On Monday morning at the unsightly hour of 8am I stepped off a train at London Victoria and headed for the Underground. It’s the first time I’ve been in the big smoke for the best part of ten years. And 13 since I quit my job at London Bridge with an established brand of chartered accountants and went to work in leafier climes for a small family run design company. And why was I here? Well you will know if you follow my Twitter. If you don’t, where have you been?
I was at Central Working in Whitechapel to attend my first proper fashion networking event hosted by Creative Industry Hub. Tickets had sold out and the room was full of fashion hopefuls, the next generation of potential industry professionals. But whilst many were there to ask the big questions about breaking into the industry I, as perhaps one of the more cynical attendees, wasn’t there to expect any miracles.
For me this was a chance to talk to people on my level. Because whilst I am often told off for my bleak outlook of certain aspects of the industry, I know my viewpoint is not unique and I heard it all around the room that day.
This event was an opportunity to quiz some of the biggest players in UK fashion from House of Fraser, WGSN and Paul Costelloe to our very own Make it British and the Ethical Fashion Forum who had come to tell us how they made it in the industry and what’s to come. And despite some very differing opinions on bringing industry back to Britain, I felt the day had been a very positive experience. You take from it what you will.
As I sat and listened to eager startups quizzing their industry idols, I felt a little bit like I was back at university sitting in lectures. Everyone was looking for the holy grail. I doubt anyone found it that day. I do hope, however, that people found each other there, and that some useful alliances will be made for the future.
There is some kind of consolation in knowing you are not the only one struggling. We’re all very good at putting out the positive vibes when it comes to our business front of house. But the reality is that we are nearly all flailing about like stranded goldfish, wondering if there actually is any money still to be made in this hellishly over subscribed industry. Moreover, we’re worried we’re doing something wrong. Turns out, there’s just too many of us doing it.
Even though people were still telling me London was the only place to be if you worked in fashion, I am still quietly smug at my choice of Manchester to make my base. Nothing will persuade me to abandon the Northern Hub just yet. Problems with income, supply chain, and the cost of fabric are the same no matter where you live in the country. It’s just the difference in your outgoings that matters when you’re at grass roots level.
Above all, meeting other people when you are used to spending so much of your time working alone, is so very valuable. Comparing notes on how you do business reminds you that you are not the only one having problems with social media, or online shops, or finding factories for small runs. And we rejoiced at the success stories we heard. I met some fascinating and insightful people on Monday. And took away some very useful information.
It’s inspiring and exhilarating to be face to face with other industry professionals who know what you are talking about and understand what you are going through.I hope to be able to attend not only another Creative Industry Hub fashion event, but other networking events too. It feels like a lifeline right now, and that has to be worth something.