5 business lessons from the world of fashion

9 September 2020

By Carl Adamson

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Lady Gaga’s face masks at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) were more than just the boldest of bold fashion statements.

The pop icon not only had everyone talking about her unique choice of outfits, but more importantly, the serious message behind them – to wear a face mask.

From haute couture gas-masks to sleek tusks, Gaga rocked nine stunning looks in total that kept the COVID pandemic and the safety of everyone at the forefront of everyone’s minds – and it got me thinking…

… as someone who adores clothes, what could my favourite designers teach me beyond just looking good?

So, I put pen to paper and came up with my top five lessons from the world of fashion.

 

1. Break the rules – Alexander McQueen

McQueen was the quintessential rebel; but it was only when he went out on his own – removing the conservative shackles of making suits for political leaders and royalty at London tailors Anderson & Sheppard – that he made a name for himself. From his signature ‘bumster trousers’ to blood-spattered models, his controversial catwalks disrupted the industry and made him stand out. It was only by embracing his inner maverick that he was able to achieve greatness.

Top tip: Any business needs cognitive diversity within its team if it wants to succeed, and embracing nonconformists is part of that. These are the people that challenge the status quo and refuse to toe the line as they chase respect, not consent. Yes, they’ll sometimes bend the rules and experiment with unconventional methods, but they’ll also bring a unique perspective to situations, finding exciting, innovative solutions that deliver outstanding results and ignite those around them. So, do your best to encourage teammates to be themselves – and if you see a good opportunity to challenge the process, do it!

 

2. Never compromise your integrity – Stella McCartney

‘Luxury brands’ and ‘environmentally-friendly’ are not always terms that go together, but since the launch of her fashion house in 2001, Stella McCartney has been at the forefront of green fashion. That doesn’t mean her collections are 50 shades of teal, but that her materials are sustainable wardrobe alternatives. Fur and leather are out, with ethically sourced wool, organic cotton and recycled textiles all very much in.

Top tip: If you feel passionately about a particular topic or cause, don’t compromise – embrace it and make sure you stand by your morals.

 

3. Zig when others zag – Coco Chanel

Today, Chanel is viewed as an elegant and affluent, yet fairly conservative brand, but during its early years, the now fashion powerhouse was the outsider, creating brave, eye-catching designs that flipped the traditional 1920s look on its head. Their simple-lines not only saw the rise in ‘flat-chested’ fashions – in contrast to the hourglass-figure look that was popular in the 19th Century – but they also aimed to empower women with more masculine garments, such as trousers and blazers, as well as colours like dark blue and grey.

Top tip: If everyone is heading in the same direction, sometimes it pays to change the game. Every technique, trend or ‘best practice’ will often lose effectiveness over time, so if you’re struggling to gain traction with a particular campaign or project, maybe it’s time to zig where others have zagged.

 

4. Don’t be afraid to repurpose great ideas – Thomas Burberry

Thomas Burberry may have died almost a century ago, but he can still teach us valuable lessons. Starting life creating practical attire for farmers, fishermen and horse riders, it was during World War I he created the trench coat for British soldiers. Their popularity grew over the years, with the armed forces look giving the garment a businesslike respectability, soon making it not just a military necessity, but after World War II, a fashion statement.

Top tip: Quite often ideas and techniques can be repurposed and reborn, so it can pay to look back in history. Trends are often cyclical, so if you’re looking for the next big idea, why not take a step back in time to what has (or hasn’t) worked before and look to put your own unique spin on it.

 

5. Tell your story – Louis Vuitton

Similar to Burberry embracing its heritage, Louis Vuitton’s mantra of: ‘Inspired by the past, we make the future’ is key to their success, as is their ability to tell stories. Originally a trunk maker from the mid-1850s, the French brand is anchored in the idea of travel, with this thread running throughout their narrative. From photographer Jean Larrivière travelling the world in the 1980s capturing items in every corner of the globe, to 2014’s ‘Spirit of Travel’ campaign, showing models enjoying South Africa and the Caribbean with its latest bag collection, Louis Vuitton takes audiences on glamorous, emotional experiences that are steeped in its history.

Top tip: Products are not always about the practical benefits, but how they make us feel, and storytelling is the number one way to create an emotional connection beyond the tangible. In the business world, stories are particularly useful, acting as the glue that sticks important messages to our brains. So, when you get the chance, create emotionally charged content that changes perspectives – it will alter people’s mindsets and your engagement levels will undoubtedly grow.

 

So, in conclusion…

It’s hard to say why I love clothes as much as I do – but I definitely enjoyed delving into what made some of my favourite designers successful, as it shone a light on tactics we can implement outside of the world of fashion. Working in the employee communication space as a creative lead, these tips certainly apply to me, so I hope they can for you too.

However, my biggest takeaway from writing this article is, whether at work or at home, embrace what makes you truly happy and be inspired by your passions, no matter what they are or what you do – there are always things to learn despite any obscure connections.

If you’re true to yourself, you’ll stitch together a bespoke way of work that’s best fit for you, your colleagues, clients and stakeholders.

Carl Adamson

Creative Lead

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