Alexander Shumsky: Dissatisfaction with the current fashion system is long overdue
Last week, several statements concerning changes in the global fashion system appeared on the Internet and in the media. The Business of Fashion published the petition #rewiringfashion online, under which, at the time of publication, there were almost 1500 signatures from around the world.
Alexander Shumsky is the executive president of the Russian Fashion Council and president of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia. In 2017, he, as part of the National Technology Initiative of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, came up with the innovative concept FashionNet, which was about reformatting the traditional fashion market.
The projects of the Russian Fashion Council include the Futurum Moscow platform for young designers, the Pop-Up Shop exhibition and the Fashion Futurum accelerator. Cancelled due to coronavirus, spring Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia was held digitally on April 4 to 6 and saw an audience of 830,000 people.
FashionUnited asked Alexander Shumsky for his opinion on the #rewiringfashion proposal, as, in the past, he has been involved in projects and initiatives that promote lesser known designers and challenge the traditional format of the industry.
#Rewiringfashion is a call for changing the international fashion industry that resulted from ongoing discussions between a growing group of independent designers, CEOs and heads of retail companies from around the world. According to them, the current system does not serve the interest of anyone and slowing down the fashion industry, especially in times of Covid-19, is more important than ever. Three issues are emphasized: the out of sync fashion calendar, the outdated fashion show format and the addiction to discounts.
Alexander Shumsky, when asked how he felt about this, said: “Dissatisfaction with the current fashion system is long overdue - it has not changed for decades. Though it has always been accepted to show collections in advance, this has led to a huge fast fashion system, which shows the most interesting ideas on international catwalks and then releases cheaper products based on them. Also, the problem of plagiarism in fashion has been critical and still hasn’t been solved. Just 10 to 15 years ago, many fashion houses in Milan and London did not accredit online publications and Chinese photographers for their shows to prevent the leaking of their ideas into the cheaper fashion segments before their collections go on sale.
"Back in the day, the main guests at shows were buyers and the industry was still clinging to magazines that announced the start of sales, but, formally, not much is different today. At fashion schools in New York and in Moscow, design students are still told that buyers at a show are a necessity and that collections should be divided into men’s and women’s. #Rewiringfashion, during a period of falling sales and changing priorities, is a concise plan of action to overcome the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. Though it’s not a known fact that fast fashion companies, when copying the ideas of others, are reducing the sales made by designer brands, but Dries van Noten, Missoni and others probably aren’t very happy when their creativity is adopted by the mass market before they can earn their first euro.”
Reset the fashion calendar
The first #rewiringfashion proposal advises the revision of the current fashion calendar, which is out of sync with today’s market, as well as the rethinking of show timing, buying periods and product deliveries. It also emphasizes that fashion shows are staged too far in advance and that delivery dates are out of sync with real-world seasons.
Instead, the proposal suggests that combining men’s and women’s fashion weeks to take place in January or February and June will enable longer full-price sell-through periods, minimize travel requirements and de-gender fashion week. They additionally call for aligned fashion shows, collection deliveries and real-world seasons so shows can take place just before weather-appropriate collections hit stores.
“The problem of “one-off” fast fashion stimulates excessive consumption, which isn’t sustainable,” said Alexander Shumsky as a response to the first #rewiringfashion proposal. “Trying to fit in, many brands have launched “green” programs, which I think many do just for the sake of marketing. But I think that the topic of sustainable development will remain important in recovering from the crisis. I think that right now is the time to review the schedule and seasonality of fashion weeks. Today’s shows are made for media, social networks and consumers, not for stores, which has shifted the timing of the buying period.
"Even in Milan and Paris, the showing of new collections does not affect the final orders, since the main purchases are made two to three months earlier. Fashion weeks in this sense have turned into content events, not trade shows, as they were a decade ago. In terms of changing the traditional seasonality of fashion and showing what will soon appear in stores may lead to less plagiarization of the mass market, as it will be difficult to spy on closed showrooms, since taking pictures may be forbidden.”
Reimagine fashion shows
The second #rewiringfashion proposal suggests that the format of fashion shows is outdated and that brands should be able to freely reimagine the presentation of their collections to better reach their target consumer audience. While influencers and celebrities are now also invited to attend, fashion shows are not optimized for this new instant, digital world where fashion imagery travels quickly.
Instead, the fashion professionals propose the repositioning of fashion shows as events primarily designed to engage consumers, as well as to create awareness and desire for collections just before the garments arrive in store. Additionally, the format of fashion shows should not have to abide by any rules or expectations, which can allow designers to reimagine their fashion presentations to best engage with their customers and the media.
"Optimizing the show is what we have said for many seasons to all designers who plan to participate in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia,” said Shumsky in regard to the potential restructuring of fashion shows. “For many years we have been broadcasting all fashion week shows on the Internet and on a huge screen in the lobby of "Manege", which expands our audience beyond the physical venue. Therefore, optimization in our case means that the designer must do something more than just run the models on the 30-meter catwalk. Five years ago, we put up big screens and designers began to prepare special videos for the show. This helped us a lot when we cancelled this year’s fashion week. We collected more than 30 good videos for the digital event, as many designers had prepared videos of their new collections back in February and March. Since there are always a few men’s collections available, we didn’t have any problems with gender.
"Two more seasons of men’s collections in the global fashion calendar blurred the focus and doubled the costs of designers for shows, and the effectiveness is not obvious. If the “big four” fashion weeks weaken the requirements for participating houses, it will make the schedules more diverse and there will be many events that aren’t directly related to the fashion show. Many brands work in neighboring domains, including other creative industries, to construct a public image through art, film, theatre, gastronomy and so on. For me this is preferable. I consider fashion week as an object of urban culture, so we have included projects outside of the traditional format for many years.”
Break fashion’s addiction to discounting
The third #rewiringfashion proposal advocates the idea that fashion retailers need to break their addictions to discounting, push back end-of-season markdown periods and put a stop to broad mid-season sales. Each season, customers are trained to expect markdowns when retailers turn to early and frequent discounts to increase traffic and sales.
Instead, these problems could be solved by encouraging retailers to avoid extreme discounting for SS2020 collections and to keep long-term brand equity and profitability in mind. Future markdowns could also be delayed to January and July each year, starting with AW2020 and all future in-season discounting, such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Singles Day, could be put to an end.
On the addiction to discounting, Shumsky said: "Some luxury brands never sell out and others don’t sell their clothes in outlets, but rather prefer to destroy unsold stock. Consumer obsession with discounts led to the fact that big brands began to produce collections and models specifically for outlets: the material is cheaper and the colors and fits are slightly different. For one, it allowed the fashion industry to grow to the second largest consumer industry in the world, after food. But, it has also reduced the design as the basis for added value in fashion. The brands that signed up for #rewiringfashion want to go back to a time when designer clothes weren’t as readily available. But you can’t adjust the discounts.
”To sell less and more, you have to produce less. And to produce as much as consumers are buying, you have to either predict demand or learn to meet demand as it appears. Both ways require a transition to a new stage of technological development. At the same time, offline retailers started investing in demand assessment long ago (bigdata, AI, etc.), but this did not help them avoid falling sales and bankruptcies. Meeting the demand as it appears will require a restructuring of the production system, such as reshoring, automation or digital printing. Hopefully these processes will accelerate, but for now it’s possible to limit Black Friday discounts."
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.RU, translated and edited.
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Photo Credit: MBFW Russia