Outgoing/former Australian Fashion Council CEO David Giles-Kaye shares some final thoughts on the industry in this special interview. 

What are some of the biggest issues facing designers?

The biggest issue, by a long way, facing designers in 2019 has been understanding and responding to the climate change crisis that our global industry has, in part, created.

We are one of the oldest industrialised sectors and rely on long and complicated international supply chains, which have developed over decades with little transparency and many problems.

There is therefore a great urgency across the whole industry to work collaboratively on solutions as fast as possible.

There are many difficulties too, adjusting, retrofitting, a company’s supply chain to address these concerns.

This is also being carried out in an environment that is yet to develop accepted and comparable global standards and practices.

These are emerging quickly but are not there yet.

One point of note is that the AFC recently joined the UNFCCC’s Fashion for Global Climate Action initiative as a Supporting Organisation signatory.

This will be a pathway for the Australian industry to be more involved in this global effort.

What were some of the new opportunities they were able to capatalise on last year?

A plug here for some Australian Fashion Council programs.

The AFC Designers Abroad program, supported by The Woolmark Company and Creative Victoria, focused in 2019 on supporting Australian fashion labels overseas at New York and Paris fashion weeks and at home through our developing relationship with Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia, our local gateway to overseas markets.

At each of these we held education sessions and networking events with an emphasis on helping our businesses connect to global opportunities.

AFC Curated continued in 2019 with more than 45 labels now having gone through the year-long emerging designer program.

Presented by Vicinity Centres as well as supported by City of Sydney, labels were able to take advantage of the mentoring, workshops and retail activations that make up the program.

We launched a new program in 2019 for more established labels called AFC Flagship.

This provides Australian fashion labels with a premium retail space for a short period of time where they have the opportunity to showcase their brand in their own store. It is designed to help labels on their pathway to their own stores.

There have been many of these activations in the last year in both Sydney and Melbourne with great learnings and results.

Labels have included Strateas Carlucci, A.BCH, Harlow, Waverley Mills, Song for the Mute, and NATALIJA.

There were very many other industry programs we offered at the AFC around our growth agenda.

What is the general outlook for 2020?

In the global business reports there seems to be a consensus that growth in the fashion industry will slow in 2020.

I don’t find this particularly helpful though as our industry is so large, complicated and segmented that we will see much growth, and, at the same time decline.

I find it more relevant to look at what makes a label successful in fashion, and that is a strong value proposition to your consumer, backed up by excellent design and customer engagement. With these growth will follow.

How do you see brick and mortar stores performing in the new year?

A great in-store experience is unforgettable, and will draw consumers into a brand, both on and offline. Unfortunately great experiences are not always had by consumers in Australian stores.

Offline stores will perform if they deliver on the value proposition of the brand.

What about online sales?

I don’t think that it is healthy to view online and offline sales as separate.

They must both be seamless components of the whole customer experience.

Within this the online purchasing as a share of the total will keep increasing, but only where the two platforms are integrated.

Online mustn’t be the channel of discounting or opportunistic sales.

Are there any new developments designers should be most aware of as they start planning the next 12 months?

The next few years will see a shift from thinking about change to implementing it. This is about all of us taking the lead in our own industry.

There are five areas that I see as most critical:

● Action on sustainability. Setting targets, measuring progress and keeping learning;
● Gender equality. In a female dominated industry our senior management and boards are still not representative;
● Digital everything. So many opportunities, plus don’t get left behind;
● Indigenous engagement. We have so much to learn from each other and such a lot of catching up to do;
● Great design. This determines the future of everything we do.

What will be some of the key legislative issues facing designers in the new year?

The Modern Slavery Act has been an important key recent development.

This has only directly impacted our larger companies but over a short time we will see these requirements trickling through to smaller organisations.

Looking forward I expect there to be new legislation on how waste is managed.

This should include raising landfill costs, rewarding reuse, repurposing and recycling, and stronger regulations around greenhouse gas and other pollutants.

What will be some of the key competitive pressures they will face in the new year?

A strong trend over many years has been the growth at both the premium and value ends of the industry whilst the middle price category has remained slow.

I expect this to continue, not only in absolute terms but I also expect that there will be a further reduction of the number of players in this category as the segment becomes more consolidated. We already see this happening and I see no signs of it letting up.

The key to growing a successful business in this environment is knowing your niche and getting it right. And, don’t get drawn into building a product to a price. Confidently offer products that are sustainably and ethically designed and made at the price they are worth.

Do you predict any more retail fatalities in the new year, following a number of administrations in 2018?

This is a huge industry and there will of course be companies that are growing and ones that will go out of business. As I mentioned before we know the retail environment is changing fast, as we work out how to align and integrate online and offline channels.

Brands need to do this well, but also they must design and build products that are sustainable, ethical, quality, beautiful, and desirable. We also have the challenge of how to connect to people a real way and what we are doing to support our communities.

I firmly believe that companies that are doing these things well will grow.


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