Posts Tagged ‘niche markets’

Theories on Vancouver’s fashion industry

August 24, 2009

One of my daily reads, The Business of Fashion, came out with a post earlier this month, Vancouver’s new Fashion Cycle. I thought, cool, an article about Vancouver and fashion! Turns out the article had slightly more to do with lifestyle than solely fashion, but put a lot out there for me to think about. As part of my program, we have to design a collection in 4th year based off a niche market. In other words, we can’t just design what we “feel like” designing – we have to prove that there is a viable market and an underserved niche. A few years ago, this may seem more like a hindrance to students who think that all they want to design are pretty dresses for “real women”, and by real women, they are thinking women who look and dress like celebrities and socialites. When I first applied to the program almost 4 years ago, the concept of a niche market was foreign to me, a criteria for a school project, at best.

There is a lot to say and observe when it comes to Vancouver’s fashion scene, one that I think links a lot more to lifestyle than the traditional fashion capitals do. Vancouver seems to be starting to make an appearance on the list of “hot” cities on the international cultural who’s-who and what’s what. We’re young and have so much to build on, with tons of creative energy. What I’ve really noticed is lacking are the resources to really harness that creativity and create a strong industry base that could rival New York or London or even Toronto or Montreal (though organizations like Fashion West, formerly Apparel BC, and Fashion High are bravely trying to change that around). We don’t have a centralized location for apparel businesses. You can’t just walk out the door of a fashion company and pop down the street to look at fabrics or get retail inspiration. Everything is so spread apart in this city. I guess that’s because our infrastructure was built primarily before we even had an apparel industry to speak of. Our main purpose as a city is its convenience as a port location between North America and Asia – we weren’t built for manufacturing, we were built around trade. Of course, out of that comes what we are known for now: our beautiful landscape and natural environment. Though, when it comes down to it, what we have is, in my mind, not that unique. We’ve just marketed it well and as a city, have the right balance between an urban setting and a natural, clean, fresh environment, all due in part because of the fact that we are not a very large city in the grand scope of things. And because of this, we’re just the right size to be able to take on the new creative model. And this all leads to my theory, that we are well poised to become a big player in the fashion world not by competing with the traditional model of a fashion capital, but by paving the way for a new one: one that makes sense for the new knowledge economy focusing on holistic aspects of living, not just aesthetics. Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver, is a big advocate of not only sustainability, but creativity as well:

“A world-class city needs to foster entrepreneurial and artistic creativity, and attract innovators from all sectors around the world. It’s time we ditched the red-tape, ‘no-fun city’ label and embraced a culture of creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation, to help our artistic and small-business sectors thrive in a competitive economy.”

I’m interested in how Vancouver’s fashion industry will play out as this city makes strides forward where many cities have already plateaued. Our fashion industry is not at all big, but yet, we have many internationally recognized companies based out of here. As the article on BOF pointed out, there is huge potential for a niche market in lifestyle apparel for fashionable cyclists in the city. It’s interesting how Vancouver was singled out for this – as I was saying, we are seen as a fresh city with room to grow, and our international presence is about to get bigger with the 2010 Olympics slated to take the city in just a short 6 months.

I am excited to see Vancouverites making a splash on the fashion scene through innovative ways of looking at design, fashion, lifestyle, and marketing. Fashionable cyclist wear is one idea, but there are so many others to be dug up in this city that have to potential to percolate internationally. Plus, the only fashion degree program west of Toronto has as part of its criteria that the 4th year collections be based off a niche market. It’s not just a coincidence; someone was smart, and recognized that doing this was crucial in moving Vancouver fashion forward and creating careers in a city that isn’t known for Veras, Calvins, and Karls. I myself am examining niche markets in deciding my market and vision for my grad collection. Hmm, hmm, food for thought!

Phase One: Identifying Niche Market

June 2, 2009

Kwantlen’s fashion design program requires as the focus of the 4th year, the research, design, and production of a line based on a niche market. The 2009 fashion show featured markets such as commuting businessmen, apparel for dog walkers, and business wear for short, Asian men. Traditionally, I have seen niche markets more commonly identified through demographics, statistics that can easily be quantified. However, I have always been more fascinated with psychographics as a starting point that affects and is affected by the likely demographics of a population.

In preparing for September, where we will start researching and presenting our chosen niche markets, I have already started to identify and narrow down what niche market I want to work with, which would fulfill the following criteria:

A) Align with my future career goals

B) Accurately represent what sector of the industry I want to work within

C) Challenge my current skillset

D) Have runway impact

E) Have real world relevancy

I have thrown out several ideas over the past few months, but there is a particular market that is close to me, and that seems to have taken a life of its own since I started noticing it. This new market can best be defined as the creative class. If you know about social trends, then you probably know about the creative class. A Whole New Mind is a book that urges people to move forward into the conceptual age. This movement is one that fascinates and resonates with me.

Not only that, but there is an extremely viable niche market here in terms of apparel needs that are not being met. Why? Traditionally, it is only people within extremely creative industries that can wear fashion-forward clothing – that typically means people who work within the fashion industry. Over and over again, I am noticing the differences between how the average person dresses and how fashion people dress. And then I thought, what is the point of making great clothes if only the people who work within your same industry can wear these clothes (otherwise, they must be a socialite). The rise of the creative class has given way to a great new sector of the market – people who have creative tendencies and appreciate well-made unique pieces, but who have the desire for functionality and practicality (something most fashion people overlook).

This group of people (designers, artists, writers, scientists, technologists, engineers) are fascinated with possibility and novelty, but need clothes that work for their everyday lives. They are mindful of details that add extra value to garment because their lives are all about appreciating innovation. Creative people make connections before the rest of us can – they can easily see how art melds into science, how design can be holistic. This market is underserved, where the rest of the consumer world is primarily overserved. We have fashion for fashionistas, and career clothes for people who work in corporate environments, yet we do not have anything that blends both and does it seamlessly. I can think of some RTW collections that would appeal to this market, however, I am looking to create a company that serves this market completely, rather than as an afterthought or by accident.

I always think of scientists who dress poorly or blandly (as that is pretty much the stereotype, and one that rings mostly true, I think), and the reason why probably has something to do with the fact that they are too busy to think about how to dress, they think fashion is superficial and dare not waste time thinking about it, and/or their creative minds look beyond simply aesthetics and therefore, they find it hard to fall in love with clothes, which, for the most part, are uninspiring. But, they have the capacity to appreciate and understand innovation, and the way to make it accessible is by making it functional and wearable, and thinking holistically about design.

This is a very rough description of the market I am identifying as my chosen niche market. Lots more research will be done over the next few months so that I know this market inside out. But I have my start, and here it is!