With the advent of blogging and live stream catwalk shows, fashion is becoming less of a dictatorship and more of a democracy. Opinions are heard, street styles are broadcast and front row catwalk seating can be accessed from a laptop. This political shift in the industry has seen high concept developments on the business front that encourage egalitarian engagement between designers and consumers, a heightened new form of artist and audience interaction.
Renowned knitwear designer Mark van Vorstenbos and conceptual artist Twan Janssen, have taken this idea of fashion democracy to another level with twin knitwear labels—You As Me and Me As You (female and male lines, respectively)—built on partial crowdfunding. The duo’s luxe knits will consist of quality basics and seasonal pieces that work without any fuss or styling advice. “We don’t want to tell people what to wear, we want to play second fiddle to trends—that is a skill in itself,” explains Janssen. And like Burberry’s The Art of the Trench initiative, which catalogues everyday people wearing their classic outerwear, You As Me and Me As You’s investors and consumers can send in photographs to the company’s online book of images to receive a visual response from Janssen and van Vorstenbos.
The first 500 people to invest €500 in the project become part of the “family of founders,” and, after five years, these investors will receive their money back with a return of 5% (in the meantime, they also receive a 50% discount on all items). Although every founding member will remain faceless—much like the puppets featured on the website—several key figures in fashion have invested already, without even touching a single garment. “Consumers tend to take more responsibility in purchasing,” explains Van Vorstenbos of crowdfunding’s appeals. “We want more contact with the products we use and are more intrigued by well thought-out products of true value, as opposed to fast fashion.”
Style Trek is less conceptual by comparison, but arguably offers a more democratic new platform. The newly launched website invites emerging designers and “Style Trekkers” to nominate a label to appear on the site. Once approved by Style Trek’s employees—including founder Cecilia Pagkalinawan, whose past e-commerce experience includes Burberry and La Perla—the label will receive an e-commerce platform, social media marketing and, depending on word of mouth, global presence. The initial Style Trekker will receive 1% of the sales profit, the designer gains 74% of sales and StyleTrek itself 25%.
Catwalk Genius and FashionStake, meanwhile, both work with fashion brands to collect funds until production costs can be met. Once the target is reached, everyone who previously nominated an amount is obliged to pay. Benefits for FashionStake holders include VIP nights, catwalk invitations and even dinners with the designer, whereas Catwalk Genius, on the other hand, allows investors (the minimum is a mere £11) to purchase pieces from its young designers with a 5-day, made-to-order turnaround.
These democratic designers seek continuous support through a general understanding of what they stand for, rather than because of a flashy, big-budget campaign. It seems that politics could learn a lot from fashion.