Last week we attended Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival’s (VAMFF) inaugural Australian Fashion Summit. Jam-packed with influential speakers, the event was ‘created for the industry, by the industry’ and hosted by The Australian’s Fashion Editor, Glynis Traill-Nash.
Held on International Women’s Day, ‘Power to the Dreamers’ was an apt theme, celebrating the women (and men) who are driving the fashion industry forward.
Our key takeaway from the day: Creativity is key, and the ideas economy will drive Australia forward
Kicking off the days’ talks was Chief Creative Officer at PwC Australia, Russel Howcroft.
Howcroft referenced Tom Wujec’s Ted talk Build a tower, build a team and the Marshmallow Challenge. The activity asks teams to build the tallest freestanding tower, in 18 minutes, using tape, string, 20 pieces of spaghetti.
Kindergarteners beat the average and outperform business schools graduates and lawyers.
His conclusion? Creativity is an un-learned behaviour and Australia needs to take it seriously. Unpacking the country’s history with stifling creativity, Howcroft said, “Creativity needs to become central to the economic agenda, Australia is not growing fast enough and has to move up the value chain. Intellectual capacity will ensure future growth.”
Prioritise connection and customer experience over data
Next up was Yasmin Sewell, Former Vice-President of Style & Creative of FARFETCH, highlighting the importance of connection, owning ‘your voice’ and leading with instinct.
She emphasised that whilst data is important, it must go hand in hand with connection and creativity, using luxury powerhouse Gucci as an example of a brand getting this balance right.
CEO Marco Bizzarri, hired Creative Director Alessandro Michele in 2015, a move that has seen the company go from strength to strength; their growth up 36.9% with $13 billion in revenue in 2018.
Sewell told The Australian: “I don’t think Gucci would be as big today if Marco Bizzarri didn’t give Alessandro the power to lead with his instinct.
“Marco is a genius CEO because he has trusted the right creative. When you get the balance between data and instinct right, you can make magic in fashion.”
Discussing ‘New World Retailing’ Elizabeth Abegg, co-founder of Spell and The Gypsy Collective, re-enforced the message of prioritising customer experience. Tasked with reinvigorating the warehouse sale, the team made the decision to take control of the customer experience by making it a ticketed and timed event.
Abegg noted that her team was initially hesitant of the decision, wondering if the approach would allow them to meet their sales targets. The approach paid dividends as sales targets were smashed, owing to a relaxed environment that left customers in a better frame of mind to shop.
In an increasingly digital world don’t forget authenticity
The afternoon saw the ‘Go Global: #TeamChina’ panel, with moderator Grant Pearce (Editorial Director of GQ Asia Pacific), and panellists Jing Zhang (Senior Culture and Fashion Correspondent at the South China Morning Post), Peter Xu (Top Chinese Fashion Blogger) and Marne Schwartz (General Manager of Grazia Australia), discuss Australian industries’ connection to Chinese audiences. Whilst it was impossible to disregard the importance of Chinese social media platforms like WeChat, Weibo and Duyin, the panel’s focus was on the power of peer to peer marketing for the young and educated Chinese luxury fashion consumer.
Xu, who has amassed 56.2K followers on Instagram and an impressive 1.3 million followers on Weibo, explained that while advertising on social media is a valid tactic – word of mouth is king. He highlighted that the Chinese consumer is increasingly focused on authenticity, which makes identifying the right KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) or influencers integral to cutting through the noise.
For Xu, choosing influencers that truly love and resonate with your brand is key. Consumers are more connected than ever and value authenticity above all else. Gone are the days of fashion for fashions sake, consumers need to believe in your brand.
Overall the summit delivered on its promise to ‘explore innovative thinking, accelerate design abundance, prepare for technological impacts, unpack retail challenges, understand neighbouring trading market opportunities in Asia and take a stand on sustainability practices’.
Whilst the event was directed at the fashion world, there were lessons for all industries adapting to a world increasingly effected by rapid technological and social advances.