Fashion’s great disintermediation

This piece originally appeared in Glossy on May 2nd, 2016

The line stretched around the block in downtown New York. Those waiting in it were young, nerdy and cool. There was an unmistakable vibe of being in the know. This wasn’t a line for the first iPhone. It wasn’t a secret sale. It wasn’t a gallery opening. It was a Supreme drop.

Supreme decidedly puts products and those who covet them in the center of the modern fashion universe. Cool is not what critics tell you it is; it’s what the street demonstrates. “I didn’t create a pair of shoes because I wanted some editorials. Never. I think of a guy in the club, outside in the street or a friend of mine,” said Demna Gvasalia, the Georgian creator of fashion collective Vetements. The result is small number, limited quantity, season-resistant and built-to-last individual items. Clothes, not fashion.

This “get close to your customers and tell them what they need before they know it” turn caught fashion world by surprise and with no small dose of incomprehension. Suddenly, it was all about real-world wardrobes, not campaigns’ “total looks.” It’s about the street, not the runway; and it’s about the individual who wears an item and not the designer who created it.

For the longest time, fashion brands were built by editors, critics and brand managers working at the handful of conglomerates that control the industry. Fashion came to behave like something behind the glass of a boutique’s window or a museum. It came to be unattainable and exclusive, made to be admired, not worn.

Today, fashion brands are built through their products, designed specifically and uniquely to be worn by the end customer.

This individualism springs from digital culture. Global, fast, abundant, remixed culture simultaneously enables and impresses upon us a need for difference — both in terms of our own individuality and the uniqueness of the items we want.

Re/Done is successful because it understands what people really want to wear, feel and look today. This customer-focus enables it to create the real-world clothes that easily fit into people’s lives, invite personal experimentation, are meant to be worn and tested on the street and to serve as a source of further inspiration. Those are the items that people seek out, not the clothes that are marketed ad nauseum via the fashion-editorial complex.

To stay close to their customers, modern fashion brands need to cut out or severely curtail the intermediary. They should heavily curate the list of stores they are available in to become the most buzzed-about.

People will become cult-like followers because they identify with these brands’ singular attitude and point of view and with the community of others who “get it.” Their fans will buy into an idea, rather than into specific look.

Strategy Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Forbes’ one of The World’s Most Influential CMOs.

Strategy Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Forbes’ one of The World’s Most Influential CMOs.