Monday, May 12, 2014

The Designer's Strategic Intent

My strategic planning / journalist / publisher / fashionista diva brain was on overload this weekend at Saskatchewan Fashion Week, which I was pleased to once again attend in Regina.  This is the third year  of the event in Regina. Earlier this year, I also attended Vancouver Fashion Week.  

Saskatchewan Fashion Week (SFW) is an entrepreneurial venture, brought to life by three entrepreneurs and a team of talented and committed people.  Over the past days, it has been described as a show, a party and an experience.   It had all the trappings that fashion shows tend to have:  designers, models, a runway, lights, cameras snapping, bloggers and writers. The hope is that something on the runway will create a buzz and attract attention.

I love fashion shows for the fashion. I have a soft spot for the designers, as many on the runway are people I have come to know. I am also the mother of a fashion designer now living in Vancouver, so I understand a little more about what it takes to be seen on the runway.

The audience seemed to enjoy and appreciate the event.   One woman said, "We need to do more of this.  It's so nice to see who our designers are and what they offer."  I suggested she visit the designer after the show and shop their lines.

Integration with the retail industry is an important part of the designer's world, since that is ultimately how a designer can one day make a living as a designer.  In 2013, SFW hosted  27 designers on the runway.  A city-wide Katwalk of more than 20 independent retail destinations and specialty services providers offered a premier shopping experience with exclusive promotions in celebration of SFW.

This year there was no formal Katwalk, per se.  Instead nine retailers and 20 designers shared the runway over three nights at Saskatchewan Fashion Week. As a strong advocate of local independent business, I believe every opportunity to remind people  about our independent retail is a good thing.

Fashion shows are really job interviews or trade shows on runway.  Some say they are about the art of fashion and design.  Fashion shows are the place where designers present what we will be wearing in the coming seasons.  From the fashion show to the racks of retailers they go, and the circle of life is complete when we buy the designs at our local retailer.

Fashion shows are the designer's opportunity to present their products and vision to potential buyers.  It's a big commitment for the designer.  Each look that walks the runway represents the heart and soul of its creator.  Designers do what they do out of love and vision.  But how does love translate to making a living?

Speaking from a business strategy perspective, I couldn't help but think about the level of financial risks the designers had taken to walk the runway and how long it would take for them to see a return on their investment (ROI) in Saskatchewan, and how the rest of the world would find them.

 Ester Knight's Moon Star Designs at Saskfashionweek on May 8, 2014

My inner accountant emerges as I start adding the looks on the runway.  If one where to quantify the full cost of a collection, including: the designer's time to conceive, create and manage from the outset to the packing up their cars after the show, the hours of time that their supporters / helpers gave to their cause, materials, transportation, entry fees, model fees, food and residual costs and the opportunity to attract fashion buyers, would the business case be there?

My daughter has presented her designs in Regina's 2012 and 2013 shows and Vancouver's show in 2014.  I can say from experience that conservatively each designer spends a minimum of $5000 to be seen on the runway for those brief moments.

The runway is part of a broader marketing strategy. Pre and post marketing activities, including film production, look books, website, branding and post production (assuming there are orders) are additional costs to be considered in the equation.

Realizing Return on Investment (ROI) in a timely manner is the key.  At some point, the designer needs income to begin the cycle of investment again.

The business of Fashion Design is business that requires a strategy and money.  The designer's strategic intent (his or her why) must be clearly defined and understood in the designer’s mind. If the designer's goal is to create a custom design market then the local runway show is a good place to be seen.  If the designer's strategic intent is to expand into broader markets and move to mass market production, their runway needs to attract buyers, and their marketing efforts will need to be tailored to the people who can make the connections.  Whatever the strategic intent,  somehow the runway has to be part of the ROI, unless it is purely entertainment.



  1. Thank you for speaking to the business side of fashion! Great article! Very important for people to recognize that their support in terms of dollars spent will mean more design in the future. We are beginning to develop our own regional style because people are more willing to spend at home.

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