On the last day of Check Point, the venue that welcomed these moments of reflection for action was filled not only with people, but also with the work resulting from the Hackathon which reflected about the Future of Fashion: post-its, ideas and keywords made an environment of sharing and collaboration from the last two days of the event. In a conversation moderated by Vanda Jorge, the guest panel shared experiences and discussed a future that needs to be collaborative.
Joana Lacerda is Head of Business Development at ThePowerHouse, a German consultant that intends to think about textile technology and fashion in the future, and also OFUNDamentO (FNDMT), a Portuguese company based in Porto that wants to contribute to the clothing industry and production of the future. Think about what will be the holiday wardrobe in space ... FNDMT wants to be responsible for this decision.
Paulo Gonçalves is Communication Director of APICCAPS, the association of the Portuguese footwear sector, which navigates (and operates) around the world with the status of the “sexiest industry in Europe”. He also participates in the European Commission's project, “Open Your Mind”, which aims to promote employment in the textile and footwear industry.
Olga Noronha is a jewelry designer and the transversality of her work reaches the most diverse markets, all linked by empathic collaborations; from academic research that links art to science, curating for museums as well of designing luxury items.
Lourenço Thomaz is founder and creative director of the Portuguese advertising agency Partners, which now belongs to the Japanese group, Dentsu. Lourenço recognizes that regardless of the sector, collaboration is essential: both fashion and advertising are made up of ideas and on the road to innovation, joining forces can be the ultimate driver.
“I have no doubt that we can make the collaboration environment more cool and democratized. When everyone works just for themselves, the results take much longer and are poorer; collaboration, on the other hand, allows for continuous learning and improvement. Portugal needs to break free from the culture of wanting to be good, and not wanting the same for our competition, it is a mentality that puts us at a great disadvantage compared to other countries.”
The conversation started with the introduction of the European Commission's project, “Open Your Mind”. Paulo Gonçalves is one of the ambassadors of this mission, which brought together six European countries linked by their legacy and tradition in the field of Fashion, (Portugal, Italy, Spain, Romania, Poland and Germany), in order to find strategies to raise awareness of existing opportunities in the footwear and clothing sector. Currently, more than two million people are employed by European industry, with around 400 thousand employees sharing an average age of 55, creating a growth crisis in the medium term if nothing is done to promote the employability of these sectors. Estimates point to the need for half a million new employees within a decade, and one of the biggest obstacles to this challenge is the existence of a set of stigmas and prejudices related to these sectors, something that Paulo claims to be particularly challenging.
"At some point, I thought that this problem was specifically Portuguese, but it is actually something that has taken on proportions in the whole of industrial Europe; there is no country, more or less relevant, that does not share the same challenges, which is why it is very important to work together, in order to change the perception of this new reality.”
The collaborative spirit of this project is evident in the consideration of the context of each participating country; despite sharing the same roots, the realities are largely different, creating the need to develop a set of actions that fit in all situations.
TECHNOLOGY AND TRADITION
In the search for solutions that strengthen the connection of the traditional textile industry to potential technological advances, Joana recognizes the existence of some challenges based on the classic character of the Fashion sector; innovation continues to be associated with investment in new machines and not simply a break in thinking and mentalities. The future of the industry depends on opening up horizons and recognizing the great reach that Fashion can have, well beyond the usefulness that we attribute to it today. And it was with this desire to pave the way, that Joana and her team started a Kickstarter campaign which aims to trigger a tangible revolution, where everyone will be able to recognize and emotionally identify themselves:
“With the Bauhaus centenary in the background, we decided to celebrate the valuable work of the women who were part of this school and who contributed a lot to what we know today about the textile industry; we invited two artists to create art inspired by the legacy of these women and we transported the result, in the form of patterns, to reprogrammed jacquard machines. The result was fantastic and with these kinds of ideas, what we want to promote is that we can all be creative technologists; if we are not afraid of technology while impeding creation, a new dimension of possibilities will be revealed. In this way, the industry also adapts to the new realities of the present and the future.”
COLLABORATE WITH EMPATHY
With regard to collaboration between different disciplines, Olga's contribution is a prime example. Her works are connected through empathic and fluid relationships, a combination of feeling and naturalness that she plays very much in favor of her long “trips” throughout the industry. The “Medically Prescribed Jewelery” project arises from a family collaboration nurtured by her parents, doctors by profession. Spaces such as outpatient clinics and wards were part of Olga's childhood, who regularly visited not only her parents, but also their patients.
“I quickly started to realize that the success of a surgery and its post-op, had a great deal to do with the relationship that my parents established with their patients. There was something there that mixed emotion, feeling and concern, which combined the useful with the pleasant, and contributed to these strong connections.”
The understanding that between medicine, body modification and jewelry there were great unassumed symbioses, then led to the birth of the project in 2011. Its mission may divide opinions, but it is undoubtedly curious and profound in every way: making the medical surgical act in a more holistic and aesthetic experience, through the personalization of the piece that will be inserted in the patient's body.
“It is clearly a niche project, which responds to a luxury customization market, for the idea of reaching a medical office, and instead of showing the patient the hip prosthesis (which involves a process of rejection of placing a piece metal inside his body), the doctor may first present an alternative where he can set a diamond or engrave a poem visible through X-rays, as if it were an internal tattoo."
Despite working alone, Olga recognizes that the project works today as a catalyst for medical knowledge with bioengineering, dental medicine, orthodontics and biomechanical engineering. Parallel to this project, the designer has just opened an exhibition at the Boutique dos Relógio Plus, on Avenida da Liberdade, also about the “fusion between anatomy and medicine, through usable sculptures.”
“At this moment, I want to embrace the proposals that are made to me and try to fulfill them in the best possible way; I have a degree in Jewelry Design and I usually say that I revolted in the last year of my degree against the intrinsic concept of jewelry; hence I turned to medicine. But suddenly, I have someone asking me to go back to the roots and create a line of high jewelry, which I actually wanted to have done, but lacked the purpose. The seal that a customer like Boutique dos Relógios gives me is something that I couldn't let go of my hands.”
EDUCATE TO COLLABORATE
When we talk about the future of an industry, it is inevitable to focus on the main players of tomorrow: students. One of ThePowerHouse's great missions is that of supporting the teaching environments of Fashion schools and preparing their talents, by raising awareness of the future of the industry.
“I think that the responsibility is also in universities, with regard to this type of discourse. One of the universities we work with is Polimoda, precisely because they came to us, and asked us for help to explain to students what the future of Fashion is. The biggest challenge is to introduce technological language in an industry that is based both on artistic, intellectual and emotional value, so our task is to break this expectation that a Fashion course lives only on its artistic value, at the same time that we show the importance of collaborating with areas of technology and science.”
It is confirmed that the interest in this type of sectors is increasingly established, not only in one way, but also in the opposite way. Giants like Louis Vuitton are currently looking to increase their technological talent, despite the difficulties in hiring. In this sense, Joana tells us that one of the greatest appeals that ThePowerHouse makes to students, is to open their spectrum of connections and look beyond Fashion:
“We ask you to look for friends who study software development, leave a fashion school and try to work at Google or Microsoft, so that they understand what they can do for your industry. It is urgent that we start talking in a global and horizontal way, otherwise the industries will die in pieces.”
If at one extreme, we find schools preparing their students for a future made of new ways of thinking and acting, on the other we find a movement made up of giants who, in their own shadow, collaborate and prepare the first steps of the future. Companies like Google and Apple are currently patenting smart textiles, because they know that the ultimate match between fashion and technology is at hand; devices such as mobile phones will quickly cease to exist as we know them and who knows if they will not be transferred to our clothes, in the name of increasing mobility. For these companies, it doesn't matter if it is to create marketing maneuvers or an exhibition window right now, but when the right time comes, they will be the same ones that will be ready to attack and position themselves in the front line.
APICCAPS' main mission is to elevate the Portuguese footwear industry to the international scene, facilitating the contact of companies with potential customers, through international fairs and strong communication; the association represents not only footwear companies, but also all the small groups that contribute to the final product, such as leather goods. Being well involved in a sector that exports more than 95% of its production to more than 163 countries, Paulo tells us that business trips also result in an exercise in scale and perception.
“We are very small; the average size of a Portuguese footwear company is 33 workers per company, so if we want to export and gain recognition, collaboration is inevitable (...) If we continue to focus on ourselves and only on our reality, it will be very difficult to create new directions, so it is essential to outline a project for the future that encompasses all levels of the industry.”
A result of APICCAPS' international communication work is also Portuguese Soul, a bi-annual publication that has more than 10 years of collaborative work; what is born with the ambition to promote Portuguese footwear in an editorial format, quickly became a crossroads of other sectors.
“We realized that it would be much more advantageous to combine the remaining sectors, clothing and jewelry. Half of the Portuguese designers who present at ModaLisboa today wear Portuguese shoes, thanks to the bridges generated between our companies and the designers. It only makes sense to think of Portuguese Fashion as a whole, otherwise it loses meaning and strength.”
COLLABORATE FOR PURPOSE
We now turn to the world of brands and one of the values that generate the most interest and curiosity today: purpose. Regarding the importance of collaborating with intent, Lourenço leaves no doubt that this is a move of great importance, arguing that any brand that seeks to differentiate its work, will only be able to do so by taking the concept to the maximum. It is necessary to put products at the service of causes, in order to balance support and profit.
“In 2017, Adidas began to collect plastic from the oceans, resulting in the production and sale of three million pairs of sneakers, within three years; we are facing a great example of how to mark a position, create a statement, without losing sight of the profit factor. The brands' agendas will always be behind their actions, and the best way to do this will be by investing their know-how in these same causes.”
Another successful case is that of the outdoor brand Patagonia, which launched a campaign that went against the main vehicle of the industry: consumption. Above the image of a brand jacket, we can read the phrase “Don’t buy this jacket”; below, a series of reasons for not doing so, focused on the great quality of materials and execution of its products, and consequently, on its longevity. In short, Patagonia coats are so good that they span generations, so the purchase of a new product will have to be considered and justified. That same year, the brand quadrupled its profit, not only solidifying its loyal customer, but also introducing itself to new buyers.
At the end of this talk, opinions solidify and questions and answers are exchanged with the audience. Even though collaborating is the practice of the future that needs to be adopted today, Portugal cannot forget to look inside; ideas need to be cherished, because they are so valuable. In response to the ways in which Portugal can mark its position as an innovative and first-mover country, Joana believes that the key lies in demystifying the industry and adapting it to real times. Portugal is already recognized as a country where goods are produced with quality and commitment and that is what currently distinguishes us from other countries; but we must not forget the great wealth that we also have as creatives, and that is not being properly reflected. There is a lack of an organ that reflects abroad, so that we can show the rest of the world what we are making.
Fernanda Torre, facilitator of the Hackathon of this edition of ModaLisboa, helps us to end the discussion with the hypothesis of a future made of new ways of thinking about the present. A (valuable) idea that proposes to leave behind the preconceptions of a small Portugal:
“Portugal needs to let go of this idea that we are small and that we have a weak business fabric; it is necessary to see these circumstances not as limiting their actions, but rather as strengths that are capable of creating solutions adapted to our scale. Like leapfrogging, we can stop being followers, think about the future for ourselves, and start working on it now. We have fantastic people, the country is full of talent and the possibilities are many, so, as a call for action, let's collaborate, think about what we can do for the next 15 years and start putting out flags.”