive goods instantly and in the near future even shop virtually. Unarguably it has lead to a more global, saturated but also crazier fashion world. Looking through quantity for quality has become a part of the game. Yet, there are few industry experts who consider these trends and changes, bringing a unique understanding of the creative and commercial sides of fashion and we got the chance to interview one of them; a world leading creative consultant, author, editor and journalist, Katie Baron. She has years of experience in her pocket, having worked with brands such as Habitat, Liberty, Dazed & Confused, Harpers Bazaar UK, Vogue to name a few. Her expertise is apparent in the way she responds to our questions, carefully considering the implications of what has been posed.

What’s Your Legacy: Fashion, like any art form has the ability to provoke and generate change. With your many years of experience in trend analysis and well attuned to the constantly changing world of fashion, do you think we are looking at a near future that is willing to slow down and make sustainable choices?

Katie Baron: Firstly, I see very little evidence of fashion using its art status to generate change, beyond perhaps the endeavours of some ‘umbrella’ businesses, such as Selfridges department store that are actively attempting to raise the profile of the issue in a commercially imaginative manner (see the Bright Young Things 2016 campaign which this year turned it’s attention specifically towards sustainability). Vivienne Westwood’s been extremely vocal about over-consumption which I applaud but her empire is nevertheless still generating ‘things’ at a fast and furious pace, globally.

The places where I see change are far more practically focused – the brands involved are using materials innovations to reduce waste during the production process themselves, the (repair, renewal) services they provide once the pieces have been bought, or those dipping their toes into the growing value of the rental/sharing economy. However, none of the above (bar the notion of repair & renewal) really refer to a sense of slowing down, they’re rather more about mitigating damage.

To get back to your point about a slowdown, there’s something of a conflict happening here in fashion, as while I believe that consumers, certainly those spending in the mid-price range and above, are becoming far more concerned with the negative effect of rampant consumerism, compounded by a much greater desire now to start streamlining their lives (it’s been described as de-stuffocation, see also the much cited work of Japanese author Marie Kondo) we’re still witnessing a constant stream of seasonal ‘top-ups’ (the resort collections for luxury, the weekly or even more drops for the mass-market) that are still creating a circus of fast-fire change in fashion that consumers are effectively absorbing purely because that’s what’s being give to them. I’m certainly looking towards brands that buck the pressure to create constantly and give us a return to less collections but with more substantial ideas, pieces that we hungrily clamour for twice a year, or maybe even less (as we move into a season-less future, the need for the traditional cycle of A/W and S/S will become less relevant).

WYL: You have said in an earlier interview, that craftsmanship and quality is almost a given now for luxury brand. Instead these brands need to be focusing on a deeper connection with the consumers. They want to be transported to an emotional place or to receive enriched learning. Why are people stopping up to think before buying – demanding a deeper connection to the brand?

KB: This is largely to do with the ubiquity of many of the luxury megabrands. It’s entirely logical that a high price tag should inherently be accompanied by high production standards, but it used to be the case that it was necessary to live in a specific city, or journey there (like a pilgrimage) to get access to these things, rendering them somewhat magical. Digital commerce had displaced that sense of special-ness to an extent – while price is still a barrier to ownership of course, younger consumers are now looking for qualities that move beyond the baseline status symbol a product provides, the connections it may provide, the ideology or even just relevance of the ‘club’ it gives them a sense of allegiance to. Most consumers, while they still appreciate the power of the glossy fashion image, are also aware of its artifice. That’s not to say the artifice doesn’t matter, the creative halo of any brand is still as crucial as it ever was, it’s just that pure artifice alone, unsubstantiated, isn’t enough. This is also connected to the well-documented desire in younger consumers (millennials and Gen Z) for experiences as much as things. Many consumers actively expect brands to provide them with entertainment, which I believe also extends to the desire for the provision of cultural education. In an era where we’re experiencing so much disruption and change in terms of education, politics and the job market, skills and knowledge are also becoming key parts of a brand’s arsenal, although this is a slightly different topic…

WYL: How and when do you think social and environmental sustainability will be able to go beyond its status as a superficial marketing-tool and be incorporated in the very centre of every fashion business? Will brands begin to see the value in embracing sustainability?

KB: I think it will be via the inclusion of some of the tools I mentioned above – the actual mechanisms of retailing will need to alter. In some cases it will be slowing down to create less collections or drops, in other instances it will be about production processes, from recycled materials to creating products that require less water to clean them, and in others it will be about the sharing economy – offering services based on temporary not long-term ownership (in-the-now experiences vs. long-term possession).

I do believe that sustainability will become more important as a commercial tool, and the consumer appetite for it is certainly building to support that, but we need to see more brands overtly placing it at the heart of their businesses as a point of pride, rather than watching it as a separate, tokenised section on a website, or used as a brand’s only USP making it appear ‘worthy’. Few fashion fans will buy into something in a major, business-sustaining, way purely because of the ethics – there needs to be a marriage of sustainable practice with the buzz and thrill of style that we (fashion fans) are magnetised by.

I thought it was interesting, and very smart, that Selfridges spread the sustainability focused designers of the campaign I mentioned earlier, throughout the store rather than dumping in one eco-ethical spot together.

WYL: The expanse of data in our digital universe is changing us. It is creating an abstract and absent human being in itself and the world around us is losing a tangible presence due to our unrelenting interaction with the digital world. We have become passive to our physical surroundings and encounter every space through laptops, phones and other digital technologies, rather than experiencing it as our corporal self. How does brands reach this consumer and create a deeper connection?

KB: Big data is generating some rather dangerous precedents, specifically the way in which some brands are using it to only ever offer consumers more of what they’ve previously looked at or bought – potentially pushing us back into the ‘filter bubble’.

However, I don’t agree that we’ve become passive to our physical surroundings. In fact most studies show that Gen Z crave physical experiences more than any generation before them. As such, the best brands are those who are actively looking to develop connections between our digitally connected selves and the physical worlds in which we commune in very different ways.

Note that not all digital connections are inherently bad – consider the sense of belonging and interactions (including creative interactions) that have been facilitated by technology and may otherwise not have happened – but the physical world does present a different playing field and version of ‘exchanges’ that are incredibly important and need to be fostered too. A couple of great examples for you… 

Firstly, Raf Simons’ collaboration in 2014 with Ruby Sterling – it was initially sold via a staggered release online-only, but became so popular that it spurred a physical spin-off in Antwerp, but one that (echoing the e-machinations) fans had to buy tickets for online… 

Additionally, more recent, is Nike’s SB Garage in Brooklyn (2016) – a physical indoor skate park, congregation space and sometime concept store that was designed to connect to the ‘Skatewise’ socially-networked competition show-reel app launched a couple of years beforehand. 

AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) also have plenty of implication here but that takes me into a whole other ‘Post-Digital’ world that’s worth an entirely separate, or at least adjacent, conversation!

We thought, there are some interesting points here. Indeed there is a sense of a flux in the industry, something happening in the way people consume. They are changing their perceptions and as a result their habits; redefining their relationships with products as well as their everyday lives. Are we looking at a near future that is willing to slow down and make sustainable choices? What’s Your legacy would like to think that if these moves aren’t a mitigant, per se, it’s an important push towards an adjusted value proposition.


SHRIMPS | faux fur coat

PHOTOGRAPHY: Madara Freimane | ARTICLE: What’s Your Legacy

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