brown wooden blocks with number 6

“Fashion is full of intelligent people but the important conversations happen in snatched moments.” This comment by Anja Cronberg, Editor in-chief of Vestoj magazine, was made during a discussion between herself and Josh Williams, Assistant Professor of Fashion Management at Parsons School of Design at a recent Fashinnovation event. This is a striking statement because of its simplicity and truth, but I’ve never heard it before. It resonated so strongly with me that I contacted Cronberg a few days later to get more details.

She began, “I should add a caveat to this statement.” “How do you define an important conversation? What we feel about our work, the system and how it works, what we talk about, and how we interact with it. I also want conversations that allow us to be vulnerable, but not try to sell anything. These are my favorite conversations.”

Despite the fact that we have centralized the importance of dialogue in recent years, candidly taking stock isn’t a common practice within the fashion industry. Voices is the annual gathering of big thinkers at the Business of Fashion. However, the act of talking can often seem more appealing than the idea. It is rare to share secrets and vulnerabilities with colleagues, investors, or superiors. Cronberg’s work with Vestoj aims to make it possible for industry professionals, students, researchers, and other members of the same industry to come together.

Fashion industry’s rapid pace slows down change

Williams also offered his thoughts on why fashion conversation about priority issues such as diversity, inclusion and sustainability is not an everyday event. He said that the fashion industry is very competitive and moves fast, so there isn’t much time for formal conversations around education, learning and sharing. “There is also a fear that “too much”  will be shared.”

Collaborative marketing has become a buzzword. It refers to two brands collaborating to release a product in order to maximize profitability and exposure. This is not a meeting of minds, but a marketing opportunity. The fear of sharing too much, mentioned by Williams, has been associated with our industry for its twin pillars, exclusivity and competition. We are now in a new era and have added support to our businesses of authenticity and transparency. Why can’t fashion insiders, who are both corporate and independent, recognize the need to make a difference and work together on projects for the benefit of people and planet? We can’t seem to get our house in order.

Cronberg suggested that “Maybe it is because the fashion industry has been so focused on images, on visuals. Maybe we forget the value of words, written and spoken, and thinking about fashion in terms of wider philosophy.”

Although we have our own governing body within the CFDA, perhaps an outside audit could be beneficial for the industry. It was an outsider, a Tiktoker who discovered Coach was destroying unsold merchandise and alerted us. This forced Coach to address the matter and promise to end the practice. Cronberg says that prominent thinkers, even those from other industries, can’t have much influence over the fashion industry because we don’t allow them in or are unwilling to engage. You can’t invite creative directors to conferences if you don’t have a relationship with them. The fashion industry is closed-minded and a bit suspicious of outsiders. To be able to interact with the industry, you must be an insider.

brown wooden blocks with number 6

Cronberg, who was a research fellow at London College of Fashion during the years she was establishing .Vestoj, has one foot in academia and one foot in the industry which gives her a unique point of view. There is no system that allows for ongoing discussions about how to improve the industry. They won’t happen on stage at a BoF conference, because you are performing. It is not about selling an idea. You are trying sell yourself, a product or your company. We then make do with this stolen moment while waiting for space to allow us to communicate.

Was the pandemic a change in our industry?

We had that space when the pandemic struck. Introspection was a valuable skill that we learned and important conversations were held as a result. When Dries Van Noten and Burberry, Thom Browne and Jil Sander signed a letter in May 2020 expressing concern about the fashion show schedule, seasonality, and product discounting, and requesting a review of sustainability, it was clear that there was a desire to foster a sense of community among brands who want to work together towards common goals. The industry was at its most open, with designers acting almost as if they were colleagues within a large company. It was naive to believe that this meant a shift.

Cronberg says, “We are still in the pandemic” and that we need more hindsight. “These things don’t really involve changing the system; they are just modifications.” Cronberg says radical change is more difficult to achieve and that some people must die in order for others to succeed. “There must be a physical end to a certain age when people need to go, not exist anymore, so that people with different concerns and educations, who are currently the lowest, can take over.”

Cronberg believes that systems don’t break quickly and can be difficult to dismantle. However, Cronberg thinks that “bending” the system is more beneficial. You need to be able to give feedback on whether your efforts are making a difference. You might lose your momentum and give up.

Perhaps it’s the way we frame conversations when they occur that is most important. We are imperfect people working within a flawed system. We all have our own ways of making sense of the world and our immediate surroundings. Over time, these conversations will become more complex, deeper and involve more people. This article was created by taking the time to build on these moments. Cronberg says, “We don’t always realize this conversation is special until it’s gone and the moment has passed.”

Jackie Mallon, fashion editor, is also an educator. She is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs. This novel set is a unique piece in the international fashion industry.