The Business of Fashion: Things Don't Stay The Same

By Jack Raplee

Anyone in any business venture will testify that in order to remain competitive in a given market, adjustments must be made according to cultural, economic, and technological trends. That's true only more so in the business of trend-setting. Few industries exemplify this truth the fashion industry. Understanding current trends and driving them to the future -- one season at a time -- is, in fact, the business of fashion.

Sometimes, in order to appreciate where we are and where we're going, it's helpful to look back at where we were decades ago.

"If you were a designer entering the fashion business 30 years ago (1986), my advice would have been, 'Use shoulder pads -- in everything,'" reflects Michelle Alleyne, founder/fashion authority for M Shop NYC and professor at Parson's School of Design in New York. Of course, she acknowledges that the differences in the fashion business are more than merely the designs.

Brick-and-mortar retail was very much the norm before the advent of the Internet and social media. In the same vane, much of the clothing was hand-sewn (still in play today, though arguably less), and industry-exclusive fashion shows were the best way for designers to get work in front of buyers.

"The point of a fashion show was to sell the brand showing it only to buyers, clients and major press that can get the name out," Alleyne explains. "Now the public gains access to fashion shows via the Internet and bloggers who post up-to-the-minute coverage of the shows."

Essentially, it boils down to a difference in speed-to-market. Exposure to new designs and manufacturing technology was vastly different 30 years ago than it is today. Emerging designers had fewer options available then than they have now. Fashion 30 years ago, Alleyne notes, is certainly more than just the presence or absence of shoulder pads.

This is the first in a three-part series on the business of fashion featuring insights from Michelle Alleyne. For more about her and her work, visit: www.mshopnyc.com.