Perhaps you recall David Frankel’s devilishly enjoyable 2006 film iteration of Lauren Weisberger’s best-selling novel, The Devil Wears Prada, which chronicled the author’s reportedly true experience working as Anna Wintour’s assistant at Vogue in New York City. Call it what you will, the film—from the cutthroat business politics to the excruciating work schedules of media employees—provided a semi-accurate portrayal of what really goes on behind closed doors in the fashion industry.
Among The Devil Wear’s Prada‘s colorful cast of characters were those insufferable “friends” of Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy Sachs. Aside from being selfish individuals who cared little about the professional feats of anyone besides themselves, the group’s crass dismissal of the fashion industry as being a trivial and strictly cosmetic business belies the actual truth. Fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry that’s plenty more than just aspirationally-priced shoes and handbags.
This brings to mind one of the digital fashion media’s most respected resources: The Business of Fashion. Launched in 2007 by Calgary native Imran Amed, the project began as a modest news blog during Amed’s days as an independent management consultant living in Notting Hill, London. Without any formal training in fashion, Amed, through his ardent interest in exploring what occurs in a widely glamorized industry behind the “seams,” rapidly transformed the site into a full-fledged legacy publication renowned for its insightful op-eds, comprehensive analysis and exclusive interviews with the crème de la crème of industry veterans.
During a recent trip to Toronto, we caught up with the Canada native, who was just honored with the Hudson’s Bay Vanguard Award at the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards, to discuss some of the fashion realm’s most buzzy topics.
What do you think the future holds for fashion media in the age of Trump, Brexit and all the political turmoil that is happening now in the world?
I think media in general has an important role to play outside sparking a conversation around how political shifts are impacting the world. In fashion media specifically, that means thinking about how these political shifts can impact the business of fashion. We are focusing our attention on trying to get people to pay attention to what is happening.
There are so many of these issues in the UK around Brexit, in the U.S. and the election of Donald Trump and some of the policies that he has threatened to implement. They will have a real impact, especially in two ways.
First is around the free movement of talent and labor. Fashion is an industry driven by creative people and these creative people can come from anywhere. And one of the greatest things about being in cities like London or New York is that they are magnets for talent. If we start putting up walls and barriers in front of that talent, that prevents talent from flowing and then it’s going to start presenting real challenges for our businesses.
About half of my team are European nationals, and as it stands, we still don’t know what the legal status of those people are going to be after Brexit happens. We’re hoping they’re going to be given some amnesty or right to remain in the country. But as it stands, we simply do not know. And more importantly, as I look to build my team for the future–as I’m an entrepreneur–you need to find new talent. And if your talent pool shrinks or if it becomes harder to find or recruit talent, that has meaningful impact on your ability to grow your business.
The second is about trade. Fashion relies on a global supply chain. It requires things to be designed in one country, gathered in another, assembled in one country, packaged in another. Our industry depends on the free flow of goods across borders. And to the extent that these borders are going to become more difficult or tariffs or anything that slows down the free movement of goods, that’s going to have an impact on the industry as well. It’s those two areas where I have the greatest concern.
Of course, I’m concerned about the rights of minorities and that sort of thing, but when it comes to the terms of the fashion business in particular, I think about talent and the free movement of goods.
Do you think it’s no longer acceptable for people in the fashion industry to keep quiet about their political views?
It’s not about whether it’s acceptable or unacceptable but rather up to people whether they choose to implement or voice their opinions. What my goal has been is to provide a platform for those opinions to be shared. So, we think of the BoF as a safe place for people to share their opinions which is why we created Voices, which is this gathering that took place in London last December.
We were able to surface and discuss many of the issues that people are thinking about in the industry. Not just the impact of Brexit and Trump, but also the treatment of models, the impact of “see now, buy now” on creativity – all sorts of things. So through conversation and discussion, you can achieve understanding and you can help to further advance the thinking on certain issues for which we might not have an obvious answer.
What would you say is the role of the editor in the age of the social media influencer?
I think they have the same role. I think there is really no difference between an editor and a digital influencer anymore. Digital influencers are editors and editors are digital influencers.
I think the kind of false separation or false battle that people try to create in the media between these people is not helpful. The way I think about it is that people have different platforms and voices and opportunities to express themselves. So the really good editors and the really good digital influencers are using social media, websites, print, video, snapchat, etc…they’re using all the media that is available to them and suitable to them and that’s interesting to their audience.
And for traditional print editors that don’t transition and don’t know how to use these new tools and platforms, that’s going to be a real disadvantage.
People aren’t so quick to acknowledge it, but does the future of trend behavior really lie with the youth, as many people have been saying?
There are certainly generational differences. So the way my mother consumes content, the way she makes purchasing decisions or the way she spends her time is going to be very different from my niece, who is 6 years old. The way they approach things is going to be different because they’ve grown up in different eras.
But I think what we increasingly find is that there are groups that transcend generational groups. There are groups that are more psychographic and have certain value systems or interests that are not about generation, but personal interest points.
If you think about health and wellness, people across all demographics and age groups might be interested in health and wellness. They might be in the same yoga class, going to the same gym, reading the same book. So you have to think about demographic groups but also about psychographic groups. The intersection of those things is quite interesting.
Do you think fashion shows will become obsolete in the next few years?
It’s the age old question, isn’t it? It’s the question that everyone asks all the time. Listen, I have no idea. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future. I didn’t know Snapchat or Instagram was going to happen. We had no idea that the iPhone was going to happen. I cannot predict the future.
What I do know is that technology is transforming the way we live, and you never know what technology is going to do. I also know that I have yet to come across technology that replaces the physical experience of looking at beautiful clothes in an environment that has been created to evoke a mood, create an atmosphere or to express a creative idea. Until we find a technology that absolutely, 100 percent is able to replicate that, I don’t think the fashion show will go away.
Designers like Burberry and Tom Ford were some of the first to implement the “see now, buy now” method, however, some designers (like Tom Ford) are reverting back to the traditional method. What do you think are the benefits and flaws of the direct-to-consumer structure?
In order to make that model work, you don’t only need to change the way you show clothes and sell clothes, you need to change the way you create, manufacture and deliver clothes. It’s not just about the delivery schedules and the presentation of clothes but it’s a wholesale reevaluation of the entire value chain of the fashion system.
For a brand like Tom Ford that has a largely wholesale client base, it’s tough to make it work because you have convince and participate with your retailers to get them to sell things differently. And once you’ve done your big spike around a show that people are seeing live and can shop from, you have to find a way to sustain interest long beyond the actual interest in the show itself.
The best example right now is Tommy Hilfiger. It’s not a brand that is fashion-forward, nor are really directionally fashion-interested people are looking at it, but for someone that is interested in business models like me, I’m paying close attention to what they do. They completely restructured the entire way they create, produce, deliver, show and sell the clothes.
So, thinking about how you reorganize those things and how you have to reorganize and restructure your entire team to do things differently, that’s what is going to be required. It’s not about making tweaks in certain areas but being able to say: “OK this requires a complete rethink. How do we start things as if we had not been selling clothes before and from a blank piece of paper and from scratch?” That’s a really hard thing to do, and it’s going to take years to figure out, but I credit the brands that are trying to do things differently. At least they’re trying to change.
How do you see the role of video growing in media?
When the first iPhone came out, if you tried to watch a video on your phone, even on your computer a few years ago, it was terrible. Video technology has improved dramatically because internet bandwidth and speeds have improved. And mobile bandwidth and speeds have improved. I see people gathered around a dinner table or looking at videos on their phone; it’s really the intersection of technology and video technology and social media that has created this video explosion.
For those of us who grew up watching the Cosby Show every Thursday on a television set, you had to plan at 8pm to gather around a TV and watch it together. That’s over. You can watch video anywhere at anytime on your mobile phone.
I think creating videos that are suitable and created for this mobile phone media is really something different than the videos that are created for Netflix, which you watch on your laptop, or something for a cinematic screen which you watch at a movie theater.
When you create video content, you have to really think about the media and the mindset of the person when they’re consuming it and how much time they’re going to have–all of those things matter. You can really see people successfully doing that, and that is something that we think a lot about at BoF.
In a saturated market, what is the one thing aspiring media brands should know in order to become successful?
It’s not about building a brand but about building a community. If you can build a community of people that are engaged with your content, that trust and respect it, they’ll come back to it regularly, and develop a loyal relationship with your content. Finding ways of connecting a community together is the most powerful thing you can do with media these days. Media in its best form creates conversations and creates connections.