LONDON, United Kingdom — This week marks a very special milestone in the history of The Business of Fashion: our 5th birthday!
Back in January 2007, I spent one hundred dollars for an annual Typepad subscription and, with the help of a friend, set up a blog at uberkid.typepad.com. I called it The Business of Fashion, cobbled together a clumsy looking header in Powerpoint and started jotting down ideas and observations about the fashion business.
There was no plan! Looking back, it’s a little cringeworthy to see how the blog shifted haphazardly from one subject to the next: reviewing the Milan menswear shows in one post, covering a Giles Deacon party in the next, analysing the luxury childrenswear market and reporting on senior executive shuffles at the Gap, all within the very first month and without any real editorial direction or strategy!
But we’ve come a long way since then and I’ve also learned a great deal about digital publishing. A few of the media properties that I most respect, including The Atlantic and The Guardian, have been buzzing about their “digital first” strategies. But BoF was born digital from day one, which has enabled us to take a particularly lean and responsive approach to publishing.
Indeed, one of the great strengths of digital – an inherently conversational medium – lies in the on-going dialogue it enables between content creators and the communities they attract. Rather than simply broadcasting to a passive audience, BoF has slowly but surely shaped an editorial voice that reflects the feedback and interests of our growing community of readers.
Through feedback from this community and generous advice from online fashion pioneers like Diane Pernet and Jason Campbell, I quickly learned that one of the most useful things I could offer the nascent fashion blogosphere was opinionated analysis and advice for professionals working in the global fashion business. Rather than simply reporting news, which was widely published elsewhere and rapidly becoming a commodity, I focused on trying to make sense of the news. As it turned out, the timing couldn’t have been better as the fashion industry would soon find itself navigating unprecedented change driven by the forces of economic crisis, rapid globalisation, and, of course, the digital revolution.
In April 2007, a few months after launching BoF, I was invited to the Harvard Business School Retail & Luxury Goods conference to speak on a panel alongside a group of highly respected luxury experts. At one point, the moderator, Milton Pedraza of the Luxury Institute, began asking the panel about social media, in particular a website called Facebook, which by then had attracted a user base of around 20 million people. “How will these new social platforms impact the fashion and luxury world?” Mr Pedraza asked.
Having spent several months immersed in the world of blogging, I ventured that I saw some real, long-term potential for the fashion and luxury sector in social media. After all, if consumers were spending more time on these platforms, it was only logical that brands looking to reach them would need to do the same.
But suffice it to say that my fellow panelists did not see it that way. In fact, my ideas were at best politely dismissed, at worst publicly ridiculed. But when the panel had ended, Mr. Pedraza leaned over and whispered some encouraging words in my ear: “I think you’re onto something,” he said. “Stick with it.”
And so I did. It was one of many helpful pushes I have had along this journey. But, in particular, Mr. Pedraza’s gentle push helped me to realise that by exploring the exciting potential of fashion’s digital future, BoF had an opportunity to add something genuinely distinctive to the fashion dialogue. I had no budget for marketing or PR, so all I could do was create good content and hope our audience would keep coming back and spread the word about BoF to their friends and colleagues.
A year or so later, I realised that for BoF to reach its potential, I had to build a team. In the summer of 2008, Tokyo-based W. David Marx became our first correspondent and New York-based writer Robert Cordero began curating the BoF Daily Digest, a hand-picked selection of the most interesting and important fashion news stories of the day, something we started doing so that the members of our community wouldn’t have to sift through the mountains of daily fashion news themselves.
As for our original articles, we made a special effort to create content that wasn’t available anywhere else. First, BoF became known for a series on the basics of setting up a fashion business. Soon after, I launched Fashion 2.0, our popular on-going inquiry into of the powerful digital currents that are reshaping the business of fashion, and we were often the first in the fashion press to examine new platforms like Tumblr and new trends like social curation.
Next came CEO Talk, our signature series of in-depth interviews with the industry’s top business leaders. We spotted young designers early, as well, and were amongst the first to introduce Camilla Skovgaard, Thomas Tait, and Huishan Zhang to the world. And finally, our live interview series Fashion Pioneers has attracted industry insiders and consumer audiences alike, both virtually and in-person, to hear from inspiring fashion luminaries like Natalie Massenet, Jefferson Hack and Nick Knight.
So, what have we learned from all of this? In today’s environment of media abundance, the power of opinion channeled through analytical editorial, curated news and live events has made BoF a daily destination for a growing number of fashion professionals. We cut through the clutter. Compared to other websites with similar stature and audience, we produced less content, but ensured the highest quality possible, working with a small but highly agile and global network of editors and contributors, who generously contributed their time to the BoF cause.
I first met Vikram Kansara virtually, reading his intelligent feedback on BoF articles in our lively comments section. After we met for tea in London, Vikram started writing for BoF as a contributing editor focused on Fashion 2.0 and is now our managing editor. Several other individuals from the BoF community have also come on board since then, including fashion legend Colin McDowell, leading international expert in the finance of fashion Pierre Mallevays, and Divia Harilela and Timothy Coghlan, our on the ground experts in the enormously important Chinese market, building depth and breadth into our editorial voice. Many, many others have contributed articles from time to time and I am immensely grateful for the time and energy that all of these talented individuals have dedicated to BoF over the years.
But none of this would have been possible without our single greatest asset: the global BoF community. Everywhere I have traveled over the past five years, from Tokyo to Jakarta, Vancouver to Mumbai, Buenos Aires to Tel Aviv, and more than 25 other countries in between, I have been warmly welcomed and hosted by this community. Generous individuals and organisations have opened my eyes to a global industry that is filled with inspiring stories of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship and shared the best and brightest of their local fashion industry with me, so that I could share it with all of you.
Over the recent holidays, this community revealed its wonderful diversity in a rather spontaneous way. When I sent out a short holiday greeting to our followers on Twitter, Sharon Caufield was one of the first to respond with a note that said she was writing from Craigavon, Northern Ireland. It made me wonder: who else was following our tweets on Boxing Day and where were they from? So I asked the community and within minutes, hundreds of tweets had poured in, representing every inhabited continent and more than 80 countries.
With this truly global community in mind, I am very pleased to announced that, alongside Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, BoF has just launched a Weibo presence. Chinese-language readers can now stay up to date on the latest news and analysis from BoF at weibo.com/businessoffashion.
As I look ahead to 2012, the future of BoF looks brighter than ever. We aim to bring you the best analysis, the most inspiring stories and the first insight into the players, platforms and business models that are reshaping the business of fashion as we know it.
Happy New Year! And I hope you’ll stick with us, as it seems this is only the beginning of our journey.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief