Dear Fashion Industry,
Welcome back to New York. A lot has changed since the last time you descended upon the city. I see you have noticed we have a new president who has changed the world overnight. We have seen some of your early shows and have noticed that a lot of what’s happening in the world is inspiring your runways, your merchandise and the trends that you are gravitating toward. I assume a lot of this has to do with sales and trying to penetrate the millennial market. So before you go too far down this road I thought I would write you a letter and tell you to stop telling me what to wear when I have already worn it and to stop telling me what to do when I have already or done it.
First, stop telling me what to wear when I am taking a selfie!
We started taking selfies, posting photos holding up lobster rolls, and providing updates from the toilet and you seized the moment (a few seasons later). You started telling us that we needed to wear your glasses in our selfies, your watch as we held up an ice cream cone in front of a graffiti wall and your Stan Smith knockoffs as we gallivanted through the New Museum. Accessories on the face, neck and wrists are only trends now because we like taking selfies. Also all those ruffles and details on the arms that are now “fashionable”? We get what you are doing there. I don’t want mustard from my Katz Pastrami sandwich getting on my ruffle sleeve! We started the trend and are kind of over it. Now y’all are trying to tell us the trends we started years ago are new and fashionable? Child, please.
After attending last month’s Women’s March my colleague Gillian wrote about the “Pussy Hat”, “I found myself amazed with the phenomena of the pussy hat for many reasons. Firstly, because of it’s abrupt and unexpected popularity. I had only heard of the idea a few days before the march, and I never saw any posting about it within mainstream media. Second, because people were making these by hand. Nobody sold these hats— each one was knitted with care”. Recently I read that the industry is trying to figure out ways make the “pussy hat” more fashionable. Vogue went so far to ask the industry to update it, “we call on designers to come up with some better options”. Clearly you are missing the point and what made it a trend.
Following the Women’s March and series of marches, protests and boycotts primarily led by millennials, we started seeing fashion shows and presentations where models were holding up protest signs. We are all for you coming on board. And bravo to Robert James for being the most blunt in his New York presentation, but here is another example where you seem to not really get us. Many people describe you as a superficial industry. Stunts like this can often come across as self-serving, especially when there is little follow up. You are an industry of immigrants. An industry of refugees. An industry that depends on international trade. There is are more organic, appropriate and useful ways for you to address the issues that face the world and lead rather than fall in line.
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Still confused? Okay. Let’s use Balenciaga as a better example. Last week Balenciaga made headlines for their Bernie Sanders inspired sportswear. Bernie Sanders the guy who went after the 1% is now inspiring a brand that exclusively sells to the 1%. Again, stunts like this can often come across as self-serving, especially when there is little follow up. The only way a Bernie Sanders supporter can afford one of these items is if their student debt was wiped clean. If their healthcare was cheaper and not being threatened to be taken away. If perhaps Balenciaga and the rest of the industry hired more millennials and paid them an actual living wage.
Stop trying to re-create the Tipping Point!
Malcolm Gladwell started “The Tipping Point” by speaking to the rise of the Hush Puppies shoe in early to mid 1990’s. The Hush Puppie, as Gladwell noted, had “suddenly become hip in the clubs and bars of downtown Manhattan.” Once it was NYC hip, the fashion world followed:
“By the autumn of 1995, things began to happen in a rush. First, the designer John Bartlett called. He wanted to use Hush Puppies in his spring collection. Then another Manhattan designer, Anna Sui, called, wanting shoes for her show. In Los Angeles, the designer Joel Fitzgerald put a 25ft inflatable basset hound – the symbol of the Hush Puppies brand – on the roof of his Hollywood store and gutted an adjoining art gallery to turn it into a Hush Puppies boutique.”
Hush Puppies went on to sell 443,000 pairs in 1995 and 4 times that in 1996. This analysis was pivotal in the fashion marking industry. However, like most things the strategy became outdated. For instance, gifting celebrities and want-to-be club kids so they can snap a photo wearing your product in the hopes that 443,000 will be sold a year is so last century.
Millennials aren’t Hush Puppies. They are not Gen-Xers who fawned after the Hush Puppies as they listened to Pearl Jam and did nothing else. Millennials are not going to buy your updated Pussy Hat. They are not buying your Bernie Sanders inspired luxury fashion. They won’t spend more than a minute thinking about your brand after you held up protest signs at your fashion show because it was “in” that year. Nor are they going to become “brand ambassadors” after you made a “controversial comment” against the President, to which they agree with, to only get on the cover of WWD.
So how do you break through to Millennnials?
It’s easy. Hire them. Listen to them. Pay them. Understand them. Waving the shiny object like a Bernie Sanders inspired T-shirt in front of them is not understanding this generation. Instead it’s singling that you don’t care why they gravitated toward Bernie Sanders in the first place. You are just looking to make a quick buck. Millennials are more connected, better educated, and far more complex than any generation before them. Today a group of club kids wearing Hush Puppies without the world knowing no longer happens. And yet you are continuing to operate like it does.
Make no mistake, we, millennials, love the fashion industry. We see the immense need for it in our culture. Fashion is a great way to express yourself. It is also a great way to build bridges between nations and people who disagree. We are just asking you to do a better job at listening to and communicating with millennials. We are asking you to hire more and more of them. And we are pleading with you to stop telling us to wear the trends we started seasons ago. Instead work with us on future trends and foster new ideas if you want us to become loyal consumers.
Brad From New York