Steven Kolb, the CEO of TheCouncil of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.in this interview with Dan Hodges speaks about the dynamic and changing fashion industry and CFDA’s mission which is “to strengthen the impact of American fashion in the global economy.”
The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA) is a not-for-profit trade association, founded in 1962, whose membership consists of more than 500 of America’s foremost womenswear, menswear, jewelry and accessory designers. The Board Chairman is Diane von Furstenberg who first entered the fashion world in 1972 with a suitcase full of jersey dresses and was named the most powerful woman in fashion by Forbes Magazine. Michael Kors, Marcus Wainwright, Vera Wang and Mimi So all fashion leaders are the board members of the CFDA.
The American fashion industry under Steven Kolb’s leadership at the CFDA is an engine for growth in the U.S. and around the world. Boston Consulting Group estimated that the apparel and footwear segment alone generated a trillion dollars plus revenues in 2016 and employs sixty million plus people globally.
Steven is a very busy executive and we spoke about a wide range of topics after the conclusion of Men’s Fashion Week in New York.
Question: How has the role of Fashion Week changed since the 2016 BCG/CFGA report on Fashion Week?
“The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (https://cfda.com) and the Boston Consulting Group (https://www.bcg.com) report, The Future of Fashion Week, gave designers a license to experiment with marketing and shows allowing them to break from traditional formats and to experiment with new ideas.”Diane von Furstenberg, chairman of the CFDA, said “The responsibility of the CFDA is to provide information to help designers decide what is right for them, alleviate the pressure and give them the freedom to allocate their resources in a way that is best for them.”
Question: How are changes in technology and in consumer behavior impacting Fashion Week?
“Consumers are very active with online and direct to consumer shopping and this has caused traditional brick and mortar retailers to rethink their approach. Also, content is king with all brands directly communicating with customers via their own digital channels and in many cases bypassing traditional media.”
Question: The BCG/CFDA report discussed the role of “buy now, wear now” consumer behavior as a trend. How has that developed since the 2016?
“It’s still very relevant for some brands and not right for others. Brands more in control of their supply chain and distribution have greater success. Tommy Hilfiger is an example of a brand that has had amazing success.”
Question: How are designers staying on top of the rapidly changing consumer behaviors, trends and technologies?
“The CFDA provides professional education for designers on industry topics from doing business in China, on demand manufacturing, the plus size market and other topics that help them stay on top of trends.”
Question: What are the biggest challenges facing designers today?
“Consumers have their own front seat on their phones. Every brand has their own active social media sharing images and media right from their shows. Designers will invite top customers to show as well and there are countless digital media outlets covering fashion week. Designers are most challenged by the supply chain and changing distribution channels.”
How is the CFDA developing talent for the industry and working with Fashion Week?
“We have a number of programs that identify young talent. These programs offer business development and mentoring and include the Elaine Gold Launch Pad and the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund.”
Does the CFDA work with industries outside the fashion industry to co-develop ideas and stay on top of marketplace trends?
“We work with many industries outside of fashion. Many in partnerships. Cadillac is our partner on Retail Lab. We have worked with Google on diversity programming. Consumer products as well like LIFEWTR which supports emerging design talent. DHL co-authored a supply chain study with us and Accenture advises on retail trends. Those are just a few.”
How has the CFDA Fashion Award show changed over the last three years?
“It’s became more accessible to the public via our Facebook live broadcast. This year almost four million people watched the show. We added the Swarovski Award for Positive Change in 2017 with Kenneth Cole and Diane von Furstenberg being the first two recipients.”
What other U.S. cites apart from NYC have developed fashion weeks or have developed fashion week type events?
“New York remains the U.S. fashion capital, but you see active fashion communities in Los Angeles, Miami, St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville among others with each having a local perspective with their work. Much of it is not based around fashion weeks with LA being the most developed.” Melissa Shea, CEO & Founder of Fashion Mingle, a fashion tech start-up that connects thousands of fashion industry executives agrees. Shea see one of the most exciting trends in fashion happening on the doorstep of Silicon Valley. She observes that San Francisco is coming back strong with a focus on fashion tech and offer this advice, “If you want a job in the fashion industry that focuses on the future. Go west.”