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Mar 16, 2022

From designer to
business manager?

The evolution of the fashion designer globally has been quite interesting over the past few years. We have seen the industry moving towards the term “creative director” rather than fashion designer. The creative director designs and overlooks the whole visual identity or language from the collections to the store design and digital branding, all to provide a cohesive image for the consumer to trust and truly understand the brand message. The creative director is also adept at making informed decisions based on data and intelligence provided by various business units.

The question is always: “Sell what you can make or make what you can sell?” Striking the right balance is essential for the designer. Making what you can sell being the less risky revenue stream, balanced with selling what you can make being for the consumer seeking novelty and innovation which is also important for certain brands. Another point to note is that in the reality of luxury fashion, the consumers do not know they want a particular design until the designer creates it. Entrepreneurship and family businesses are quite prominent in India compared to Europe for example where graduates would rather join an existing brand. Whereas, here students are ready to start their entrepreneurial journey at the earliest or join their family business right after graduation. This therefore makes it important for the designer to have some balance between creativity and business acumen.

Needless to say fashion design is already quite heavy in terms of research and technical skills of drawing, cutting, sewing but also soft skills such as communications, negotiations and leadership. Agility and adaptability are crucial for sustainable competitive advantage in this dynamic industry. For example, many successful designers are well versed with the different market levels and tap into them with brand leverage-creating new sub brands at other entry points, or diversification into homeware or accessories. The same is true for fashion business and fashion styling students. Overview of the creative process and collection development helps understand better how the business works resulting in better decision-making.

It is crucial for designers to have a well defined, distinctive and consistent brand identity which resonates with the target consumer. This would go from the creative identity of the designer to the retail identity of the stores and visual identity of the communications strategy across all touchpoints whilst tapping into new emerging channels such as social media and influencers-again with the right fit. Drawing from the same croquis over and over again, does not provide the consumer with the individuality and self expression that fashion is meant to offer to the less collectivist societies. Creativity balanced with analytical skills along with intuition helps the designer create newness in a sea of sameness.

Nowadays fashion design students are provided with a holistic view of most aspects of the business to gain an understanding of how everything is interrelated and works together as a whole. For example, merchandising guides design decisions or consumer intelligence helps color choices. General knowledge of the zeitgeist is vital as well, in the words of Coco Chanel herself : “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

The pandemic has catalyzed what was already happening in terms of positive changes to the fashion industry. Sustainability and circularity, technological advances and innovation but most importantly the movement towards more responsibility from both consumers and companies. The new generations from Millennials to Gen Z are extremely meticulous about transparency and will easily challenge and call out unsustainable and un-ethical practices. This means the fashion designer now needs to make conscious and informed decisions about the whole supply chain. If fashion and luxury is about feeling good then consumers should be feeling good about their purchases and consumption. 

Fashion design is a profession like any other, contrary to popular belief, it is not solely about creativity. The successful designer is either also acute in business or usually has a close business partner to counterbalance. It is after all a business and like any other business, the more the leader knows about the overall business, the better for success. The inquisitive mind, with a lean forward attitude, a forever student, always hungry and passionate is the right start in being a successful fashion designer.

Appeared on The Hindu dated 7th Feb 2022

Mevin Murden
Director of education, Mumbai