Live and digital runways from the likes of Jason Grech, Viktoria + Woods, Bianca Spender, Bec + Bridge, Oroton and Aje; a Welcome to Country ceremony in Fed Square; masterclasses, styling sessions, panel discussions, workshops and live DJ sets – they’re all happening at this year’s Melbourne Fashion Festival (MFF), which is set to take place in the first two weeks of March. “It should be one huge, whizbang explosion to reset an exciting future for the sector,” Graeme Lewsey, the
he festival’s CEO, told Inside Retail. Now in its 26th year, MFF recently announced PayPal as its new naming rights partner. The three-year partnership gives the not-for-profit some much-needed stability at a volatile time for live events. “Their financial contribution allows us to return to live events with confidence,” Lewsey explained. “We obviously have to operate within a really stringent government-set Covid event plan.” Last year, MFF ran a hybrid physical and digital event. And while this year’s festival will place greater emphasis on in-person experiences, there’s no going back to a time when digital was just an afterthought, Lewsey said. “Digital runways aren’t necessarily new, they’ve been around for a decade or so, but there’s a better understanding of how to do really good SEO around digital presentations and how to promote them through social media to get that incredible amplification, which really wasn’t possible or thought about as a focus area pre-pandemic,” he said. Supporting emerging designers In addition to underwriting part of the cost of MFF, PayPal has also waived the fees for brands to participate in the event, and created a number of bursaries for rising independent designers. “It is so critical to give them support, so that in five, 10 years’ time, we have more thriving, exciting designers coming through the system and being heard and seen – not just nationally, but internationally,” Lewsey said. But while PayPayl’s financial contribution is important for MFF, the partnership is about more than just the dollar signs. As a global fintech company, PayPal also brings a level of technological expertise and innovation that will be critical in the fashion industry going forward, Lewsey said. “It’s what our industry needs right now – for someone to recognise – and actually have the toolbox to assist with – the pathway between creativity and consumption,” he said. “I really do think we’re on the precipice of a completely new era.” One example of this is NFTs, a topic that Lewsey is passionate about. “At first, people really struggled to get their heads around NFTs, but we’re gravitating towards them. They’re part of the virtual programme,” he said, referring to Myami, a digital fashion brand founded by Australian designer Brad Morris that is showing at MFF. Focusing on the customer Another benefit of the fashion festival’s partnership with PayPal is the opportunity it creates for brands and designers to reach new customers. In Australia alone, more than 9 million people use the digital payment platform. Globally, the number is 400 million. “What does it mean for David Jones and Country Road to participate in this festival? What does it mean for designers like Ginger & Smart and Victoria + Woods? We’re potentially exposing them to millions of fashion consumers they’ve never spoken to before,” Lewsey said. “That’s the sort of thing that our creatives and these small businesses really need right now.” MFF has always been about driving sales for the brands and designers that appear on its runways. While traditional fashion weeks in New York, London and Milan historically have catered to industry professionals and select fashion media, the event in Melbourne has proudly been consumer-focused from the start. “[MFF] was set up to be an economic stimulus for the retail sector and get consumers excited and knowledgeable about the new seasons as they drop in stores,” Lewsey said. Recent years have seen other events adopt a similarly inclusive approach in a bid to stay relevant in the age of social media. “The rest of the world has caught up with the [Melbourne] fashion festival,” he said.