I've recently been invited to join a FB group to critique Phoenix Fashion Week. I'm honored that I was chosen to join because it is reserved for "fashion industry professionals" only. However, I have been hesitant to comment for a number of reasons. As many people know, I'm heavily involved in Scottsdale Fashion Week. However, I do have a great appreciation for Phoenix Fashion Week because the two events are actually very different. I would totally be involved in PFW if I had more time. But, I only have time for one fashion week so I chose SFW because they were very receptive and open to my suggestions and because I live in Scottsdale. So, instead of writing out a lengthy reply on FB, I have decided to put my reply here in my new blog. This way I have the room to really express my thoughts. These are thoughts that have been mulling around in my brain for almost a decade now because I've been so heavily involved in all things fashion related in Arizona. About 10 years ago I co-founded an organization called LabelHorde/Arizona Fashion Foundation that was a directory of all things fashion in AZ and we had an annual event called Fashion Ball where we showed one piece from nearly every designer in town in one show. It was an amazing service for the community and something that should still be around today if it wasn't for the difficulties we faced....which turn out to be the same difficulties that Phoenix Fashion Week and Scottsdale Fashion Week are facing to this day.
In my opinion, it isn’t a good idea to critique fashion in AZ. Our little “industry” is just too new and fragile and still trying to find it's way and it isn’t anything like a real fashion industry for various reasons. AZ doesn’t have fashion industry resources so it isn’t a true fashion industry like NY or LA. We don’t have a garment district and pattern makers, graders, marker makers, production cutters, sewing contractors, fabric mills, marts, etc… so it is difficult to find jobs and grow businesses in fashion here. But, a lot of people from real fashion industries have been transplanted here for one reason or another and are trying desperately to make the best of it. Therefore, the struggle that so many of us face is that we don’t have the resources needed to manufacture real clothing lines. So, instead of giving up on our professions, many of us try to band together with other fashion people by trading services and putting together events and fashion organizations that can help promote ourselves and each other. I’ll refer to these ventures as “community efforts” from here forward. Despite these “community efforts”, there are always those who don’t understand this concept and instead will sit back and complain about the quality instead of offering up their great talent to make it better or they will sit back and complain about not getting paid for their talents and services. The fact is….there ARE some paid jobs in this town and the people who get them are the “real industry professionals” who have paid their dues working in the real industries before moving here and have the resume’s to prove it. There are not enough of these jobs though so to fill in the blanks and make the best of it between these jobs we have the “community events”. These are meant to be vehicles for the industry to pull together and practice their craft (simply for the love of doing it) and to be able to utilize and share talents of other locals in the same boat in order to build their resumes together so that one day they can be in the running for those paid jobs.
The biggest problem that lies within all of this is when the “real industry professionals” sit back and critique the “community efforts” for being poor quality OR when the people participating in the “community efforts” complain about not getting paid. What really needs to happen in order for our “industry” to grow and prosper is that instead of complaining about the poor quality, the “real industry professionals” need to get involved in the "community efforts" so they can help raise the quality. And everyone needs to understand the important role that the “community efforts” have and not sit back and complain about not being paid. No one should really get paid in “community efforts” (except maybe the person fronting the money to start it or a coordinator who makes it a full time job and works on it for months). Everyone showing work, modeling, styling, etc... should be trading services so they can practice their craft together and help showoff the talents in AZ.
I am speaking from experience. The purpose in LabelHorde/Arizona Fashion Foundation was so that everyone working in the local industry could come together and share talents and celebrate our industry by collaborating on photo shoots for the directory and putting on one big show together. Unfortunately, instead of being able to provide this service for the community, we spent most of our time trying to convince “industry professionals” why they should come together and join in and why it wasn’t a paid job and why it was FOR THEM. Models, hair stylists and makeup artists were constantly complaining how they weren’t getting paid to be in the directory or the big show. What they didn’t understand is that no one was getting paid. Not even the co-founders who dedicated 40+hours a week to provide this service simply for the love of it and so that the world could see that there was a talented fashion industry in AZ. They didn’t understand the concept of bonding together and offering their services to each other to partner up and put on an amazing spectacle for the benefit of our own industry. So, we eventually closed it down.
I bring this up because that was nearly a decade ago and the same thing has been happening since then. These fashion weeks should be “community efforts”. But instead, the “real fashion industry” people don’t participate in PFW because they think the quality is bad when they should really be stepping in and making it better. And SFW has tried so hard to make the event all about quality so that it doesn’t earn a poor quality reputation, but in order to achieve that quality without the “real fashion industry” people stepping in to donate their time, SFW has to pay its participants. It must come up with so much money. In order to pay all of these participants, it must have huge sponsors (which ultimately means it must let those sponsors have a say in the visuals and the coordination of the shows…which makes the shows less creative and more corporate) and it must charge higher ticket prices. So, because of lack of effort on the community, it can only survive by being driven by the sponsor's vision.
Both scenarios are difficult and are really just a lack of understanding from the fashion community and it’s so sad that the local fashion industry doesn’t appreciate that these cool events exist. Instead, everyone sits back and complains about everything. It’s no wonder we still haven’t really made any progress toward a real industry in a decade of working toward it. As for me…I quit LH/AFF for these reasons and I swore off this local industry vowing to just work on my own line and “forget everyone else”. But my passion for my craft keeps me coming back. I donate my time to many events and organizations including SFW. I have showed in SFW for years and I have volunteered my time for years to help find a way to get the community more involved. But, it is so hard to continually convince people of why they should come together and donate their time instead of asking for a pay check. These issues are putting the future of these events at risk. We already lost LH/AFF, I've lost my motivation too. If we lose the fashion week events will everyone be happy then?
The solution: If you are one of those talented “real industry professional”, you are probably getting those few jobs that actually do pay already so stop complaining first of all. And when you are approached by a "community effort" style event why not just pay it forward and donate your great talents to the local industry that needs you instead of complaining about the poor quality. If you all did that we could raise the quality and therefore generate even more industry jobs for everyone. And if you are approached to participate in an event or opportunity that doesn’t pay that you feel isn’t really a “community effort” type of event and more for the benefit of a single company and you feel totally raped and taken advantage of because someone dared to ask you to do it for free…all you need to do is politely decline and let the students or emerging talents who do need experience have the job instead. It’s that simple. No one needs to be getting all butt hurt about being asked to work for free. I get asked all of the time to put my clothing in random shows (probably about twice a week). People don’t realize that it is very tough to whip up new items for shows and when you put the same clothes in too many shows they get ruined and they get seen too much and then you get the fashion bloggers complaining about that too! I could easily start to feel used and abused like the models and stylists, but instead I realize there is an opportunity for someone else and I kindly decline and refer them to designers who may need more exposure or practice. And if it is a show that seems like a “community effort” that would really benefit the community as a whole (like Fashion Week) I say yes. It’s so simple.
Instead of complaining and critiquing…let’s join together and create a quality industry.