Phoenix Fashion Week celebrates the business of fashion

Coco Chanel once famously said, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” Fashion is an integral part of society, but it’s constantly changing. Because of that, businesses in the industry sometimes struggle to stay ahead of the curve. 

Fashion industry sales are expected to grow between 3.5 and 4.5 percent this year, according to a study by consulting firm McKinsey & Company. However, the landscape for businesses in fashion is anticipated to grow, as well. In a survey among more than 200 fashion executives, respondents described their main challenges as: dealing with volatility, uncertainty and shifts in the global economy; competition from online and omnichannel; and the speed of changing consumer preferences. 

Fashion, in congruence with the business decisions that power it forward, is constantly evolving. Phoenix Fashion Week — the Southwest’s leading fashion industry event — kicks off for its annual show tonight, and it sets out to help emerging designers navigate the ever-changing fashion landscape. The event stretches three days, from Thursday to Saturday, kicking off at 5:30 p.m. every day, and will feature 24 runways of emerging designers from across the state.

The show celebrates the culmination of a three-month emerging designer bootcamp, which provides tools and resources to help ten designers grasp and perfect the business side of fashion. 

“The first few years, it was about a celebration of fashion — a one-day event, once a year. And it’s grown to not just multiple days each year, but we’re producing twelve events year-round that are fashion-business focused now,” said Brian Hill, executive director of Phoenix Fashion Week. “And not only are we applying these educational tools and things like that to fashion designers, but we’re applying it to models and telling them that they’re also brands as individuals and how to run their business now with the power of the Internet, etc. Stylists, photographers, anyone up and down the fashion spectrum — we were able to apply these same business-fashion tools, and they’re working.”

Hill explains that their bootcamp teaches designers how to draft press releases, build an operational budget, project financial outcomes, negotiate with manufacturers, how to sell to buyers and more. 

These skills are taught in “real-time,” according to Hill, meaning that participants get to apply them directly into their business models. For example, participants wrote press releases for their companies and sent them to journalists; then, they were assessed on the amount of publicity they obtained. This provides designers with real-world experience and simultaneously gives them a chance to expand their brand. 

Local lifestyle brand State Forty Eight was a participant in the emerging designer bootcamp in 2016, and to this day, Hill describes the company as one of the best candidates the program has ever had. Because of their willingness to learn and their perseverance in the face of obstacles, State Forty Eight has been able to establish itself as one of the pinnacle lifestyle brands in Arizona. 

“The thing that’s so different about Phoenix Fashion Week is that it’s so heavily focused on the education aspect and supporting the community and helping the models and the designers with opportunities and growing and learning how to leave Phoenix Fashion Week being more successful than they were coming in,” explains Cynthia Sassi, president and founder of lifestyle journal Fabulous Arizona.

Phoenix Fashion Week will also have a variety of fashion-centric seminars each day between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., sponsored by the Arizona Department of Education. In these seminars, attendees will hear from industry experts about optimal practices for launching, marketing and running their businesses. 

On Saturday, the week will conclude with awards for both “Designer of the Year” and “Model of the Year” for male and female recipients. The two models will receive full modeling contracts from Agency Arizona, which will help launch their careers. The designer of the year winner will receive a $10,000 prize package of goods and services, which will ensure their long-term success in the fashion industry.

“What we said was all those brands have to have started somewhere, which is what we call ‘emerging,’” Hill said. “And so we said, how about we give attention, spotlight, support, education to those emerging designers that really need it. And that pathway, that niche that we created — way more people than we ever thought were interested in that particular category of emerging designers.”

Hill explains that the next goal for Phoenix Fashion Week is to digitize the bootcamp so that people from around the world can access its resources. The business of fashion is similar whether you’re in Bangladesh or Austin, Texas, he says; it’s crucial to have access to tools to navigate it.

“People are seeing that success, and it continues to grow every year, in terms of seeing larger sponsors getting involved and higher attendance numbers, tickets selling out earlier each year,” Sassi said. “From an outsider’s perspective, it’s been exciting to see it grow.”

Ben Norman

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