“Simply put, what will change fashion for the better is the intersection of fashion, entrepreneurship, sustainability and technology—a space I call FEST.
Combine an interest in and a devotion to those things, and you have the right makings of a seismic shift in an industry that has always been built on constant change, but loathes changing how it operates. I see the industry’s shifting landscape every day as independent brands and startups approach the endeavor of making and selling apparel in entirely new ways—ways that larger legacy brands are rarely nimble and untethered enough to embrace. And when people tell me these are niche or unfeasible solutions, I say: ‘tell that to the more than 100 women we’ve had on the Spirit of 608 podcast who are building business in FEST’.
FEST is an idea that emerging designers and fashion startups often intuitively understand. They know that it is possible to produce apparel with environmentally conscious materials and less wasteful processes in partnership with suppliers and manufacturers who protect workers with fair conditions and living wages. They know it’s also possible to experiment with new business models such as crowdfunded clothing, pre-order sales and secondary markets that increase efficiency and reduce the potential for overstock that turns into waste. They’re convincing—slowly, yes, but surely—manufacturers to test lower minimums and continuous releases rather than seasonal collections. Last but not least, they know they can find, attract and grow audiences from around the world through digital communication, increasingly easy-to-use ecommerce tools and an uptick in training and educational resources aimed specifically at fashion entrepreneurs—rather than just fashion designers.
In all of this, technology is the enabler, the conduit, the open road to new ways of building businesses, growing audiences and shifting not only how clothes come into our closets, but what happens to them once they leave. From the vast array of productivity tools aiding micro entrepreneurs today and the ubiquity of social media marketing to crowdfunding training programs and online communities—just to name a few areas where technology is helping brands to pop and grow in ways they could not have done even five years ago—technology is, in my mind, ethical fashion’s new best friend.
« The trouble, especially for small and new FEST brands, is getting in front of the media in ways that the media understand and like »
As a longtime fashion journalist who spent years covering the business of fashion and the intersection of fashion and technology, I can’t help but see the media’s role. I often hear FEST brands worry about the media’s interest in what they’re building. But there’s absolutely no shortage of interest in innovation and social enterprise among the media today, and that will only increase as younger audiences, who prize experiences and mission-based brands over mere stuff, mature into their core readers, viewers and listeners.
The trouble, especially for small and new FEST brands, is of course getting in front of the media in ways that the media understand and like. We’ve had such a long tradition in the U.S. of opacity between the media and businesses—and for good reason. One result of this institutionalized wall between media and business is that very few entrepreneurs and startups truly understand how to communicate with journalists, influencers and bloggers in a way that leads to free press coverage.
I sat on the media side for years and watched so many worthwhile brands try to get press coverage in ineffective ways, from blasting emails to hundreds of random journalists to offering to pay a legit journalist for articles to simply contacting a writer about a publication she hadn’t contributed to in years (this last one happens to me multiple times a day).
But startup brands and entrepreneurs have every bit of ability to put themselves out there and get featured. Seeking press coverage is something FEST businesses should build into the core of their business and marketing strategies, just as they carve out significant time for social media marketing, which almost every successful fashion brand today does. Lack of time or money is often what ethical brands tell me stands in the way of more press coverage. I tell them to look at their social media budget. How much time and money are you spending to grow your audiences and reach customers through those platforms? Take half of it and either learn how to DIY your own press outreach or find someone who can help you.
I’m especially bullish (some might say obnoxiously enthusiastic) about this for FEST brands. If you’re not pushing yourself out there and getting noticed, you’re not helping to change an industry that sorely needs new thinking. It’s about more than you and your brand. It’s about being a part of a larger conversation that will lead to a better future for millions of people worldwide.
Something to think about the next time you’re wavering on your next press pitch.”