In Part 1 we spoke about the current situation and the need for an honest reflection on where the city is right now. We said that, despite the big improvements in the past year, on an international level Leeds is not a particularly relevant fashion city. There are some great brands and interesting stories that have come from Leeds during its history but right now we all have a lot of work to do if we want to make Leeds matter in the fashion world.
There are some huge challenges we need to overcome and systems that we need to create in order to have a sustainable, productive, globally relevant fashion scene here in Leeds. Each challenge we face is important enough to have a whole blog post dedicated to it but I will try to be as concise and to the point as possible. This may annoy some of the people we are going to talk about, but we do not have time to spend a few years making things slightly better each year and tip-toeing around the obvious. We need to capitalise on the current situation, talent and passion that Leeds has right now.
When I speak with people in this city, sometimes it feels like there is a gap between business and creativity. Let's get this straight right now - Fashion is big business, big money, big export, big brand building for a city. Still not convinced? Lets look at some numbers (very briefly I promise!):
Now, as a city looking to become 'the best city in the UK' surely we should be thinking seriously about this industry and the way it can contribute to our city? Surely we should be thinking of how we can capitalise on and get involved with the 'Made in UK' feeling that is mentioned regularly by important players in government, industry and media?
By creating an eco-system and structure in which creativity can flourish you begin to further develop Leeds 'Creative Economy', something that the West in general is moving more and more towards. If you combine this with our ability to locally manufacture and provide raw materials (Made in UK), you suddenly start to see the big picture and big potential for our city.
A big challenge, however, is changing the mentality of a lot of people and organisations in the city. This is a challenge that I have been working on privately, in every spare moment, for the past two years. I have had discussions with people at the very highest levels in local authority, business groups and other important organisations and the good news is that they are listening. These blog posts and others of a similar vein are being read by, and then commented on in private, by a lot of people at both a local and national level. The next stage is to change that listening into action.
When thinking about developing this industry / scene, we have to think about the very heart of a fashion industry: the designers. How are we developing emerging talent? Are they creating or becoming part of a sustainable business? The British Fashion Council report, quoted above, talks about how a lack of business skills among smaller fashion businesses can lead to them folding in infancy. So, we need to take this into account and think about how we minimise the risk in the Leeds fashion scene.
We also need to think about the other vital components of a fashion industry such as events, marketing, media and that other (almost unquantifiable) aspect of having a connected creative community in a city that includes designers, artists, DJs, models, musicians, actors, marketeers, photographers, stylists and more.
See the video below for our discussion on what makes a 'creative scene' in a city.
One of the most important challenges we face is facilitating and supporting the path of a 'talented young designer' to 'important fashion brand'. This means every step from finding and nurturing some of the raw talent in the city, through to helping them with manufacturing facilities, all the way through to having a successful company / brand based here in Leeds. This is no easy challenge.
This is where we need the 'buy in' from different organisations. We know of designers in Leeds, right now, who are having to turn down orders because they do not have the manufacturing capabilities to fulfil the order. We need to put in place systems and make the connections between local designers and local manufacturers. Some designers are making that connection but sometimes when you are in a design studio or in a factory all day you do not have the time or vision to see those connections. We have to get better at creating this chain.
When a designer reaches a certain stage, how then does he or she grow their business? They not only have to consider manufacture, but also distribution, marketing, branding, accounting all at the same time as creating their next collection in the 1,000mph fashion industry. This is where the support structure comes into play. People like Leeds City Council, Marketing Leeds and projects like Trinity Leeds can really help. These type of organisations can use their power, influence, connections and knowledge to provide services, facilities and outlets that are currently missing in 'the chain'. This will all help us become better at retaining the talent we have here. Of the three designers we mentioned in Part 1 of this post (that caught our eye in 2009), one is now working in London, one in New York, and one is still here in Leeds. Is this a good enough ratio of retention?
There are other organisations such as the British Fashion Council and UKTI who we are targeting their support and work with us here in Leeds to help realise our ambitions.
There is another important factor here in the city, which is the 'fashion education' system. We have fashion courses at Leeds College of Art and the universities, and there are big plans to develop further the Leeds 'retail academy' which will, at least in part, have a focus on fashion retail. In our opinion there is not enough joined up thinking or innovation in this area. We attended the Leeds College of Art graduate show this year. We only found out about it by pot-luck online. It was held in a casino for over 18's. Some really interesting talent was on show but we can't help but think that this is a show that could be one of our major emerging talent platforms and we need to think how this can grow further and reach a higher level. To give an example of joined up thinking let's make a comparison again to Barcelona (where two of our team studied this course). When we studied at Instituto Europeo di Design, professionals from the fashion scene of the city would come in and talk with students about what was going on there. In fact, most of our teachers and lecturers were professionals working in industry. Added to this, the graduate fashion show was a real big deal attended by serious players. The university and college need to get people like us in talking to the students about the scene here in Leeds and how they can get involved. Of course, there is a responsibility on the student to make those moves themselves, but as a city we are not yet in the position to take that approach. When trying to stimulate and develop a scene we need to kick, push and make connections. When the city's fashion scene is established and better connections made this will happen naturally, but right now we need to be more active both as industry and educational institutes.
In Part 1 of this post we had a quick overview and evaluation of some of the 'fashion events' taking place here in Leeds. But what is the answer? Rather than over analyse, I would like to set out some basic guidelines for what we should be doing in this area. Events are such a massive part of the fashion industry. It is not just the headline catwalk events and fashion weeks, it is the many private events, brand launches, collection showcases and parties that should all be included when thinking about fashion events.
Lets get this straight, right away, creating a quality fashion event is not easy. There are however some basics. First of all the people organising the events have to have at least a basic knowledge of fashion, and how the industry works. Slogans, tweets and press releases proclaiming to 'showcase' the 'best of' are flawed. Who are you showcasing to? The designers friends? The same crowd as last week? Drunk kids? Secondly, for events to constantly say they showcase 'the best of' something they either have to carry serious credibility or bring in someone who is qualified to proclaim something as 'the best'.
These type of events are actually doing damage to the work that we do here at Hebe Media. We are trying, on an international stage, to raise awareness of what is going on here and shine a spotlight on designers and creatives who we feel have the talent or potential to make an impact globally. There are designers in the city who are at a good level, some who are not and a small group who are talented enough to attract the interest of the global fashion community. It is important that the people organising events are qualified to make that differentiation. What does qualified mean? Well, it is the same as any other industry: a relevant education, relevant experience, an exceptional natural talent. Too many people think they are qualified to judge or comment on fashion. Not all of them are. Not by a long shot.
We have made our thoughts on Leeds Fashion Show clear in the past couple of days. This is an event and brand with great potential to go even further. We are not saying the show is the finished article but, rather, that it has the potential to get close. Each year a progression is taking place and with Trinity Leeds now supporting, and with what Hebe Media can bring to the project, hopefully the event will grow and develop further.
In Part 1 we mentioned the possibility of events like Passion for Fashion acting as some kind of talent feeder to some of the more established, high profile shows shows like Creative Encounter and Leeds Fashion Show. The Leeds College of Art Graduate Fashion Show is another that could have direct links and relationships with the next level events. We also have other events at planning stage that can play this 'feeder' role. But real care and thought needs to go into this, it cannot and must not be run by people who are not qualified to do so. We speak more about this in a blog from last year about Shang-Ting's internship in the fashion industry.
We also spoke about the Leeds Retail Awards. We can totally see the merit in having awards that recognise some of the great work that goes on in the Leeds retail scene. It is a great PR tool for the winners and helps to shine a spotlight on the interesting Leeds 'indie scene' and recent awards for places like Birds Yard, Accent and last year Vintage Wardrobe are massivly deserved. But some of the awards need to be rethought in our opinion, or maybe renamed. The awards are a popularity contest and there is nothing wrong with that. But we have to be careful when labelling things 'the best'. The winners of these awards are the most popular, not necessarily the best. In some cases the best is the most popular, but not always.
Leeds Loves Shopping is another brand that is a little confusing. For us, fashion is no more 'shopping' than any other product that you can buy. Yet the promotion around Leeds Loves Shopping seems heavily fashion focused. Leeds Fashion Show, Leeds Rocks, City Rocks and other shows are part of the programme. I am struggling to see how Leeds Fashion Show fits into Leeds Loves Shopping? In fact I would argue that Leeds Fashion Show, as a brand, is now being held back by its Leeds Loves Shopping label. We are not the only people confused by the Leeds Loves Shopping brand: we overheard a comment recently at an event where a journalist was saying that 'Leeds Loves Shopping was our fashion week'. Let's hope this was an isolated incident.
Designers and brands also have a responsibility to themselves when it comes to events. We can understand the need to 'get your name out there'. It is seen by many as the number one priority in the early days but perhaps designers and brand managers should think about some of the long-term consequences of appearing at a number of shows within a short period of time. Also, designers should ask themselves if the event has the same values as their own brand. If they do then great, but at least ask the question. Do not be afraid to give an event a miss if you feel that it does not fit well with your brand.
As for our role in the events side of things, we will be producing more and more events during the next year. After the success of the first Creative Encounter, we are planning events in Stockholm, Taipei, New York, Berlin and a number of cities in China. Where possible, we will look to replicate the international showcase back here in Leeds so people here can have a chance to get involved and collaborate with their international counterparts.
We will also be collaborating with Bond Models on new projects. This is another Leeds company doing really interesting things right now. These guys are involved with some high profile projects and brands and their star is rising all time.
In Part 1 we touched on some of the traditional and developing brands and platforms here in city. We said in many ways it mirrored the fashion scene itself, in that things are developing and cool brands are popping up but there is also room for a lot of development and improvement.
The blogging scene here in Leeds is young but is following a path that more established fashion cities have gone down before. We will not get into too much detail about particular blogs as we covered that yesterday, but as in most cities some are great, and some are not. Some Leeds fashion bloggers are following formulas that work and this is a good base to build from. Cool-hunting, personal style, event reports and 'great finds' are all important components of creating interesting online collateral for a city's fashion scene. It is also nice to see Leeds fashion bloggers connecting and conversing more and more online and now hitting events together. The next stages in the evolution will be for interesting collaborations between blogs and bloggers working with brands directly. Some Leeds bloggers are already doing this and their names are listed with nationally relevant bloggers in places like Fashion Monitor, which is cool. We have not yet reached the number of writers or level of influence to be able to say we have an important fashion blogging scene here, but we are on the right tracks.
The more traditional media in the city need to step things up in our opinion. The Yorkshire Evening Post can still claw back younger readers by being more active in the Leeds fashion scene. Perhaps they should look at some of the main writers and bloggers in the city and think about how they could work together. As I said yesterday, Hebe Media writes for a number of magazines, blogs and newspapers and it is mutually beneficial. People who live and breathe the scene can always provide insight and knowledge that cannot be faked. Here you have a scene of up-and-coming writers, commentators and people with powerful personal brands. What would happen if they began to work with a 121 year old established, respected media brand? It could be cool to find out...
In our opinion, Leeds Guide are actually doing a cool job at the moment. It is not their place to be too controversial or confrontational. They provide interesting, positive content and are actually playing an important, understated role in communicating Leeds fashion scene news to a wider, more casual audience in the city. Also we should not forget that they themselves are an independent company who are going through the big challenges their industry faces, we should all support them where we can.
We will continue to play our part here at Hebe Media, with our LOL! Leeds Online and UK Observing Diary projects. We will be developing LOL! content around the Leeds fashion scene and thinking about how we can showcase Leeds designers to the 50,000 strong network. UK Observing Diary can be a brilliant platform for Leeds designers and brands to showcase to an audience of millions in the Far East. We also have plans for a new video / TV project that we will unveil in the coming weeks.
We know this article will ruffle a few feathers but we speak about this sort of stuff behind closed doors on an almost daily basis, with some of the main players in the Leeds fashion scene. We felt it was time to put these conversations 'out there'. If we are to truly develop a scene and an industry here, we have to look at the positives and address the areas in which we can improve. Most importantly, we need to be honest with one and other.
We feel Hebe has an important role to play in the development of the scene, and that our international experience helps to give a different viewpoint. We know what we are up against globally and also have a direct insight into what certain fashion brands, fashion media and international opinion formers think of Leeds. As the people close to us know, we bust our asses every day to help, advise and support many of the projects and people we have spoken about in these posts, and will not rest until we have achieved what we came back to Leeds for... to create a fashion scene we can be proud of. A smart man once told us "if the industry you want to work in is not there... create it" and we live by this. The Hebe team, and many of you reading this, could quite easily leave this city and realise some of our fashion ambitions elsewhere. But let's be the group, the generation, that can turn around in 20 years and say "we were the guys that started that".
We would love to hear your comments and ideas on this post.