Where Have All The Fashion Designers Gone?

Australia used to have a plethora of signature designers. Many of them eccentric, but most with great flair and a voice that drove a unique take on the fashion of the times.

Where the hell have they all gone?

With a few notable exceptions, many of the fashion businesses that exist in Australia today don’t have any designers at all. They have buyers whose skills revolve around specification and range construction. But they don’t design in the classic sense. And this is becoming a real issue.

Global sourcing has changed everything – some of it for the better. But there is a looming problem getting closer and closer. It all starts with trend. Basically there are three major trend-forecasting leaders in the world of fashion and everybody uses them. This makes sense from the perspective of de-risking direction but starts the ‘me-too’ process from the very germ of inspiration. The international brands, the factories, the advertising agencies, the media – everyone uses the trend-forecasters view as input into their own processes.

Despite predictions to the contrary, the vast majority of Australian fashion still follows the Northern Hemisphere – in trend, in design and in sourcing. More often than not we use the same factories as those that produce for the Northern Hemisphere and more often than not with the same fabrics. Sometimes it goes even further than that.

Buyers still go to Europe on buying trips and still put together their ranges based on influence from overseas. They go to factories in China, Vietnam, India and Turkey and look at what the international brands have sourced then they add their specifications to items to make them fit their ranges.

What the customer sees is minor variations between items. Fashion magazines even play to this with “get the look’ columns that point out the similarities and how the look can be achieved for less by substituting one brand for another.

Where this is heading is that the customers are seeing more and more sameness and buying in a non-committed way based on seasonal interpretation and price. When the international brand that created the ‘fame’ for the original comes to Australia the customer is then faced with the trade-up or trade-down choice and while this is not a one-size fits all decision, it begins to undermine the position of the local fashion business.

Add to that the growing share of the fashion business that the internet is now garnering and you see where all this is headed. It is time – right now – for Australian fashion businesses to re-discover the power of designers to create lasting profit gain through originality. There is no time to lose.

The current strategy of de-risking is what is actually creating the risk. The fashion world is now on-show and exposed to the world. And creativity and originality that is acknowledged and desired by the customer is the only recipe for continued success.