LONDON, United Kingdom — London Fashion Week has sharpened its business focus over the past few years to usher in a new generation of fashion designers who blend creativity with a healthy dose of commerce.
Long known as the little sister to Paris, Milan and New York, London is fast becoming the place to build a successful fashion business and is home to leading brands like Burberry, Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith.
The emergence of a new generation of commercially savvy designers has made the city a key destination for global brands and retailers wanting to pair up with designers on projects ranging from soft drinks packaging to dolls' accessories.
London Fashion Week is estimated to bring in around 100 million pounds ($155 million) worth of orders each season, according to the British Fashion Council.
This year has seen more tie-ups with non-fashion brands, such as Sophia Webster's work with toymaker Mattel on designing a range of shoes for Barbie dolls, and a J.W. Anderson collaboration with Diet Coke - to name but a few.
Webster, who showcased a collection of colorful patterned heels and sandals at a mermaid-themed presentation, said she had been approached by Mattel to design a new Barbie range.
"It was my dream collaboration, it's a perfect fit for my brand. It's definitely a good way to reach a wider audience," she told Reuters.
Such projects help generate funds to invest in fledging businesses and raise designers' profiles among a range of new audiences.
"It is very important and it is very contemporary so I think it is an interesting way to get the finance capital whilst also saying something different," said Claudia D'Arpizio, a partner at luxury goods consultancy Bain and Company.
Scottish designer Holly Fulton, who showcased a colorful collection of denim jackets, high waisted jeans and tailored dresses with printed floral motifs at London Fashion Week, said collaborations have been an integral part of her business.
"My aim has always been to have longevity in the brand," she told Reuters backstage at her show. Fulton recently collaborated with Unilever on their Simple skin care range, and in the past has worked with jewelry firm Swarovski.
"You have to run a valid and viable business to be able to fund the collections and to make something that has legs."
The British Fashion Council has played an integral part in helping designers to capitalize on their creativity by running mentoring programs, setting up online information on how to run a business and helping to secure funding and sponsorship for new brands.
"It helps you because you can approach a much wider client," said Turkish designer Bora Aksu. "The people who cannot afford your brand or if it's not in their platform can suddenly can reach your product and can get to know you."
Veteran designer Jasper Conran who has successfully collaborated with British retailer Debenhams for more than 20 years, said such tie-ups were just good business practice.
"Don't forget money is the thing that fuels design. It needs it. It needs a lot of it," said Conran, who clothed his models in loosely fitted trousers and cotton sundresses featuring abstract prints in an array of green shades at his catwalk show.
"When I started, it was very tough ... (but) I don't think there is any scepticism now."