16 Mar 2021

Positive disruption: how to collaborate for real change

As we continue to navigate the effects of the pandemic, one thing has become clear: the words “business as usual” simply no longer apply. In the face of Covid-19, along with ever mounting pressure to improve our industry, fashion is at a crossroads. Now is a time for disruption and change; a time to “build back better”. From the people we partner with to how we manufacture products, it’s time to shape a new future for the fashion industry, that encompasses ethical values, sustainable practices and our customers’ changing wants and needs. Following our insightful panel, chaired by Drapers’ Kirsty McGregor, at Fashion Together, we’ve been inspired to learn from businesses already making a difference and take a look at just how the fashion community can collaborate for true disruption.

Defining disruption

To understand how we can disrupt fashion we must first understand what disruption is. Of course, the word traditionally comes with negative connotations, like disturbance, obstruction and disorder. But, in the business world, these negative adjectives simply don’t apply. When we’re talking about disruption in an industry such as fashion or retail, we’re talking about innovation, growth and a shake up of the status quo.

Disruption can come in many shapes and sizes, as evidenced by our innovative panellists. For Eshita Kabra, founder of By Rotation, disruption is technological. The By Rotation fashion rental app brings the Airbnb model to fashion, empowering the end user to be part of a sustainable fashion movement. It could be disruption within the supply chain, as evidenced in Lost Stock, founded by Cally Russel. Disruption could also be closer to home, using storytelling, local partners and education to disrupt consumer mindsets such as for designer Sabinna Rachimova. What these businesses all have in common is a commitment to ethics, sustainability and collaboration. And it is these three things that will prove vital in defining and driving innovation within fashion.

What’s Covid got to do with it?

The pandemic has forced us all to stop and think. Whether it’s about our own impact, where we spend our money or what we really value, this has been a period of reflection and re-evaluation that has changed what consumers demand, quite possibly forever. Although awareness was already dawning pre-pandemic, the past 12 months have changed not only how consumers consume, but also what; Cally tells us, “consumers now have more time to consume stories and are not consuming products… the only way to make an impact is to bring everyone on our journey”. In other words, the pandemic has disrupted consumer mindsets and the fashion industry has no choice but to move with this.

The good news is that many fashion brands are doing just this. Eshita has seen a marked increase in brands collaborating with the By Rotation rental model, rather than fighting against it as they have done in the past. For brands, too, the pandemic has highlighted an urgent need to change the narrative with customers, who are looking for newness from brands at the same time as they are demanding transparency and a more sustainable, less-waste way to shop.

On top of this, the pandemic has naturally brought about a tangible shift in consumers’ needs. Whilst shoppers have continued to educate themselves on their impact on their wider world, they have, by necessity turned to home when it comes to where they shop during this time; we’ve all seen first-hand the rise in a shop small, shop local mentality. For Sabinna, it was this disrupted mindset that actually provided the opportunity rather than having to disrupt her own business model which was already heavily local and consumer-led.

Reconditioning consumers through storytelling, education and new models

Whilst consumers have clearly gone through a paradigm shift in thinking and behaviour, there are still some engrained mentalities that will be more challenging to change. Lost Stock research found that “51% of people want to be more ethical and sustainable, but the majority of these people don’t want to pay more for it”. This then begs the question, “how do we cater for this demand whilst fulfilling a price point we ourselves have conditioned our customers to expect?”

It might sound simple, but largely it comes down to storytelling. The fashion industry is a complex and convoluted one, and the supply chain is an enigma to the consumer eye. This lack of transparency has paved the way for unsustainable and/ or unethical business practices which have been allowed to take place without the customer having to know; this is what allows for greenwashing. For Sabinna, what customers are missing is “a link to the makers”. Fashion needs to reconnect its end user with its supply chain, showing the intricacies behind manufacture as well as the humans behind the garments.

However, what we also need to remember is not to discourage brands who are taking steps. Many consumers will see brands’ efforts as “not going far enough”; they expect perfection and they expect it now. Instead, consumers need to be re-educated to understand that every brand is on a sustainability or ethics journey, one that we need to encourage them on. Disrupting our narratives to focus on transparency and storytelling at every stage of the process is what will ultimately win the consumer round.

Unfortunately, shifting an affordability mindset in consumers is easier said than done. Of course, we cannot afford to alienate audience and we must bear in mind those who simply don’t have the means to be as green as they would like. Interestingly, Eshita has observed a shift in mindset for By Rotation’s key demographic; whilst initially downloading the app is inspired by a desire to save money, the app has started to see more conversation around impact taking place within the community. As such the platform has created an “impact calculator” which helps users to understand their positive savings and impact in a simple and gamified way.

Collaboration: the how, the what and the why

It’s all well and good talking about disrupting consumer mindsets, but true disruption must come from within the industry. Fashion has traditionally been a secretive industry and brands and businesses are suspicious of each other, rather than sharing and learning. As we exit the pandemic and begin to build back better, we must foster a sense of community and collaboration if we are ever going to transform.

This means we need to reframe the way we look at competitors and “threats”. Instead, these are co-creators and opportunities. New platforms, like By Rotation for example, could open a whole new audience demographic for brands and retailers, rather than shutting the door to traditional sales models.

We must also reframe the way we think of ourselves; no longer as an “industry” but as a “culture”. Fashion has always been part of wider societal and cultural shifts, and we should see our sector as a force for change and a vehicle for expression, rather than as a transactional industry alone. For this, we must look for opportunities everywhere, not just within fashion, helping to drive wider improvement and innovation in the world around us.

Watch the panel on-demand using your Fashion Together unique link. Didn’t make it on the day? Register below for access to all of our exclusive content.


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