What is fashion design: the power of authenticity
“Fashion design is the art of the application of design and aesthetics or natural beauty to clothing and accessories. Fashion design is influenced by cultural and social latitudes, and has varied over time and place.”
Taking the above definition into consideration we believe that a fashion designer is someone who can shape the future of fashion and define trends . A fashion designer is an individual capable of telling a compelling story through their clothing, to captivate the consumer. Finally, a fashion designer is someone who stands out from the crowd by creatively executing their collection.
Types of fashion
The most recognised types of fashion are; (1) haute couture (2) ready-to- wear and (3) mass market.
(1) A couture garment is a made to order garment for a single customer and is usually made with hand-executed techniques. The term haute couture is protected by law in France (Paris is the only place in the world that has fashion protection laws) and is defined by the Paris Chamber of Commerce. In order for a fashion house or designer to define their collection or garment as haute coutoure rules such as presentation of a collection to Paris press twice a year must be adhered to. With no consideration of the laws that are applied in the France fashion industry, haute cotoure is used to define high-quality, detailed garments.
(2) Ready-to-wear collections comprise of garments that are made in small quantities to ensure exclusivity.
(3) The mass market caters for a wide range of customers, producing ready- to-wear garments using trends set by the famous names in fashion. They often wait around a season to make sure a style is going to catch on before producing their own versions of the original look.
Fashion in an African inspired context
Last year, I came across an article by Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri that discussed some of the issues in the African inspired fashion industry. One of the issues or points of discussion that caught my eye was copycat designers. The author of the article spoke about the lack of authenticity that is widespread within the African fashion industry.
While it is acknowledged that the African inspired fashion industry is still in the early stages, I believe- the definition of a fashion designer applies to any industry. Pam Samasuwo Nyawiri exclaimed that “While Africa is a hub of inspiration, it seems we have too-many designers and too little design thinking.” I have to agree that there copy cat tendencies within the industry, I have labeled this the copy and paste mentality whereby designers copy what designers in the ‘West’ design and then add some print to it. Although the print
fabrics create some vibrancy and a pop of colour to the design, it does not make on a designer nor does it apply as a form of design. It is merely having the ability to sew and piece together a garment already constructed by somebody else. The definition of a designer is someone who translates an idea into clothing to create a collection.
An example of a designer who has managed to fuse print fabrics but still construct
something that is unique to the fashion industry and true to their brand image is
Stella Jean. If we look around at the leading designers internationally, their work
is always different. We will never see Michael Kors and Yves Saint Laurent producing or showcasing similar designs. What has led to the leading international designers to be in the position that they are is the power of authenticity. and the way they have gone about differentiating their brand from other designers. In the fashion industry there are designers that create valuable items sold in high fashion streets then they are mass produced items that end up in Kmart or Target. Where you see your items being sold begins with how you create a collection, either your collection is different and creatively executed or it closely follows trends and recycles the work that has been previously done by others.
The power of authenticity
In recent years there has been an outcry for authenticity in the fashion industry. If we look closely at the thrift shopping trend, it is one that was driven by consumers wanting something different. When asked why I thrift shop I always say it is because I want something different from what the other person is wearing. If we look at popular culture, authenticity has also been a leading trend, celebrities and influencers in different industries have conducted themselves in a manner that allows them to stand out from the crowd.
The trend of authenticity is about removing the sense of mass production and telling a story that creates a personal touch, connection and is an experience for consumers. In an interview with Mindfood Stefan Siegal the Founder of Not Just Another Label highlighted the fact that consumers are now sick of being sold the same story. Consumers have returned to the idea of wanting items that nobody else has especially when it comes to fashion.
There are a huge number of consumers that have shown interest in unique garments and creations. Mainstream fashion has noticed this and hence why there has been an adoption of the 'Aztec' trend of the utilization of indigenous artisans. Consumers now crave an alternative to what they find in the shops. Yes, fashion repeats itself over and over again but at the same time we cannot keep recycling designs over and over again.
Now with the rise of the African fashion industry and the copy-cat tendencies how does a designer differentiate themselves from the rest. As eluded to earlier the brands that succeed are the ones that are authentic.
1. Determine your vision
Determine what your brand is really about. Think about the sort of garments and items you want your brand to produce and be known for.
2. Conduct a SWOT analysis
A SWOT analysis is a tool that identifies the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of an organisation or business. Taking these different aspects and applying them to your brand helps you determine potential threats to your brand awareness and uniqueness. An analysis also involves being honest with yourself and allows you to make changes to the weakness in your brand.
3. Determine your target market
In fashion, on the surface there seems to be two main markets to design for; men or women. While that is to some extent true, they are different markets to design for. You can target your brand by gender, income, personality, location, occasion or season. In the same way Maison Martin Margiela will not produce the same designs Rocawear, is the same way they will not target the same people. As designers, you must be clear on who you are targeting and how to attract these consumers.
4. Determine who your competition is
The best answers to your brand can be found in who you perceive to be your competitor. Conduct a competition analysis and see what it is about their brand that can be improved on. At times, it can be something you can use to differentiate your brand and can become your unique selling point or in this case your unique design point.
5. Deliver your authentic self
When it comes to designing your collection deliver your authentic self. Be original, the more of your authentic self that you bring to the table, the more successful you will likely become.
As a final point, I believe that as a designer you have the creative freedom to create a collection that is representative of you and what fashion is to you. By all means create what you want but keep in mind the power of authenticity. Additionally unique does not mean expensive.