For this edition of the Vogue Global Conversations series, Angelica Cheung of Vogue China hosted Virgil Abloh, Stephanie Phair of Farfetch, and Remo Ruffini of Moncler. This series focused on the future of e-commerce, and how COVID-19 has transformed shopping online.
Virgil Abloh is one of my personal favorite designers, so I was very excited to see that he was on this call. From his start interning at Fendi alongside Kanye West to the creation of his iconic streetwear brand , Off-White, Abloh has been a rising star in the fashion industry for the past decade. There’s no one better to talk to about e-commerce than a designer whose designs have taken Instagram and the world of influencers and hypebeasts by storm. For more on Abloh’s life and career up to this point, read this article, which is also from Vogue.
An important point that Abloh makes about the future of fashion as he sees it is the need to be responsive to the customer. Instead of a fashion house “talking down” to the consumers, making things and telling them that this is what’s trending, Abloh wants companies to listen to customers and respond accordingly. He brings up that many fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton, where he is the artistic director of menswear, have made masks, hand sanitizer, and other PPE for medical workers. He says that actions like this show an important shift in the fashion industry, from simply selling clothing to working to benefit the public.
One of the most important parts of Off-White’s continued relevance among young people, and the change which Abloh is looking to make within Louis Vuitton, is the presence of a new generation of voices. Abloh has hired a diverse group of younger perspectives, some of whom have never worked in the fashion industry before. I believe this search for new talent and diversity is a strength of Abloh’s and one that will improve historic brands like Louis Vuitton as they evolve in the future.
When it comes to a need for a more sustainable future, Stephanie Phair of Farfetch brought up that though consumers have been more conscious of where they are buying from, which is a good thing, brands have a responsibility as well. Despite the fact that the push for environmental consciousness has been largely consumer-led, she says that larger corporations still need to “change some of these systemic issues in the industry”. I thought that this was a great point of view as well. While consumers should try their best to pay attention to where their clothing comes from and the impact it has on the planet and the people on it, businesses need to hear customer’s desires for better production and adjust accordingly. By being responsive to what the consumer is looking for, these brands can make a positive difference in the fashion industry as a whole.
Farfetch, which started in 2008, is now the most extensive marketplace for luxury fashion in the world. They have a few locations scattered across the world, but the majority of their business is done online. As one of the biggest e-commerce fashion retailers, with approximately 10 million visitors to their site every month, I would definitely like to see Farfetch make a push towards sustainability in the industry. For more about Farfetch, this is a short rundown of the company.
Angelica Cheung, who hosted the conference, provided many interesting details on the state of e-commerce in China. In reference to COVID-19, China has become a bit of a model of what we could see when it comes to businesses reopening across the world. A trend that was popularized there during lockdown and has continued into today are shopping livestreams. These streams, which are often done through Chinese platform WeChat, are live sales hosted by influencers and celebrities. They have tens of millions of viewers who watch as each luxury good is sold onscreen. One such stream even had a rocket that sold for a whopping $6 million. Cheung brought this up as a way to explain the strengths that technology and e-commerce show when they’re combined. With these streams, brands aren’t trying to replicate the experience of shopping inside a store, because they don’t need to when they’re offering something novel and different. People can watch to shop, or just to entertain themselves and stay updated on the latest in fashion. A video with a popular public figure showing off a product and talking about it gives the consumer more information than pictures and a short description on an online listing without them ever having to leave their home. Cheung stresses this merging of online and in-person shopping as the future of the fashion industry. There are distinct needs for both in today’s world, and using them together gives the consumer the best possible experience. This article is from 2019, however it explains the start of the phenomenon of WeChat live sales in the Chinese fashion market.
One of the final topics discussed during the call was the importance of small fashion brands and the struggles they are facing during this time. All the representatives of these fashion giants recognized the importance of new companies that keep the fashion industry relevant and fresh with new ideas. These smaller designers have faced many challenges from closures due to COVID-19, and many of the startups that could be the future of the fashion world are in danger at this time. Off-White was once a small business as well, but over the years it has turned into a staple of streetwear. As advice for all the new designers who are hoping to find success like his, Virgil Abloh tells them to ” Detach yourself from the idea of what you thought was the measure of success,” and to “do something that hasn’t been done.”
This may have been my favorite of all the Vogue Global Conversations I watched. I enjoyed hearing from Abloh, as he was a figure I already knew well. I also found it interesting to learn more about Farfetch, a company that I had heard of but didn’t know all that much about. Cheung’s international perspective of the fashion industry from China was very interesting to hear as well. She also offered valuable information on what reopening has looked like in her country, giving us some clues on what may happen in the United States. To watch the full conference, for yourself, you can find it here.