Other than cementing a few things we already knew (mainly that geeks really are chic, and that being a child bred on musical theatre is totally acceptable), Imran Amed’s talk at Fashion Forward last night left us supremely inspired, energised and – more importantly – well-informed about the business of fashion. Apt, since that’s the name of the website he launched under a decade ago from the sofa of his Notting Hill flat, which is now so globally revered that the entire fashion industry logs onto it over their cornflakes every morning.
It provokes debate, offers objective analysis and is one of the very few places on the web that brilliantly combines what Imran Amed refers to as ‘left brain-right brain’ thinking; the creative and the commercial, the business and the beauty. Anyone involved in any aspect of the fashion landscape – from emerging designers to marketeers – could have left his talk clutching countless ideas. But in case you missed it, let’s break it down for you…
1. Credibility is key
Moderator Susan Sabet asked something that had (perhaps) been on quite a few people’s lips; does this region deserve more fashion recognition based on our considerable buying power? It was a slightly loaded question – and one that clearly resonated with quite a few audience members, who applauded her sentiment. Having built an entire reputation – and therefore industry authority – on impartiality, Imran’s perfectly-pitched response was as frank as we would have hoped, and said it all: money can’t buy you credibility.
We’re a region used to having things happen overnight; an indoor ski slope, a man-made, palm-shaped island… but there are some things that no matter how much cash you throw at them, they don’t spring up without nurturing, dedication, talent and hard work. We may be a market, but in order for us to reach our goal of also being a player, our industry’s ‘ecosystem’ and ‘backbone’ (to use his words) has to be developed. It’s a lesson we could stand to remember; not running before we can walk, and ensuring we’re creating something actually worthy of global respect before demanding it.
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2. Dubai has some stiff competition
Speaking of reaching for our goals, we may have some competition on our hands if we’re to become the next fashion capital alongside the likes of Paris, London, New York and Milan. Things like the Expo 2020 and Fashion Forward will of course help matters – but as Imran put it when we spoke to him on the morning of his talk, “When the Chinese government put their mind to something, they tend to make it happen as well.” Emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil are all vying for the same coveted spot. The question remains, is the gap between emerging and established too big to ever close, and if it isn’t, who will nip at their heels first?
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3. We ain’t seen nothing yet
Imran launched The Business of Fashion back in 2007, right on the cusp of when blogs, social media and all the things that accompanied them were about to go stratospheric. It could well have been a lucky coincidence, but hearing the Harvard MBA graduate speak, you get the impression that he’s too bright to have not seen it coming. A gent in the audience asked if BoF was ready for the next big thing when it comes to tech, quite possibly holding out for a response that revealed to us all what that NBT actually is. Imran’s answer was that of a man who is truly excited about what the future holds – and his passion was contagious. “We’re only 20-30 years into this huge digital shift,” he said, pointing out that we’re, essentially, in for a hell of a ride. What’s next? He explained that technology isn’t quite like trends, where it’s one colour one season and switches the next – instead, it’s an evolving product of its precursor and builds on itself. Take Instagram, for example. He dissected it: the idea of photography with filters? Hipstamatic. The idea of following people? Twitter. The idea of a social network? Facebook. Whatever’s next could be a hybrid of it all.
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4. Watch this space
From a small personal blog (Imran says when he started he had literally 150 followers), to nothing short of an essential industry tool, BoF has seen many changes. They’ve introduced a careers section, are now on their fifth print edition (incidentally, he raised the interesting point of print media branching into digital and now vice-versa), and recently took on the stellar recruitment of fashion journalist Tim Blanks. Imran told us he remembered growing up in what sounded like a style-starved Calgary, Canada, watching Tim Blanks presenting Fashion File. Now the ex-style.com writer is on BoF’s masthead, does that mean they’re looking to fill the void that style.com has left? With Tim writing the show reviews, we kind of hope so.
5. Find a unique voice
Easier said than done, we realise, but if his advice is anything to go by, this is a rather critical step. Someone asked for tips on making it as an emerging designer – his answer was that it’s never been easier to launch, but by virtue of that, it also means there’s an overcrowding of new brands. The key take-away point? Find a unique voice to penetrate through that cacophony. He even compared his role as Editor to a choirmaster, praising the variety of different voices within his team and crediting BoF’s balanced yet multi-faceted point of view to the different ‘instruments’ being allowed to harmonise – one not drowning out the other.
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Image: Farooq Salik