The Power of a Cluster

clus·ter (klubrevesprimetschwar)
1. A group of the same or similar elements gathered or occurring closely together; a bunch.

A Cluster as it applies to Fashion?

A community of artisans all with common or complimentary skills, working together to create a collection of clothing with some meaning behind it.  The antithesis of fast fashion production.

Flickr Photostream; The Lawleys

As you probably know by now, we here at StartUp FASHION have a love and appreciation for the craft behind fashion. Yes, we talk about it a lot.   It’s not that we want to overwhelm you with an over saturated topic, it’s just that we truly believe that this is the direction in which fashion is headed; an inward focus on the hands behind the craft.

And those hands, make up the clusters that through skill and artisanship, remind us of the heritage that goes into textile and garment creation.

Why do we love fashion?

Let’s think about this. The answer is different for everyone of course, but we’re willing to bet that the majority of fashion lovers are who they are because they have a connection to, admiration of, or affection for the the way a garment looks, how a fabric feels, the color story, the drape, the silhouette…it’s an art form and should always be regarded as one.

The problem is, all too often, as success starts to approach, designers tend to get lost.  They often forget why they are doing what they do and who is helping them along the way, i.e. the pattern makers, the cutters, the seamstresses, the hands. The cluster.  Craft gets lost and mass market, fast fashion rules start to wiggle their way in to a brand that once focused on creating clothing the old fashioned way.

Now, we’re not delusional.  We understand that creating a sustainable and profitable business is the only way to truly achieve success.  Otherwise you’re just making pretty clothes and hoping someone will buy them. That’s not going to work. We get that.  But we also get that the fashion industry of yesterday is not the fashion industry of tomorrow.  From unstable raw materials to quickly increasing labor costs, labels both large and small, are learning that they can no longer whole heartedly depend on the full package or overseas approach.

While this may seem scary, we don’t think it is.  What we do think is that this a way for brands to return to history of their craft and start utilizing and highlighting the community of skilled workers who help bring a sketch to reality.

All of you, entering into this highly competitive field of fashion design, have the opportunity to create your labels in a way that showcases the skills that go into making high quality and aesthetically beautiful clothing. Rather than making your goal be to get to the “Target Capsule Collection” stage, why not focus on designing and creating well made, high quality collections that embrace the craft behind what you do?

Please keep in mind that we’re not necessarily talking about weavers in India or seamstresses in South America or tailors in Italy.   A cluster can simply be working with a pattern maker, cutter, and factory in New York or Seattle or North Carolina!  It’s about the community.  It’s about appreciating and compensating and highlighting the skilled workers. It’s about the heritage.

Some brands have tried to introduce the concept in their work.  In September of 2010, Prada took notice of the consumer interest in artisanship with its “Made In” campaign.  While we applaud the marketing savvy behind this initiative, we wonder why Prada could not continue to adopt these practices in their label creation. What a fantastic example a well known and respected brand could have set.

Prada Made In Collection

So, in conclusion, we just want to express {again} how important we think it is to create a business model around producing clothing that highlights the art of fashion and the community behind the craft.  At these early stages of creating your business you are in the perfect position to take a long hard look at what you are doing and why you are doing it.  There is so much opportunity, try not to ignore it.

Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses. A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!