As Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council, Caroline Rush’s role is to promote the British fashion industry, both through London Fashion Week and through wide ranging initiatives, including the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund and the BFC Fashion Trust; indeed, we first met Caroline through DLA Piper’s involvement in the BFC’s NEWGEN programme, an initiative dedicated to helping designers to innovate and commercialised their creativity. We are delighted to have this opportunity to share Caroline’s thoughts on her role and the future of British fashion.
So Caroline, what aspects of your role as the British Fashion Council’s CEO most excite you?
There are so many exciting parts of the job but the most satisfying one is helping a talented designer to flourish by introducing them to a network of contacts that will champion them. Our programmes, NEWGEN, the BFC Fashion Trust, BFC/GQ Designer Menswear Fund and BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund have helped so many designers from Erdem to Craig Green, Jonathan Anderson and Roksanda to grow in the early stages, something I’m very proud of. Now, many have their own stores and are building global businesses.
What advice would you give to up and coming fashion businesses?
Embrace digital, it is driving us forward. Used properly it’s a gift, because it allows businesses without big budgets to reach their customers. We have more and more conversations around businesses going straight to consumers and challenging the traditional Fashion Week format and this would not be possible without digital. Reaching your audience in the right tone adds pressure to the content produced but it is so important when there is so much noise and content that an emerging or established business is able to cut through that and stand out. Authenticity and agility are key for success.
What are the biggest challenges you see facing British fashion business over the next 2-3 years?
Brexit & Sustainability!
Brexit has added a lot of uncertainty to the economy and to our industry. In the event of Brexit, fashion designer businesses will face challenges with movement of people such as securing model visas for models to come and work at Fashion W eek which might be challenging. This is why we have actively been working on tackling existing known immigration issues. Other issues that could be faced are trade-related, bringing samples in and out of the country, new unassigned costings and understanding new VAT regulations. In light of this, we established in January the UK Fashion Technical Group, to examine at how leaving the EU will affect the UK fashion sector, both strategically and operationally, and work to be able to quickly assess the impact for a range of exit scenarios. The BFC continues to liaise with other organisations and fashion businesses to share knowledge to overcome what might be a problem.
A significant change is required by the industry in the context of the climate change emergency. Sharing knowledge and motivating the pace of chance is a focus for us as an organisation and central resources for so many businesses.
How do you view the future of London Fashion Week?
It is interesting times as we see a lot more brands challenging the traditional Fashion Week format and wanting to engage with a consumer audience directly. Social media has brought Fashion Week to consumers and there is a lot more appetite from the general public to be involved in our industry, and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our world. We are working closely with partners, designers, media and retailers to see what would that look like and what the possibilities would be if at some point we brought in consumers into Fashion Week – it is something that we already do with our London Fashion Week Festival event which is open to the public and is a ticketed event but we feel that there are a lot more opportunities to be explored.
There are also some other very important challenges such as making London Fashion Week as sustainable as possible and we are committed to tackle this through our Positive Fashion initiative which shines a light on best practice both environmentally and ethically.
You’ve recently visited China, what opportunities does the Chinese market present for new designers?
China is a huge market which is often difficult to penetrate for foreign brands as it’s so vast and saturated. There is an extremely strong appetite for British luxury in China which goes beyond the tier one cities. Last year we successfully launched our China Partnerships Strategy in Shanghai with David Beckham, our Ambassadorial President, with the aim to develop a network of contacts in China to introduce to British fashion businesses. This network is either investors, service providers, media, retailers or high-net worth individuals. This materialised in March when we organised a trip to Shanghai for two British brands, Roksanda and Peter Pilotto, and worked with key partners in China such as Ontimeshow, Net-APorter and Vogue China to maximize the brands’ exposure but also generate sales.
More than the consumer-spending power Chinese customers have, it is a fascinating culture with extremely digitally-savvy people, something that all brands wanting to penetrate the market need to understand. We hope that by regularly making those trips with designers, we will facilitate connections but also bring the Chinese and British fashion industries closer together.
What achievement are you most proud of, during your time at the British Fashion Council?
Transforming the reputation of London Fashion Week and making it a highlight of the international fashion calendar. London Fashion Week has become a leader in creativity and innovation and is a platform that not only celebrates creative talent but also encourages business, technology and leadership. The programs we have to develop young designers and our work with government departments to promote the British fashion industry have gone from strength to strength.