The Importance of a Fashion Council

Fashion changes. Trends come and go, fashion houses crumble or are vindicated and each country has its own influences and inspiration in fashion. However, one thing is clear in countries that realise the true potential of their fashion industry; they have Fashion Councils. These insitutional bodies recognize the multi-million potential and make the necessary moves to ensure it comes to fruition. Prime example of the power of Fashion Councils comes from the Big Four Fashion Week Capitals.  There’s a trick or two we can learn from these four bodies.

About the Councils

The Fashion capitals, London, New York, Milan, and Paris each have their own councils, respectively: British Fashion Council (BFC) founded in 1981, Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) 1962, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana in 1958 and Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode was founded in 1973. They are all not-for-profit associations with similar missions in mind. Their key priority was to position themselves as major players in the global economy by promoting their home-grown style, customs and fashion. And how were they going to do that?

[Image: Courtesy of Vogue.com]
[Image: Courtesy of Vogue.com]
By harnessing and sharing communal knowledge, capabilities and resources in the sector. Even in fashion no [wo] man is an island. We’re talking about bringing together commercial sponsors, the government and industry patrons to create a think tank that will create a dynamic industry. With this kind of information, each of them try their utmost best to represent all the highest cultural values of their fashion industries by guarding, synchronising and consolidation its appearance, locally and overseas.

Fashion is more than the cool kids parading their clique in public. Click To Tweet Strategic Pillars

Fashion is more than the cool kids parading their clique in public. The fashion council coordinates a series of projects and programs to uplift the players and potential hopefuls into viable, international standards individuals. Some of the pillars they focus on are:

Business Education

It is one thing to have the passion for fashion, and it’s another thing to ensure you don’t get shut down in three months for a technical error. Not to mention, some profit along the way wouldn’t hurt. Each of the councils have realised this and are affiliated with educational courses that are universally recognised for their fashion design expertise. Their curriculums often include business structure that looks at business strategy touching on how to cope whether you’re working in house or starting your own label, how to register your business, choosing and developing your business model. It also includes practical business knowledge such as identifying the challenges and opportunities, ethical trading as well as mapping your position and performance against competitors.

The extensive programs offer training on product development, sales, manufacturing, finance, marketing & communications, resources and personal development. It also educates designers on their legal rights and what they’d need legislation-wise to be a credible designer and business. This includes intellectual property and trademark, use of agreements and contract, trading terms and conditions, anti-counterfeiting and design protection, reputation management, corporate structure, and property leasing and retail studio just to mention a few. It also takes you through the boring yet crucial skill of accounting to keep your books in order and your company above the red.

Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne
Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne

In Paris, the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, for example, has the reputation of placing substantial significance to the provision of highly-qualified personnel with technical training that can easily design highly-complex structures and designs. The BFC College Council partners with various fashion companies to create industry competitions for students that give design students the chance to win bursaries, graduate placements, and paid internships to mention a few.

Programs like these don’t just nurture new talents, but they also add to their labels’ durability by preparing and guiding them through fashion evolutions. They teach skills such as constructing a business plan, how to source fabric, proper costing techniques, sales and marketing strategies, production, manufacturing and how to set up a design studio. They also have seminars regularly to tackle new innovations to keep their designers relevant and progressive as well as refresh of technical skills to improve design development.

[Image: courtesy of creativelive.com]
[Image: courtesy of creativelive.com]
All of the councils have an Education Foundation of some sort that promotes design excellence and offers support to future talent. For example, the CFDA has educational initiatives such as the CFDA, Teen Vogue Target Geoffrey Beene and Liz Claiborne Scholarship Awards to help new designers through education as well as ease the transition from student to professional designers.  Noticing a trend here? While the major houses will hold the limelight and get some preferential treatment, they still put emphasis on promotion of potential that would exceptionally contribute to the fashion industry.

Once you’re a designer, the councils have perks for their members such as professional development resources. That includes practical information for development strategy that tackles branding, e-commerce, communication strategy, PR and social media, employment law, international trademarks and more.

Model Programmes and Guidelines

Recognizing their vital contribution to fashion, as well as, responding to the shortcomings that models have faced in the industry for years, they’ve set up guidelines that protect and promote them. The BFC for example has developed series of guides to tackle rogue model agencies and inform models on their legitimate rights concerning labour and their human rights. They even instituted the  New Model Guide to London Fashion Week where models at London Fashion Week (LFW) and at London Collections Men (LCM) could meet members of the BFC directly to voice their concerns. It also led to the creation of the LFW Model Zone which is a calm and peaceful space for models to rest, access healthy food and drink, and meet independent advisors on nutrition and health at LFW and LCM.

LFW Model Zone [Image: Courtesy of Weleda - The Model Zone Sponsor]
LFW Model Zone [Image: Courtesy of Weleda – The Model Zone Sponsor]
Weleda Hampers for the models to takeaway after the shows. [Image: Courtesy of Weleda]
Weleda Hampers for the models to takeaway after the shows. [Image: Courtesy of Weleda]
Intellectual property and designer manifesto

They also play a major role in intellectual property in fashion design. It’s a tricky situation especially since whatever policies that are created shouldn’t stifle creativity, or hinder business ability. The US for example set up the Innovative Design Protection Act, as a practical approach to real issues of design piracy. It also cuts down on frivolous lawsuits by providing a transparent definition of infringement standards. This has resulted in trends being allowed to flourish faster and cater to the ‘instant fashion availability’ metamorphism the fashion calendar is currently undergoing.

The fashion calendar is so important because it is the leading scheduling resource for dependable and consistent information on the most exhilarating fashion events around the world. Something the local scene in Kenya desperately needs to adopt.

Apart from protection from piracy, they also provide the elements of what original design requires. The guidelines are printed and delivered to designers, manufacturers, students and other CFDA associates. They are also involved in connecting the manufacturing sector to the local designers to promote local originality. It also includes grants to improve facilities through technology and innovation. Put simply, they promote the notion of buying and manufacturing locally to grow the industry.

Key Events

An integral part of building reputation is setting up major events that promote the development of fashion through events with a highly intellectual image locally and abroad. They create the rules of the organised events that all future members are provided with to guide on participation coordination as well as simplify the inclusion process in relative fashion calendars.

The biggest events these councils handle are the famed Fashion Weeks. They are used as points of reference for the entire industry as the way forward. They are also crucial to promote the country’s designers to an international audience. And you’ll also notice that they react to growth requirements such as splitting the fashion weeks. Milan Fashion Weeks, Milano Moda Donna  (Milan Women’s Fashion Week) and Milano Moda Uomo (Milan Men’s Fashion Week) not only add to the excitement, but also give male fashion the much-needed platform as it has previously been overshadowed by female fashion. The councils have also created specialised fund such as BFC/GQ partnership to promote more male-oriented fashion designers.

Milano Moda Uomo [Images courtesy of Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and Calvin Klein respectively]
Milano Moda Uomo [Images courtesy of Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and Calvin Klein respectively]
Milano Moda Donna [Image: Courteys of Dolce and Gabbana]
Milano Moda Donna [Image: Courteys of Dolce and Gabbana]
Apart from Fashion Weeks, they also host Fashion Hubs or Showrooms that are luxury shopping zones that support emerging brands. Not forgetting the Fashion Awards, such as the CFDA Fashion Awards, that recognise outstanding contributions to fashion.

Reports

Even fashion has to have a little paper work. They are also in charge of producing the annual reports that evaluates the year, future of fashion reports that lay out the vision of the sector, areas they believe have great potential and highlighting actions required to ensure potential is met. These include reports that reflect the movement of the time such as positive fashion, model health inquiry reports and commercialising creativity reports.

Ethical Green Showroom at Berlin Fashion Week
Ethical Green Showroom at Berlin Fashion Week

Charity

With every organisation, it’s important to give back in a way that is manifestly seen to do good. A virtuous example is the work the CFDA Foundation, a non-profit organisation that was created to raise funds for charity and industry activities. They annually fundraise for the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer initiative, which supports breast cancer patient care, HIV/AIDS, and disaster relief. They have effectively used fashion and their partnerships with CFDA designers, retailers and brands to create awareness and fund charitable causes.

Previous CFDA Foundation Projects: Fashion for Relief, Fashion and Friends for Japan, Help Nepal and Jeffrey Fashion Cares. [Image: Courtesy of CFDA Foundation]
Previous CFDA Foundation Projects: Fashion for Relief, Fashion and Friends for Japan, Help Nepal and Jeffrey Fashion Cares. [Image: Courtesy of CFDA Foundation]
Calendar Creation

Take for example the fact the BFC has six key events annually. These events have to be planned for on multiple levels to ensure a seamless experience and worldwide promotion. They also have to take into consideration the timetables of other key events in Milan, Paris and New York. The calendar doesn’t just factor in fashion weeks. As Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana points out, it has to draft the schedule with the shows, events, pressrooms, fashion hubs and presentations in mind.

With so much at stake, and so much potential untapped, it’s crucial that Kenya finally set up a council that has the entire fashion industry’s benefits in mind.

The fashion calendar is so important because it is the leading scheduling resource for dependable and consistent information on the most exhilarating fashion events around the world. Something the local scene in Kenya desperately needs to adopt.

With so much at stake, and so much potential untapped, it’s crucial that Kenya finally set up a council that has the entire fashion industry’s benefits in mind. It can’t be a clique event that operates like a secret society, promoting a few individuals. There’s strength in numbers and together we can develop a fashion industry that is taken seriously not only by the government and locals, but also make the global fashion market sit up and pay attention.

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