I have had the pleasure of interviewing Lidewij ‘Li’ Edelkoort. I found her to be the kind of woman who does not mince her words. I liked that. She is somebody whose opinion needs to be heard. When we sat down together, the trend forecaster schooled me on how we can tackle the challenges that the fashion industry faces. We also touched on the education system, and how we can take steps to evolve it.
Most recently the futurist spoke with BoF Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed. They talked about the pandemic, and how it could maybe be the “amazing grace” for the fashion industry. If you have not had time to catch their tête-à-tête on the BoF podcast, then please allow me to break it down for you.
The Power of an Amateur
There is no denying that the situation that we are currently in has seen many global experts sharing their take on how the pandemic has impacted the fashion industry. With so many opinions out there, I think Li is one of the experts talking about how the virus is affecting the fashion industry, that we should all take time to listen too because she unapologetically tells you how it is. Speaking from Cape Town, where Li is temporarily residing, Imran began the conversation with the challenges forcing the fashion industry to reinvent itself.
Did you know that we produce 140 billion clothes? It is an insane number that Imran shared with Li when he asked her what she thinks will happen to the fashion industry. Taking a slight pause, Li answered: “Designers will not have to make six collections or extra drops. Designers will not need to make extra items, and we also will not have to have goody bags with nonsense”. Before adding: “I think for designers, it is a dream because for the first time they can think about fashion and creation”. Her provocative critique of the industry’s consumption problem gave me food for thought.
True Artisans have a Future
Known for her knack for forecasting trends for the future, the respected futurist that when it comes to artisans, “The best thing is for them (artisans) to disconnect from the industry and set up their own ateliers”. Li wants us to imagine artisans, from places like India creating a market place online where they sell their creations. Can such an opportunity genuinely exist in an industry built on a hierarchy that does not to give everyone a fair chance to spread their wings? Well, stranger things have happened, and maybe now is the perfect time to test Li’s school of thought.
“Imagine artisans, from places like India creating a market place online where they sell their creations. Can such an opportunity genuinely exist in an industry built on a hierarchy that does not to give everyone a fair chance to spread their wings? “
From artisans to education, Imran next broached the subject of education. Future of creatives churned out by today’s fashion education system has become a conversation that has led to a split of two opinions. One camp believes all is well with how we educate future designers, and the other thinks that the existing ‘tools of the trade’ provided by fashion education today, need to be updated, pronto.
One of the points the fashion educator revealed was that she feels that there is going to be a significant shift because there are more students than there are jobs. The epidemic just made it more apparent that fashion students and graduates will continue to face uncertainty. As more and more entry-level jobs continue to dry up, Li expressed that there is light at the end of the tunnel if you are open to looking at creativity a little differently. “There are other creative jobs and other ways to express; it is not only through garments”, stated Li. Although this is true, if you are confident that your calling is in the fashion industry, then the Dean of Hybrid Studies at Parsons School of Design concludes that you will need to have “a true passion for fashion”.
A Human Story and the Tale of e-Letters
Since the quarantine started, many fashion businesses have been experiencing a shift of mood. It is a change that has seen many more people adopting a slow rhythm. As some of us choose to “jump off the carousel”, Li points out that instead of talking about wanting to do something, like take a break from the usual humdrum of work, some of us are actually doing it.
This unforeseen change has not been good for all of us. There has been a lot of human costs. I am not talking just about death, but also about the workers who have suffered the decisions being made to resort to “force majeure”, a clause in many fashion brands contracts with manufacturer. The jerk reaction has caused consumers to accuse some fashion businesses, like Primark, of shirking their responsibility and not fully respecting the rights of their workers.
When Imran touched on this, Li first confessed: “My company may go bankrupt because our clients will go bankrupt”—believing that the virus is a representation of our conscious she continued. “It brings to light what is terribly wrong with society, and every day it becomes more clear. It teaches us to slow down and change our ways.” Elaborating on how the virus could actually be teaching us something, Li added what is going on has led to “the behaviour of people changing, the mentality changing and we are now feeling a need for togetherness”.
Covid-19 is Fighting the Greed Virus
“They want us to go back to work, even if we die“, said Li. Adding with conviction: “Life comes first”. For Li, it all comes down to greed. “Covid-19 is fighting the greed virus”, she said with a sternness, which I am sure is reserved for things she feels passionately about. The trend forecaster then communicated that she thinks that she sees Covid-19 and greed as two powers that are competing. When she uttered those words I felt the urge to applaud her. It was a strong point which I am sure many people will agree. To Li, it is “greed” that has derailed society. Sharing something personal: “I grew up in the ’50s, I remember how nice it is to have much less”. The futurist who famously said that today a t-shirt is less expensive than a sandwich is confident that consumer behaviour will change. “We will not go back to the same old, same old”, she says positively.
“The time has come to create new systems that pollute less and take less energy”
Moving onto marketing and connecting with consumers during the coronavirus, Imran asked her how fashion businesses should market and advertise their product. Li said that first of all; we need to appear more human when communicating with customers. “It’s irritating to get those emails with merchandise; it doesn’t belong to this period”. To which a slightly shocked sounding Imran asked, “So should they stop?” Calmly Li gave an example of a company that she knows that is personalising communication when talking with their customers. “We should target person, by person. It is a much more emotional human way of communicating”.
The founder of Paris-based company, Trend Union then shared a story of a friend who has not spent money for over seven days, something that he was pleased about. Schooling Imran, she said that it is these small and big signs that are allowing people to understand the things they did in the ‘old world’ were things that they did not want to do. With authority, Li stated that the answer is that we need to reset society. “The time has come to create new systems that pollute less and take less energy”, she said.
Everything is up for Renewal.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Sighing Li answered: “It will a be a long (wait). We have to give up this year”. She continued: “It is going to be very difficult for people who do not have jobs, but if we decide to reinvent society, reconstruct, and completely resync the system we can start with a blank page”.
According to Li, this will involve inventing a strategy where we have central design studios in each country to provide for several brands. No more travelling to far away prices to return with a product similar to the next person. This is a method that Li thinks will cut down on travel and be less wasteful. “Maybe I am being idealistic, but it seems logical,” the Dutch trend forecaster said, to which Imran asked how can we (in an ideal world), reset fashion week?
Taking a moment, the publisher, humanitarian and curator answered: “I think that the shows will be very intimate in small venues and with the perfect professionals only. The models will be from the neighbourhood. The styling will be done by the designers themselves. It will really reset to an almost couture type presentation. Sometimes inhouse. This will then be filmed and go online, and that we will be the way we communicate on a large scale”. Can you imagine fashion week being shown in the cinema or a series of films?
As the conversation between Li and Imran winded down the main takeaway was that now is the time to start something new. Li advises those who do not know which direction to go, to reach out to others and collaborate. “I believe very much in the power of the amateur”, she said. “Listen to yourself; what do you really want to do. Don’t think about money”. She is right; we now have the opportunity to do what we like. It is a chance to change what currently defines us right now. The other side of the coin when it comes to this crisis is that it has led people to do things they never thought of doing before, like cooking, family time and even knitting. With a lot of creativity taking place now, all I can say is here, here to the age of the amateur.