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Caroline Issa on Finding Your Opportunity for Renewal During a Crisis

Tank magazine’s chief executive and fashion director offers her insights and advice on optimising essential skills for an industry moving into the future.
Caroline Issa at Paris Fashion Week | Source: Shutterstock
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LONDON, United Kingdom — "Creativity without accountability is no longer acceptable," said Caroline Issa in a BoF Live event on her learnings from lockdown, presented by retail technology platform Afterpay. "Right now, the tide is going out and the entire industry is being exposed."

Indeed, as fashion businesses large and small are laid bare by the health and economic crises, its employees — whether still working, furloughed or made redundant — are also feeling exposed by the fast-changing output, new workplace reality and shifts in skill sets required to remain operational and productive at this time of crisis.

"Tank was started back in '98 during a period of crisis, so we've seen crisis as an opportunity for renewal," said Issa, who left her role in management consultancy and moved to London to invest in and join the masthead of Tank magazine at the age of 25. She quickly became a major street style fixture, cross-functional collaborator and chief executive and fashion director of the independent magazine.

Here, BoF shares four key insights from Issa's BoF Live to help guide you through fashion’s state of regeneration.

Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back

These past couple of months, we were all going through trauma. The unknown is ever-present and fear levels are so high. But you can’t be paralysed by fear. One has to persevere to the other side and never take anything for granted. Stay confident in your abilities to adjust and be flexible, open, try and don’t fear failure.

We decided to move ahead with the summer print issue of Tank and I think that ability to still continue to create together was confidence-inducing. As a manager, your role is about stability, being a source of strength, being open and transparent. You want to be as supportive to your team as possible. So it is about re-energising creativity and the things that your team are so great at you utilise and double down on them.

I’m in fashion because I love innovation and the process of renewal is inherent in the idea of fashion. My hope is that there is a future in the future and we don’t pretend to change, but embrace the new qualities and use the strengths we’ve just discovered we have as societies.

Learn From Recent, Shared Experiences

It’s about the future now and learning from the last few months from working as a team, using technology, debating covers over PDF and email, sharing content we’ve consumed, what we have searched for that we can’t find but can create and that’s helped us figure out what we can continue to do moving forward.

Right now, the tide is going out and the entire industry is being exposed. I think smart businesses are those who are investing in product development, marketing and storytelling and this is the time – when others are being really quiet.

The twenty-first century career is about adaptability and adding on new skill sets.

Creativity without accountability is no longer acceptable. Understanding you’re a part of a larger process needs to be a part of fashion education for students and consumers. And we can’t just tell creatives and consumers — we need to ground creativity in [the] world of consequence we live in today.

Become a ‘Jack of all Trades’

I have been lucky in the projects I chose to say yes to, like designing shoes for LK Bennett or styling a fashion week show or campaign — I had never done those things before. So, I tried to take all those lessons from each complementary project and now I understand and respect creative genius, production processes, or how incredible manufacturing in Italy is.

All those things I said yes to, I can apply every bit of it to something else and that’s all about in any industry being open and willing to learn new skill sets. They said being a “Jack of all Trades” was bad but I disagree. I think the twenty-first century career is about adaptability and adding on new skill sets — and if you’re flexible, open, willing and hungry to learn, you’re in a good place to get a multifaceted career.

Collaborate and Prioritise Strategically

What I learned running a small business is that you have to prioritise. You have limited resources but when creative, genius ideas bubble up, you know in your gut what you should focus on, so you shove aside what isn’t working as well and get the team on the same path.

It does take time, energy and focus, and you have to be brutal about what you put to the side. We ourselves are pushing Tank TV and this streaming idea. We are figuring out how to prioritise and steering that tiny ship takes a lot of discussion and getting people on the same page. But if you have an agile team, that is as entrepreneurial as you, that’s really helpful.

It’s important that brands, and who they collaborate with, have like-minded brand values. Successful collaborations come about when you can feel the authenticity in the product and reasons as to why the two parties have come together to creates something. When I’ve collaborated with brands, I do it with brands I personally believe in.

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