Luxury e-commerce giant Net-a-Porter is working with the British Fashion Council and universities around the globe to unearth diverse emerging designers through its newly launched extended mentorship program, The Vanguard Education Fund. The aim of the program is for the retailer to act as an incubator of new talent by showcasing them to a global audience and encouraging them on their business journey through mentorship programs and access to financial support. Applications for the fund are open
pen until the end of October. We chat with Net-a-Porter’s senior market editor, Libby Page, about what the next generation of designers need to succeed in the current climate and the challenges and opportunities in the future of the fashion industry. Inside Retail: What does The Vanguard Education Fund itself involve and what is its relationship to the existing mentorship program at Net-a-Porter? Libby Page: The Vanguard Education Fund is an extension of the Vanguard program – for this initiative, we’ve partnered with the British Fashion Council (BFC) to engage with a network of universities to encourage more diverse talent and help students embark on their professional journey in the industry. The Vanguard Education Fund will be open to final year BA hons students, they will be able to apply with a body of their work, the four winners will receive a monetary prize and a years’ worth of mentorship with Net-a-Porter and our community of Mentors Aside from UK universities within the BFC Colleges Council, we’ll also work with selected international universities, with an ultimate goal of fostering greater diversity by supporting talented applicants from a broad range of backgrounds. IR: Who are some of the past mentees of the program that have gone on to great things and what have they done? LP: Peter Do is one of the most successful new brand launches to date, our customers love his sophisticated separates. Christopher John Rogers is an incredible talent and continues to play into the trend of joyful dressing. He captured the fashion industry’s heart when he first debuted and continues to do so with his collections season after season. IR: What do you think the modern fashion designer needs in his or her toolbox to succeed in the current climate? What are the new skills that are now needed compared to what designers needed in previous years? LP: Over the years, Instagram and social media have increasingly become less of a personal profile and more of a visual marketing tool for brands. Many of the contemporary brands we stock use social media and Instagram to their advantage because having a wide and influential following allows them to influence consumers globally. Social media exposes and portrays an appealing lifestyle that the customer wants to buy into, as well as a product. It now plays a huge part when it comes to finding new talent for us, it’s amazing when you think about the number of new brands we’ve scouted through the platform. Ultimately, we believe a distinct DNA is key for a brand to stand out. However, with the help of social media tools, this gives brands the opportunity to market their products and further engage with their customers. IR: What are some of the challenges for emerging fashion designers at the moment in the current environment and where are some of the opportunities? LP: With any emerging brand, they need to find their place within the industry and stay true to their brand’s DNA whilst providing customers with what they want and need. Ultimately, we choose the brands that we believe have the potential to grow and resonate with our global customers. In terms of opportunities, one Vanguard designer that has proven their ability to adapt to trends and industry changes is Christopher John Rogers. The brand has recently introduced knitwear to its offering, encompassing its signature rainbow DNA, which is consistent across its eveningwear pieces. This flexibility has allowed the brand to create the ‘wow’ pieces that it’s known for, whilst reaching a wider audience. IR: What are some of the interesting trends that you have observed in fashion at the moment and what excites you right now? LP: In the current climate, there’s a sense of joyful dressing in all forms, be it casual or dressing up. Designers are embracing this with bright bold colors and statement knits. We saw this from brands such as Magda Butrym, Halpern, AREA and Christopher John Rogers. There’s also a heightened need to create a considered wardrobe. Designers are now producing products with sustainability at front of mind, and customers are purchasing investment pieces that will stand the test of time. Our shopping list for the season includes ‘round the clock’ dresses from the likes of Khaite, Proenza Schouler and Isabel Marant, and elevated denim from Chloé, The Row, Stella McCartney and more. IR: Why is it important for Net-a-Porter to encourage diverse talent in particular to be mentored in design and what are the benefits of diversity in this regard? LP: At Net-a-Porter, we believe in the importance of being a leader in building a diverse, and inclusive team and culture. Ultimately, we believe we have a responsibility to use our international presence and brand partnerships, to play our part in a more inclusive and equitable future for the fashion industry. Through our brand partnerships and our Vanguard program, we are committed to increasing diversity among the list of designers we retail. This includes recently welcomed RTW, beauty and fine jewelry names, including Christopher John Rogers, KHIRY Fine, Sindiso Khumalo just to name a few.