The need to separate fashion from the fashion industry
A few thoughts after visiting the Encouragement For Action award last week.
19 Sep 2023

Welcome to Observations, coming this week from Altea, Spain, where we are visiting our oldest daughter. She is part of the new generation of digital nomads and is camped up here with her boyfriend for all of September.

It’s fascinating to observe how businesses across Europe are offering a two-month maximum on working abroad on top of an already hybrid work model. I’m curious how these kinds of perks will stand as the economy is tightening up.

Fashion vs. apparel — an important distinction

How deep is fashion’s identity crisis?

It was a question that hit me after visiting the ceremony for the Encouragement For Action award last Wednesday. The laid-back event took place in the atrium of Nobis Hotel in Stockholm, and I was participating as a proud jury member in the Sustainable Identity category, which this year deservedly was won by Bristol Textiles. Huge congratulations!

Ahead of the price ceremony, we were treated to a panel and speech hosted by Philip Warkander, Assistant Professor at the Swedish School of Textiles and chairman of Encouragement for Action’s ethical council, as well as a good friend in the business.

Philip mentioned that they’re having problems recruiting young people to study fashion.

“If you are a young person creative, why would you want to work in fashion? It’s like working for big tobacco”, Philip stated.

I’ve experienced this hesitation first-hand, when we recently hosted the round table sessions at Transformation Conference in Stockholm. With us at one of the tables was a talented designer working as a designer for H&M, the fast fashion behemoth that was repeatedly hung out as the culprit when defining the problem during the conference. Too many garments, distributed too cheaply, with not enough lifespan or recycling.

“I feel like I’m representing the devil here”, she said then introducing herself to her table. “I’m going to quit my job tomorrow.”

Whether or not she followed through on that promise, I don’t know, but this lack of spirit among the young fashion creatives is leaving me saddened. I fear that the problem is that we are confusing the difference between the concept of fashion and the overall textile industry. They are, after all, not quite the same thing.

Fashion is identity, it’s a deeply rooted phenomenon in our culture and will always be. Fashion is one of our premium forms of expression and I don’t point out often enough how important it is.

The problem is not fashion, it’s the business model that the apparel industry has ended up with, with fast fashion, endless seasonality, and enormous overproduction.

In the audience at Nobis Hotel, I was caught up in a discussion with a couple of fashion designers and entrepreneurs, working at the small business end of the spectrum. They too were frustrated at how much we are conflating fashion with textile production, even in the discussion on stage, which also featured the talented designer Benaz Aram and the CEO of the Swedish Fashion Council Jennie Rosén. If thoughtful minds like Benaz, Jennie, and Philip can’t thoroughly differentiate between fashion and the textile industry, perhaps it’s time we all band together to properly find the definitions?

If not, we risk draining the industry of the very talent that we need to transform it. We need fresh ideas and new generations coming into the apparel industry to help tackle the enormous challenges that lie ahead. If we can’t reinvigorate the insist with such talent, I fear that it’s all up to the accountants, distributors, tech people, and legislators to define the next chapter in the so-called “fashion industry”, and the people who understand what fashion really is will have moved on to other expressions like gaming, entertainment, and niche clothing craftsmanship.

Your thoughts on this? E-mail me at [email protected] and we can continue the discussion.

Me in discussion with Stockholm Fashion District’s CEO Helena Waker at the EFA ceremony last week.


Three interviews with previous winners of Encouragement for action

• Alec Leach, the brilliant author of The world is on fire but we’re still buying shoes and the most prolific writer on fashion and sustainability of our time, has launched a newsletter. A must read.

• How GenAI startups forgot to find a problem to solve

• I’m enjoying this newsletter by Zach Pagrob, always an interesting takeaway in his weekly ten quotes on obsession. Like this one by Daniel Gross: “Your primary edge as a founder will be the number of hours you spent thinking about a specific problem. Over time, you should accumulate more hours than almost anyone on earth. This will only work if it doesn’t feel like a chore. If you genuinely are fascinated by the problem.”.

This week’s podcast: Johan reports from Helsinki and we discuss the state of fall design weeks


• Do you know anyone that needs an insights-driven communication agency? Learn more about Scandinavian MIND’s agency services here.