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How to Fix the Fashion Industry

The Wall Street Journal logo The Wall Street Journal 2/13/2018 Ray A. Smith

In just 11 years, Imran Amed’s fashion-news blog has gone from a fledgling website to an influential voice in a troubled industry. Business of Fashion, which Mr. Amed started from his sofa in London, now rivals—and surpasses, some say—107-year-old Women’s Wear Daily as the go-to trade resource.

Mr. Amed, a former McKinsey consultant, has had plenty of news to cover. With New York Fashion Week wrapping up on Wednesday, the $2.5 trillion global industry faces an uncertain future. Store closings and turmoil among top designers at some brands are adding to the anxiety. Listless sales have some houses questioning whether fashion weeks and even fashion shows make sense anymore in the Instagram era.

For answers, retail executives, designers and insiders are turning to BoF, latching on to Mr. Amed’s expanding offerings such as job postings, conferences featuring fashion leaders and an annual list of the industry’s most important figures.

The son of Indian parents who immigrated to Canada from East Africa, Mr. Amed grew up in Calgary. He launched BoF in 2007 as a free site with his own writing and lots of fashion news from other sources. Today, the 42-year-old CEO and editor in chief runs a media platform with 75 employees in London, New York and Shanghai. BoF publishes original news reports and features as well as opinion pieces by industry bigwigs. While a limited number of articles are free, the company in late 2016 launched paid subscriptions ranging from $240 to $300 a year.

BoF says it has an average of more than one million unique users a month and more than four million social-media followers. Its daily newsletter is emailed to 400,000 readers. BoF’s mission, Mr. Amed says, “is to open the industry up, to inform the people who work in the industry and to connect them and bring them together.” The Wall Street Journal sat down this week in New York with Mr. Amed. Edited from our conversation.

WSJ: With the industry in flux, which brands are doing a good job navigating this environment?

IMRAN AMED: Without a doubt, the single most innovative brand of the moment is Gucci. One thing that hasn’t changed in fashion over the last 10 years is the essential role that creativity plays. You can do as much innovation in your supply chain, in your retail distribution, in your e-commerce strategy, but if you do not have outstanding unique, creative, inspiring products to sell, it doesn’t matter how quickly you can make them. Gucci has completely overhauled their e-commerce strategy and changed the way they communicate about the brand. They’ve embraced new channels like Instagram but also done beautiful events and interesting advertising campaigns.

WSJ: What’s a smart, out-of-the box thing Gucci did?

They’re not doing any discounting on their main runway collection. Mr. [Marco] Bizzarri, the CEO, made a decision. We’ve kind of trained the consumer to wait for things to go on sale. Gucci’s stopped that. Fifty percent of their customers are millennials. Millennials are the drivers of success for the fashion industry now. Without engaging them, you can’t really operate a successful business today. Gucci has found ways of engaging with that consumer.

WSJ: Any other brands or designers being smart in this environment?

IMRAN AMED: Attico, a brand out of Milan. Two girls—I think they started as street-style stars—have created a really interesting business. They have 124,000 followers on Instagram and their clothes are selling all over the place. You also see that with people like Alexa Chung, people who weren’t normally classified as designers, who are becoming designers now.

WSJ: Which retailers have responded best to changing shopping habits?

IMRAN AMED: When I think of retail now, I think of platforms. And when I think of platforms I think of Amazon and Alibaba and JD.com. A lot of fashion brands have been hesitant to engage with these platforms but I think it’s no longer should we engage with these platforms, it has to become a question of how we engage. Bricks-and-mortar stores now are more like the source of discovery and experience—the transactions might happen elsewhere.

WSJ: In a recent report, BoF and McKinsey said “more than half of apparel and footwear sales will originate outside of Europe and North America.” Where do you see the greatest opportunity for growth coming from?

a man sitting at a desk © Frantzesco Kangaris for The Wall Street Journal

IMRAN AMED: This year the global fashion industry hits an important psychological tipping point where most of the revenues will begin to come from emerging markets. It’s not just China. I’d say Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Kenya—it’s all of these markets that are really growing. Our analysis says by 2025, they’ll drive 55% of the overall revenues of the industry. Europe and North America will still grow, but they’re not going to grow nearly as quickly.

WSJ: How do you see catwalk shows and Fashion Weeks in the next five to 10 years?

IMRAN AMED: I don’t think it’s possible to predict the future of Fashion Week but what’s clear is that the old formulas no longer work and the old approach is feeling tired. For the industry, Fashion Week still remains an incredibly important opportunity for discussion and exchange.

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