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 'disposable fashion', as well as industry influencer Lidewij Edelkoort, who outlined her opinion on the current state of the industry in her ‘Anti-Fashion’ 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.”