Fashion is flourishing, but where are the policies that will take it around the world

Insiders are sure to be thinking about what’s exciting and new in the fashion industry as Mercedes Benz 2017 Fashion Week approaches. Australian designers are only a sample of the creative talent in Australia. The Australian designers have been wowing the globe for as long as the winemakers and have been displaying their creativity on the runway.

Why are they often overlooked when we talk about innovation?

The catwalk during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Eva Rinaldi, flickrCC BY

The current policy debates often focus on high-tech innovation, referring to investments in STEAM, Science, technology, and engineering. This is only one form of creation, albeit an important one.

Local fashion producers employ around 37,000 people. The sector, including modeling and styling, creates about 220,000 total jobs. While Australians spend A$28.2 billion each year on Fashion, the majority of that is imported high-value designer clothing – A$15.2 billion according to last count.

The majority of our exports are textiles that are not processed and are sold to French, Italian and British fashion houses as luxury brands. The French fashion industry, on the other hand, is worth around A$50 Billion, and exports are valued at A$14.6 Billion (or 43%). The figure rises to 70-80% when it comes to locally produced luxury goods.

France, like Australia, has high labour costs, so focusing on high-value manufacturing is economically logical. France has always been a leader in leveraging its cultural capital to boost its creative industries, and is not a laggard with high-tech innovation.

The Great Divide

Innovation is essentially about creating something “new” that’s valuable for a user. In STEM, innovation relies on real breakthroughs that fill in gaps on the market or improve existing technologies. The functional performance measures the value. Evidence from overseas indicates that developing and commercialising breakthroughs require investment in universities and a strong startup sector to create workable prototypes. Larger firms have the resources to expand markets.

Australian fashion designer Akira Isogawa at Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week. Eva RinaldiCC BY

Fashion trends are rarely new. Styles are constantly changing; they are recycled and reborn. They can also be mash-ups. Some draping techniques, like those of Melbourne fashion designer Toni Maticevski, are timeless. In this context, value is a very different concept. It’s highly branded and symbolic.

Fashion is a place where reinvention and mixing old with new are key to new ideas. Discount Universe is a brand that celebrities like Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner, and others choose. They developed a style with outdated sequins. The brand was founded in 2010 by two Melbourne graduates. It re-defined the definitions of status (“universe”) and luxury (“discount”). Discount Universe created a community of consumers through its website. This eventually led to celebrities becoming aware of the brand, which allowed it to expand its ready-to-wear range and high fashion line.

Fashion Future

What policies can help Australia’s fashion industry compete in the global market?

RMIT is home to a new generation of Melbourne designers. School of Architecture and Design at RMIT, Flickr CC-BY

The universities are not only important as a place to learn and experiment, but also as a way to connect innovators. These institutions are repositories of knowledge that is no longer cutting edge but may one day become valuable, like leather making.

Adding more fashion apprenticeships and expanding them could also be fruitful. Gieves and Hawkes, a Savile Row tailor, can require up to 10 years to learn how to cut fabric to their high standards. This makes hiring difficult but provides a rewarding job for those who succeed.

The relative decline of many former Australian manufacturing sectors may provide an opportunity for displaced workers to be retrained as skilled artisans who can find employment within high-end creative industries.

The AEsque leather-wear line by Melbourne designer Amanda Briskin is one example of the many craftspeople who need to expand their business globally. Louis Vuitton bought RM Williams partly because it had access to its South Australian atelier.

Art meets Science

STEM and the creative arts can also lead to innovation. As an example, the convergence of sports science and materials science has led to a new range of activewear aimed at improving wearer performance.

Fashion is a way to make people feel good. The ” Athleisure” label P.E Nation, created by local designer Pip Eds, has achieved this. It combines brand marketing (Australia’s image of an active lifestyle) with material advances to move activewear out of sports stores and into luxurious chains around the world. Cross-overs such as this are possible because of Australia’s leading position in sports science.

Australia has a long-standing artistic scene, which has led to success in the Fashion, advertising, and industrial design industries, all of which are critical for today’s market success.

These sectors are just as vital to building a sustainable economy of innovation as STEM disciplines and should be included in a nuanced debate on innovation.

Author: admin

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