During the last two days of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia, the organization hosted Fashion Futurum, an international conference that gathered a slew of leading professionals from around the world to Moscow to talk about fashion, technology and the current state of the industry. The very last panel of Fashion Futurum, comprised of executives from France, Spain, Russia and the U.S., focused on Russia's local designers, from their high potential to reach a global audience to how, exactly, to do that.
"I'm very very excited about being here because I think you are on the edge of an extraordinary opportunity to export something unique to the world," says Jeffrey Aronsson, who's held executive positions at Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs before founding his own company Aronsson Group. "In other words, you're a net importer of fashion; I think you have a tremendous opportunity to be a net exporter of fashion."
With designers like Demna Gvasalia, Gosha Rubchinskiy and Vika Gazinskaya, stylists Anya Ziourova and Lotta Volkolva, as well as street style stars Miroslava Duma (of website Buro 24/7) and Olga Karput (of shop/cafe Kuznetsky Most 20) putting the post-Soviet on the industry's radar, the attention towards Russia's fashion know-how has been bigger than ever.
While suggestions and ideas shared during "Local Becomes Global: How National Brands Can Succeed on the Global Marketplace" are specific towards Russia, these tips could certainly apply towards other emerging markets around the world. Read on how to find out how local designers and brands can expand their businesses globally.
Find the Country's #Brand First
"Without having the brand as a country, it would be a tremendous effort for individual companies to build up in that competitive area of consumer goods," says Carlos Espinosa de Los Monteros, who has been revamping Spain's image as High Government Commissioner of Brand Spain for the past five years. As a former executive at Inditex, he also uses Spain's expertise in fast fashion production as a key selling point for his country. "Present Russia as a country of talented young people and sophisticated individuals in different areas and present the image of New Russia."
Of course this is a large and lengthy undertaking, but de Los Monteros believes that the country's rich history can also be its unique selling proposition. "Russians were among the leaders in craftsmanship at the end of 19th century," he says. "My recommendation is to build on that. Build on excellence, prestige, uniqueness and, in the end, on quality."
Boost Brand Identity and Infrastructure
In order for brands to garner recognition among a competitive marketplace, a strong identity is crucial. Pascal Morand, Executive President of the Fédération Française de la Couture, stresses the importance of the branding, especially in world where digital influence can foster success. "Now we have so many products and services, and there needs to be an identity," he says. "And this identity needs to be well-known all over the world — digital networks, social and many aspects."
"You have a huge cultural tradition in Russia, which can build. We saw a great show yesterday — beautiful coats and clothing," continues Morand, referencing designer Vika Tsiganova's runway show at the State Historic Museum. "This great tradition in embroideries and colors, the point is for the brand. Each designer has its own identity."
"Great talent, from what I've seen and understand, is here and you have a very rich cultural history from which to draw and be inspired to express in modern and all different kinds of ways," says Aronsson.
"You also need infrastructure," adds Aronsson. "As I understand, they are developing and you have the capacities and capabilities for product development and production to be able to represent the intangible design ideas that are created by Russia." While the country has been well-known for its production goods — including steel, oil and gas — it's possible to become a strong player in consumer goods, as well.
Promote Great Talent
To attract attention beyond where a designer is based, hosting a seasonal fashion week is a start. According to Morand, it's "one of the key elements for coping with the world of creative brands" However, similarly to New York Fashion Week, a fashion show has to be strategically in line with the brand's mission. "Brands which are not so creative, they can avoid," he says. "If [the brands] are creative, they need to somehow go on the catwalk and have a mirror effect from journalists and buyers to say it's interesting."
Indeed, from a media perspective, we can let our readers know about our favorite collections and street style looks by doing on-the-ground reporting from Moscow. Saint-Tokyo designer Yury Pitenin also sees advantages to showing at fashion week: He's garnered international press; his stockists span from London to Switzerland to Azerbaijan; and he's received orders from Lady Gaga and Rita Ora. "This is Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week's help that I could do this stuff," says Pitenin.
Balance Creativity and Business Management
Behind any successful designer is a business-minded partner; Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Christopher Kane and his sister Tammy and Humberto Leon and Carol Lim are a few examples. "Someone with more calculation balancing with the creative and emotional component," explains Morand.
"You need the brand manager who can orchestrate," adds Aronsson. "Guiding the designer's creative effort so that there can be a great and compelling product to be marketed and communicated in a manner that's faithful to what the brand's compelling promise is. … The left side brain dealing with the right side; when there's chemistry, that's a great concept of synchronicity."
Disclosure: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia paid for my travel and accommodations to attend and cover the event.