Pisco is one of the promoters of a new European association of fashion designers and she wants to claim the role of independent designers in front of consumers and institutions in the continent.
Fashion design joins forces in Europe. A group of national associations of fashion designers have come together to create a new European organization, United Fashion Europe. The goal? To communicate the role of the sector in the economy of the continent and, in the future, also act as a lobby in Brussels. One of its promoters is Alexandra Pisco, founder of the consulting firm Pisco&Co. and former managing director of Maisons de Mode. Pisco defends that “politicians do not understand the fashion business” and that is why an organization that makes visible and defends the role of this sector is necessary. “One of our benchmarks is the organic food industry; today people explain to you in detail where the chicken comes from but then they don’t know where their clothes are made, ” she says.
Mds: Why did you decided to create a European design association now?
Alessandra Pisco: This project began in 2014, when the MadBrussels platform decided to organize the European Fashion Summit to bring together federations, platforms and incubators from all over Europe. Most of us shared the same problems, and the goal was to see what we could do to help each other. One day, in a talk the LVMH lobby and the Kering lobby came as guests, and we thought, here are all the big groups but there is nothing for independent brands! In Brussels, at European level, there is no one to defend the interests of independent fashion companies.
Mds: How did the project begin to take shape?
AP: We met annually and in 2017 we started working on the project to create a European association for independent fashion. To move forward, we organized smaller groups, and on Saturday, September 28, we all meet to announce that we have already created the legal entity.
Mds: What is the profile of the members?
AP: In a first phase we work with federations, associations and platforms of different types, but the idea is that in a second phase we will open to private independent fashion companies. The goal is to help federations of each country to help the brands they represent. When a new European regulation comes out, for example, how do you get to a small company in Poland or Spain?
“I’m tired of talking to people who explain to me in detail where does the chicken that they are going to eat comes from and then wears an H&M shirt”
Mds: Is becoming a lobby the next step?
AP: It is our ambition. First to be able to communicate at European level and represent the rights of our associates, and then become a lobby. But the main thing is to be a unique voice to educate the public about the importance of this sector.
Mds: Who are your benchmarks?
AP: I always give the example of organic food. It’s amazing how this industry has done its job, getting people to think twice before buying. I’m tired of talking to people who explain to me in detail where does the chicken that they are going to eat comes from and then wears an H&M shirt. Also, there is an impression that independent design is super expensive. Yes, maybe it is more expensive than a fast fashion garment, but instead of buying five jackets per year you buy two or three. We are not against large groups, but there has to be room for everyone. For a basic economic principle: an economy that does not have small and medium enterprises is not a healthy economy. We cannot end only with large groups of cheap clothes or expensive clothes. It is also not good for creativity.
Mds: Do national design associations have a strong voice in the industry?
AP: It is something that depends a lot on the time. In France, as there is that long tradition, they have enough power, but not as much as we could imagine. This is a daily job, in all countries. In general, politicians and financial institutions do not understand fashion business, so they do not realize how important it is.
Mds: Not even in France?
AP: No. When Emmanuel Macron was Minister of Economy, there was a woman in the Paris City Council who convinced the government to finance a study on the economic impact of fashion in France, from creation to sale. Then, I ran an incubator in France and she came as part of the study, because she analyzed all the support programs that were made. Everyone was impressed with the results: there is more direct and indirect employment in fashion in France than in the aviation industry. And that without calculating the effect of fashion tourism. But aeronautics has immense support from government, political and economic. This happens throughout Europe.
“It’s a risky business, but like many others that banks do help”
Mds: What is unique about this sector that needs its own association?
AP: There is a very clear example. In France, to put the label ‘made in France’ it is only necessary that 30% be made in France. Large companies do very well, but most of the small ones that use the label have made everything in France. Law dilutes the importance of the label and the consumer knows it. Maybe if we had more representation that percentage could have been set not at 60%, but maybe at 40%.
Mds: Will the United Kingdom be part of this initiative, now that its leaving the European Union?
AP: When we started talking about this, we were approached by one of the best incubators in Europe, which is in London. We are also talking with the British Fashion Council. For my part, why not. If you want to be part, go ahead. We have also talked to a platform in Zurich to help Swiss designers. They are not European Union, but they are Europe. We leave politics to others; we are interested in business and fashion.
Mds: To be acquired by LVMH or Kering is the only way to grow for an independent designer?
AP: Right now, it is almost impossible to grow without a large group. And that is a shame. For a bank to finance a fashion brand, it is super complicated, because they do not understand the business model of the sector. It is a risky business, but like many others that banks do help. They perceive it as a huge risk. One of the things we would like to do is find investment groups and banks and explain the business, so they understand well what we do.
“We are not against large groups, but there has to be room for everyone because an economy that does not have small and medium-sized businesses is not a healthy economy.”
Mds: Is the problem that the industry Is perceived as frivolous?
AP: Yes. We were with that woman who did the study in France and there were two very young designers who asked why she believed that fashion was not taken seriously. She looked at them and said: “Because most people who work in fashion are gay women and men.” Look at the time of the dotcom. No one understood and they did not earn a penny, but they put money because someone had told them that this was serious.
Mds: Are there prejudices?
AP: Without a doubt. Between financing an application that is still under development and a fashion brand that grows 30%, they choose the app. They are looking for those keywords.