As many countries take their first tentative steps out of lockdown the global pandemic continues to impact our lives in previously unimaginable ways. The fashion industry has been severely impacted by the crisis with disconnected supply chains, retail closures and a downturn in sales all contributing to an industry which, like so many others, has hit a collective pause button. For those who work in the sector, be they cotton farmers or garment workers, models or make up artists, stylists or designers, while the future remains uncertain some semblance of a future is starting to take shape. To try and make sense of that and how we get to where we want to be post pandemic, I spoke to my good friend, Brand Consultant and Creative Strategist, Yossi Fisher via Zoom.
At the time of speaking many people remain in varying degrees of lockdown. Being based in Milan you had earlier and longer experience of this than many others. What advice would you give to people both professionally and personally to help them navigate these troubled times?
I appreciate we are all in different parts of the world and able to do things like this via different channels, like this interview via Zoom. On a personal level, connectivity has really helped me doing things like FaceTime with friends and family. Right now, its not a productivity competition and I think people need to realise that. On a personal level I’ll have days when I’m super productive and then there’ll be days when I literally wake up at 9 am, have a coffee and then go back and sleep from 11 to 4. I’m honouring myself to say I don’t want to work today, instead I’m going to meditate and watch movies. I’m not neglecting my responsibilities, but I’m also not bombarding myself with pressures based on what we hear outside on how we should be using our days, how we should be productive, or how it’s such a great time to be starting a business. Being self-kind and allowing your unique experience to guide your actions is fundamentally the best thing we can all do right now. I’m not judging myself on a day to day basis. I just feel good that I’m taking care of my mental and physical health as best as I can.
On a business and professional level, I think that right now the best thing a business or brand, freelancer or a company can do is take a step back and really assess what they’re about, what they want to look like moving into this new horizon, and how they want to communicate that. I think when you take everything you’re about – which for a lot of brands and businesses is products and services, you still need to identify the conversations you’re having with your communities and platforms. Why should people care? What value are you providing your customers and communities? It could be live interviews, insights, creatively inspiring things, a new YouTube series, “how to” videos. If you’re a CBD brand for example, you could provide mental health related content or materials, meditation sessions, etc.
It’s important to understand that the world is changing and that one thing we’re all noticing is that as humans we are leaning towards self care, and things that align with our personal values. We care more about businesses that are deploying empathy rather than trying to extract at this time. I’m not telling businesses not to sell, I’m just saying to be more mindful of their actions and approach.
We’ve all been forced to step back and ask; how can I evolve to better serve, and what’s the most pragmatic way I can survive the next 6, 12, 18 months. It’s important to be aware that even as some cities are starting to open up, the virus itself was only the 1st Stage in the Corona pandemic. Stage 2 has officially just now started to be realised as we go from speculating on theories to actually operating within the aftermath.
Picking up on something you said there about business consciousness I wondered if you have seen much evidence of businesses changing not necessarily how they work, but why they work?
I really have. I enjoy businesses that are humanising their teams and what they’re doing. Giving their employee’s free rein of the company’s Instagram for the day for example. Allowing them to post their day in quarantine humanises the business and that’s what consumers these days need. People want to feel connected and feel re-assured knowing we’re all going through this together.
On the flip side of that I’m also noticing a lot of businesses playing more on defence. Many aren’t used to these types of conversations or behaviours, so they think that by quieting up and avoiding potential missteps, they’ll hover under the radar, and then resurface when they deem it to be convenient. What may don’t seem to consider though is that this new tone of conversation marketing is only going to continue elaborating on itself. Meaning, consumers are going to vibe between the brands and businesses that have found ways to deepen their message and communities during this time. The only way to do that is to try new things, test the market, and not be afraid to make mistakes.
We’ve talked before about the difference between your brand and your business. Maybe you could talk us through how we differentiate between these two constructs and why is its so important to do so?
Of course. As your audience may or many not know, I did an IG live video about the difference between Business and Brand recently, so everyone can go and look at that in long form at anytime they like. To sum it up here though, essentially the difference is that; ‘Business’ is ‘What’ you do. It’s the foundations, the structure, its the inner workings, what products you sell / services you provide, finances, etc. The functioning ecosystem. ‘Brand’, on the other hand, is ‘Who’ you are. Whether you’re a brand, a designer, a service business or an influencer, Brand is essentially your reputation. It’s how you communicate, how you make people feel, what you’re about. It’s how you express your culture and value systems with the market and your consumers, beyond what you’re trying to sell them.
Do you think there’s going to be an additional focus on the reputational side of business in these troubled times?
100%. I think its all going to be reputational from here on in. It’s one of the things that we’ve seen consumers focus on over the last couple of years, with the market demanding more transparency and better ethical behaviours. Corona has just expedited the process. People want to know whether they are supporting ethical practices, or not, and are demanding to know if you’re treating your employees / workers well, or not? Are you diverse, are you inclusive, are you both? Do you really care about people, or are you ‘faking the funk’ when it serves you? As an industry we are leaning into that so much more now, and it’s fundamentally going to be the driving factor for innovation and change.
In terms of a financial strategy, what advice do you have for brands trying to navigate their future?
Over the next 6 to 12, to 18 months, brands will need to re-assess their margins and investments. Operations need to be streamlined and simplified down to essentials. That will mean taking a major step back for some in order to nurture their brand efforts and communities in more innovative ways. Look at your overhead and see if that money is better spend elsewhere. Physical retail vs online, or even Pop-up’s instead of flagship for example. Non seasonal collections & capsules instead of mass production. Designing digital garments before production or sampling will also save tons of money by allowing designers to work out garment kinks without wasting resources, time, money, fabric, etc. Perhaps now’s a good time to re-assess your employee strengths and talk to them. Perhaps they have some skills that could be an asset to you now, that perhaps wasn’t in context to acknowledge or discuss before.
Although markets are starting to open back up, a 3-month to normalcy strategy just isn’t practical. Many non-essential small to medium sized businesses need to create a sound 12-month livelihood strategy, meaning innovative spending and strategic loss management is fundamental. That’s the difference between micro thinking and macro vision.
The author Naomi Klein talks about the “hollow brand” where the name rather than the content is the USP. What’s your view on this and particularly in fashion where, for me, certain designers whose names carry almost mythical status recycle designs season by season with very little alteration?
It seems like everything is becoming a lot more humanised. People don’t just want products, they want humans that they can connect to and stand behind. They want to be a part of communities and brands that mean something, lead by people who have something to say. We’re seeing this play out in real time as more CEO’s and Entrepreneurs are stepping from behind the brands and businesses they’re associated with, on LinkedIn & Twitter for example, and are engaging with their communities across their platforms. I’ve been saying for a long time that people hire businesses but they like working with people. Same goes for consumers, we buy from businesses, but it’s important for us to relate to the humans behind the products and make sure our values align with the reputations of those individuals, especially in fashion.
That word “authenticity” has itself become something of a cliché in the creative industries. Looking beyond the cliché, how would you advise people to remain genuinely authentic in a marketplace where “likes” today often seem more important than longevity?
Saying you’re about something, and being about something is very different indeed, and you’re right, many industries are hiding behind authenticity facades, hot-topic phrases and imagery in order to garner more likes and follows. Transparency however has really started to expose these types of vanity marketing plays, and consumers have the tools at their disposal now – aka the internet, to really see if brands and businesses are truly who and what they say they are.
Even now, at a time where we’re watching injustices take place in the USA surrounding People of Colour we’re watching this issue play out in real time. Many brands & companies are using this time as a way to capitalise and pretend they care, yet their past actions and values haven’t mapped out to the narrative they’re currently trying to represent. People are seeing right through the opportunistic nature of their actions & calling them out in real time.
In order to develop true authenticity, you need to start by creating a web of conversations around your true values. Literally write them out. For some this may mean taking a big step back, and completely re-assess how they’re built their communications. Fragment your value and culture systems in to stand alone pieces of information, then take those topics and ideas and dive in to each one. This web structure will guide you towards your authentic self, or, the realisation that you don’t really know. Perhaps you’ll find contradictory terms and ideas, and that’s ok, actually, fixing these cracks is fundamentally the point; to help focus your message and develop your authenticity. From there you need to look at your products or services, communication plan and marketing strategy to see if in fact the entire structure aligns. Everything as you can see though, starts at the core. If it’s all inline, then it becomes highly unlikely that you’ll step outside of honest, authentic behaviours. It’s the same with influencers and other people. This is a really deep rooted conversation but I really believe that its the best way to attack it.
Many clients of mine know what they are, but many struggle with who they are. What I’ve laid out above is the initial stage of helping them define and understand what that means.
There’s a view that this pandemic could be an isolation incubator for a new wave of creativity. Do you think that will be the case and what form do you think it might take?
This time has gifted many people, brands, and businesses the space to incubate and innovate for sure, and there’s no question it’s been a catalyst for progress which I think is great. We’re seeing with a surge of Instagram Lives, Zoom chats, Virtual Meetings, and new companies immerge. Businesses have been forced to become way more consumer centric, providing more tailored, accessible services via Digital experiences (VR Fashion Shows & digital exhibitions are a perfect example of this). We are also seeing a lot of luxury brands and their ambassadors going 1 to 1 with their VIPs via digital modes, walking them through new collections and organising looks. Customers can also now organise fittings in advance by making selection online, coming in to shops to try on their selections, purchase their items and leave, which makes the process far more efficient for sales associates as well.
I do feel although digital initiatives are currently taking over, that the data is being heavily swayed do to the fact that currently we don’t really have much other choice. As powerful an important as the digital revolution is, I don’t believe it’s going to usurp us as being human. When given live, physical experiences again I don’t believe we are going to choose virtual every time. As humans we still need to experience live connection and feel the exchange of energy. Although I am doing a lot of IG Lives and interviews, engaging in talks friends and family through digital, there’s still that human interaction that’s missing.
This time of isolation and incubated creativity seems to be expediting a lot of the things we’ve been talking about because it’s allowed us to all take a massive step back and re-asses everything. Topics like; the evolution of fashion weeks, seasonal structures, production cycles, sustainability initiatives, brand authenticity, viability, operations, etc., have all needed to be corrected, and they finally at a very consciously focused pace.
I think that ultimately physical and digital efforts can merge and become stronger in tandem. We are going to see a lot of digital and technical advances brought into the retail and event sectors especially. Businesses and brands will find a lot more opportunity and money to be made in strategic collaborations. The integration of digital and physical will level up the entire landscape. I’m working on many of these types of initiatives with my clients and I’m excited to be playing a part in the development of our industry’s future.
Picking up on the issue of fashion and sustainability, whether its luxury high end or high street there are huge issues around things such as carbon footprints and garment workers rights and working conditions. Do you you think that we might come out of this in a position where sustainability which has recently come to the fore might become an even more prominent issue?
I think that’s a great possibility. I don’t get so romantic with the sustainability movement in the way that its going to be the be all and end all. I know that yes fundamentally having a sustainable planet is the best thing to do but I think that sustainability has a lot of issues that need to be cleaned up as well before it can really be the norm. The main issue I have with sustainability, as an overarching movement, and as the staple and standard, is that sustainability tends to price people out of the market. Although it’s really great that many would rather buy less and pay more for quality item’s now, it becomes a very classist way of looking at sustainability, because it belittles the people who have sustainable values but simply can’t afford the price points. It’s important to remember that there are a lot of people who buy fast fashion that don’t buy 7000 pieces a season and treat their purchases as disposable. They just buy what they need within the price bracket they can afford.
With all that’s happening with factories closing globally and big retailers and massive designers stopping payments, I’m really curious about what’s going to happen – not with the goods sold now, but the goods that are going to be designed in the next six months? Are they going to be more expensive because there are less factories, and more financial losses that need to be made up somehow? Will more work going to fewer factories allow for lower costs, instead of higher because of concentrated volumes?
While I think that sustainability is of course ideal, the term itself is so dynamic it’s easy to attack brands. I worry when people get a bit too idealistic with it rather than being practical about it, so when the conversation of whether a brand is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ comes up, I prefer to look at the term in a much broader sense. To me sustainability is the progressive action of being and doing better. Every little bit counts. I think where a lot of businesses and brands get caught up is that everyone wants to be as sustainable as possible and some are going too far out and trying to claim too many things, when actually just doing what you can to play your part is powerful enough. Again, what that means, is open to speculation, and that’s where the conversation can get a little convoluted. I think if we honour businesses who are transparently trying to do good and trying to improve then I think we can all be a part of a healthier, more progressive conversation.
Do you think there’s a problem in the industry with brands promoting themselves as sustainable doing so dishonestly or else using that term with a degree of ignorance? Do you think that “sustainability” has become an advertising cliché?
100%. As an industry and as consumers we love clinging to hot topic words, which is why transparency has to fundamentally be the driving factor. I’ve seen big brands and big businesses literally print on their tags “made with recycled materials” but that’s only actually referring to the tag and not the actual garment. It’s these types of misleading actions that need to change, but as consumers it’s also on us to do our research and be aware of these things. Does it say that the garment has been made with recycled materials or does it just say “this has been”? To be a responsible consumer means doing our part as well, not just aligning with what some brands seem to be and taking their word. For example, in terms of the supply chain, a brand can have a sustainable fabric initiative, but yet their factories don’t have ethical systems in place for how they treat their workers. One one side the brand will let you know about their fabrics, but for information about the latter, well, for the time being, that information is still on us to find.
As consumers we have become a lot more savvy, but as an industry we still have a long way to go. The great thing about all these terms though is that they’re not just fads, they’re actually compounding. Diversity, transparency, sustainability. These are all words that have become embedded in our culture and continue to lead the charge in to the new horizon.
This new horizon as you call it includes some quite fundamental changes to the traditional concept of “Fashion Weeks”. Do you think the pandemic has speeded up a format change that was already inevitable due to digitalisation and environmental concerns?
For the ones that frequent Global Fashion Weeks we all saw the inevitable need for some form of change. If it wasn’t for Covid-19 however I’m not so sure digitalization would’ve have been so predominantly on the forefront as we’re seeing now, but it did expedite that need for something new. In the current state of the world I do believe that the industry has started experimenting with ways to provide more wholesome brand driven experiences, but it’s yet to be determined if Digitalisation is that new frontier. One thing for certain though, with the new seasonless initiative many designers are taking, digitalization does provide a lot more flexibility. It gifts brands the opportunity to slow down and present themselves how / when they want, lifting financial burdens and the stress of seasonal show deadlines. That said though, Fashion still has a very physical element to it, and as the world comes slowly starts to come up for air and countries start to re-open, I’m sure we will see a lot more initiatives inspired by the changing dynamic of the times.
Given the changes we’ve talked about; do you think there will still be a need for the kind of face to face networking element that has been such a big part of Fashion Week?
It’s interesting. For industry players that live in a key fashion city (main 4 + Tbilisi Georgia, Tokyo, Copenhagen, etc.), you’ll still be very much connected to globalised locals – if that makes sense? Face to face networking is fundamental because conversations and interactions that occur within these types of scenarios still have a place in driving attention, humanising our industry, and promote business conversations that may not necessarily otherwise occur. That said though, the digital landscape right now is very fascinating, and many new platforms and businesses are being birthed right now which are revolutionizing how we experience events, galleries, exhibitions, and may give way to new forms of community and industry think-tanks.
That said though, just because Fashion Week as we know it has evolved, I don’t believe that it means the end of purposeful business travel. As humans we will still long for in person connection and the industry will do its part when possible to provide those types of experiences. Regardless the scale, there will always be a need for local industry gatherings, and once travel bans are lifted it will ultimately be a personal choice, like it always has, to travel to them or not.
Finally, Yossi I’d like to ask how you see yourself contributing to the post pandemic landscape, what are your plans for the rest of it and then as we evolve out of it?
When I have these conversations with people I really want them to understand that no-one’s immune to this situation, myself included. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years now and like recessions and market pivots past, I’m doing all I can from a market value and personal evolutional perspective to ensure I’m here for another 40.
That said, as an entrepreneur, strategist and consultant this is a very exciting time for me because it leans in to my foundational values – to help people and make this industry a better place. Knowing that this is the best time for any brand or business to reach out, I’m not even promoting that. I’m not trying to sell discounted packages or funnel people in to paid seminars. The opposite, I’m actually giving away more free advice at scale via IG-Lives, Interviews (like this one), and also via more personal channels like DM’s, emails, and one-on-one Zoom chats. I recently offered a group of students who feel very lost in this time a complimentary group consulting session to help field their worries and concerns, and offer them tactical insights and solutions as they look to their futures.
For others that do want to go deeper and really focus on solutions for their particular brands or businesses, I’m providing immense additional value to my packages. I’m doing so because I appreciate that even in these unsure financial times they are still looking to invest what they can with me, and I want them to truly feel just how much their trust means to me. It’s not all transactional with me, it’s about being human.To sum it all up as best I can, my values are based on one fundamental system – to lead with empathy, provide abundant value, and to give more than I ask for. It’s how I’ve always operated my businesses and how I will continue to navigate my life. Perhaps that’s why after 20 years in the industry I’m still here, and why I’m able to help so many people on their journey to achieving their dreams.
Huge thanks to Yossi for taking the time to talk to me and to provide such comprehensive, thought provoking and insightful answers to my questions. As we navigate our way out of lockdown and look to find a path towards some kind of post pandemic normal, it’s guys like Yossi Fisher who will provide the roadmap. For anyone who wants to connect with Yossi or find out more about Yossi Fisher Studio, you can find it all at www.yossifisher.com and on Instagram under @yossi_fisher.