Fashion, Culture, Design
Simon Collins Shakes Things Up With Fashion, Culture, Design ‘UnConference’ – Forbes
In a fashion industry plagued by outdated and challenging cycles of production and a slow-to-adapt mentality towards evolutionary factors, Simon Collins, founder of Fashion, Culture, Design (FCD)—a summit-like event which he’s dubbed an ‘UnConference’—is determined to find solutions to the issues that plague the major industries of culture.
With topics like Advertising in the US is Dead, What Will Gen Z Want Next, and WeChat Versus the World: Is China Designing the Future? Collins makes no qualms about the concerns he thinks should be top of mind and how they should be addressed: via the interdisciplinary conversation which is the basis of FCD.
“Changing any industry requires input from other fields—think about Steve Jobs and his time learning calligraphy. No one can do this alone and we need to look around for ideas and inspiration from wherever they emerge,” says Collins. “The smartest people in the world are frequently the most curious, they look everywhere and anywhere for ideas. At FCD we believe in finding this inspiration and sharing it.”
In its second year, Fashion Culture Design (FCD) will take place at The New School, where Collins was formerly the Dean of Fashion. In defiance of the typical presentations with slides, scripted speeches, and highly-planned moderated panels for which conferences are known, Collins instead opts for a format that he considers conversational, direct and even confrontational. He’s engaged Hitha Herzog—a seasoned news host and retail analyst who has co-hosted a show on Fox Business and regularly appears on MSNBC—as his co-host in a move to shake things up.
“I bring an element to this which isn’t the typical fashion viewpoint,” says Herzog in a phone interview. “Fashion people live in a bubble, I include myself in that, and whether we like it or not, we’re all exchanging the same ideas. Even though I’m in the industry, I have a background as a business journalist and analyst and I think of the industry in terms of finances and numbers, and that gives me a unique perspective of what’s going on. I’m the Lisa Simpson of fashion—everyone’s favorite nerd.”
Although his own background is staunchly in the retail and fashion space, Collins—also formerly the Creative Director of Nike Asia—created the platform to address the industries that genuinely impact the lives of so many. “Fashion, culture and design affect each other and everything we see, hear, touch or interact with. Whether a building, a city, a store, a tool, an outfit, a meal, a conversation, they are all related and all are influenced by fashion, culture and design,” Collins says. “So for me to isolate one alone for discussion just didn’t make any sense.”
In the case of fashion, then, why is it so slow to adapt?
“Some parts of fashion are super quick to change their product offering and then to get it into stores. The fashion supply chain is created for speed and efficiency,” says Collins. “But more often fashion businesses have existing infrastructures and employees and buildings and stores and systems, so like any other business, they respond within their business model. Clothing has been made in factories, shipped and then sold in stores or via catalogue (online) for a very long time, and so the models are expensive to replace.”
It seems somewhat idealistic to think sitting down and chatting over a day long UnConference would yield the sort of ideas and solutions to shake up entire industries—even when the people chatting are the best and brightest (think Vanessa Friedman from The New York Times and hotelier Ian Schrager). Collins disagrees, as he’s seen shifts in perspectives since last year’s FCD.
“Our conversation about What Does Beauty Look Like Now? was at the forefront of the movement to expand the idea of beauty to include size, color, age, gender and ability. We have all seen this become a much greater conversation and I’m glad we were able to push that,” explains Collins. “Also our conversation around Should Companies Stand for More Than Just Profit? has resonated widely with the partisan positioning of so much debate in the US. Just look at the positions and fortunes of Uber and Lyft during the Trump Travel Ban fiasco, one won and one lost based on their perceived positioning on a non-business related social issue.”
FCD takes place this Friday, June 16th, at The New School.
Rebecca Suhrawardi is a Fashion and Features journalist residing in New York City. Her work appears in the international editions of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, where she is a Contributing Editor.