On the heels of the Fall/Winter 2016 shows, London-based publication, i-D, sat down with Guram Gvasalia – CEO of Paris-based "it" brand, Vetements. Gvasalia, who boasts a background is in international business, management and law, spoke to the problems plaguing the fashion industry, his advice for young designers, and how he and has brother - Vetements and Balenciaga creative director, Demna Gvasalia - plan to revolutionize the fashion system. Here are some of the most striking excerpts from the conversation ...
On what needs to change in the way the fashion system has been working in recent years: Complexity. The fashion system has become unnecessarily complicated. 'Supply meets demand' is the basic rule of business that the whole industry seems to completely neglect. Overproduction is a huge issue. If something goes on sale it means it was overproduced and the overall supply needs to be reduced due to the lack of demand. Reducing the supply means reducing the turnover and making investors unhappy.
One of the ways to keep investors happy is to create artificial markets. There are dozens of amazing stores located in villages or small towns in Italy that have turnovers of €70-100 million a year. The merchandise goes straight to the black market and is being resold in Asia.
The second scenario is opening dozens of mono-brand stores and selling to them directly as much merchandise as possible to increase the general turnover, regardless of whether the final consumer will ever make a purchase or not. To sum it up the scary reality of the industry today it's that two thirds of all the official numbers we read about are not real.
On the need to disrupt the traditional fashion schedule (think: starting this June, the brand will merge women's and menswear and show only two annual collections): Today retailers spend seventy to eighty percent of their budgets on pre-collections. Main collections become less relevant. The reason for that is the delivery cycle. If production goes smoothly the collection shown in March gets delivered by the end of July. Different circumstances delay full deliveries to September or October, as factories go on holiday in August.
The US retailers start sales right after Thanksgiving. Therefore main collections spend an average of eight weeks on the shop floors, in comparison to the 24 weeks the pre-collections sit there. Hence, bringing the main collections from March back to January will result in earlier deliveries and an extension of product shelf life by an additional sixteen weeks, or four months.
On limiting availability: Stores cannot buy more than ten pairs of jeans and Italian stores are not allowed to buy more than four pieces of jersey in one style. In November, Barney's asked us what the minimum for the order was. And I said: there’s no minimum, but there’s a maximum. And they said that no one ever speaks about maximum [...] Once it’s sold out, it’s sold out. We had hoodies from the first season that sold out super quickly and we had thousands of requests to make the hoodies again. If we were to, we would probably be able to make a million in a day. It’s out of respect to the people that bought them first that we don’t.
His advice for young designers: Ask yourself why you really want to start your own business. There are so many brands out there; so much clothes. In order to fulfill the wish of becoming a designer, sometimes it's easier just to find a job within an existing brand. In order to start a business one needs to get experience so doing it straight out of school is dangerous. In addition it's important to have a business partner to make a business out of it. Last but not least, you need to put capital in it.
On how consumers can contribute to a healthier fashion industry: Stop buying things you don't need. Start buying clothes you can cherish for years. Go away from fast fashion. Stop looking for bargains. Start looking for quality. Move towards the idea of slow fashion.
[Editor's Note: Gvasalia's thoughts on fast fashion and his inherent suggestion that we move away from season/trend-specific garments ("Start buying clothes you can cherish for years.") are particularly interesting. They should, however, be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism in terms of his actual level of sincerity, as Vetements' most popular offerings to date (think: DHL-logo tees, etc.) have been highly dependent on a traditional model of trends and the regular phasing out of garments in favor of new, more season-specific garments.]
On what luxury means today: What does anything mean today? Scarcity is the real definition of luxury. In today's world of everything and everyone being so easily accessible, unavailability awakens curiosity and wakes everyone up from a state of hibernation. I don’t consider Louis Vuitton to be a luxury brand. Yes, the quality is luxury, but if you can go to the store and get whatever you want, it’s not luxury.