#CNILux: Stefan Siegel On Authentic Radicalism

If the CNI Luxury Conference drives anything home, it’s that when forward-thinking minds come together, great things can happen. Futurist Sophie Hackford is one of those minds, and following her rousing session on the digital universe this morning, Stefan Siegel closed the day by showing how, through future thinking, his company Not Just A Label is providing a platform for the fashion designers of the future.

One of the key principles, is to give power back to the creative. When selling direct to consumer, Not Just A Label (NJAL) has a standard 70/30 per cent profit split in the designer’s favour – a detail that has been implemented since day one, when Siegel discovered that designers were being left with a mere five per cent profit when selling through third parties. It’s a model that designers – especially emerging ones – are increasingly adopting, and one of the most transparent insights Siegel revealed was that when NJAL conducted a survey among emerging designers on its platform as to how they were approaching sales, 91 per cent said that they are selling direct. More interesting than that, an overwhelming proportion said that taking up a spot in the Paris Fashion Week tradeshow rooms (traditionally where designers go to attract buyers) “would be a waste of time and not a viable selling option” any longer.

For an industry currently in flux when it comes to the divisive see-now, buy-now model, the shift in seasons, and the ever-revolving musical chairs of fashion brand CEOs and creative directors, these are sobering statistics that will give food for thought to established houses. And, they’ll no doubt provide a source of inspiration for emerging designers – who hold the power according to Siegel.

“Businesses of the past have not placed individuals first,” said Siegel. “Industries such as luxury, I hate to say, have become antiquated and selfish.”

The key in making it a reality is transparency, said Siegel, who strongly believes “the key players in luxury are independent brands and emerging designers.” Through NJAL, he has established numerous initiatives and created retail events that practice what he preaches: putting the designer first. A pop-up shop at the Waldorf Hotel (which, incidentally, paid NJAL to take the space, rather than the other way around) was a sellout and netted the designers involved a neat $20,000 each to use to develop their businesses in the following months. The company’s ambitious Origin, Passion and Beliefs project saw it promote the concept of slow fashion, and partnered 100 designers from around the world with 100 of Italy’s manufacturers – reconnecting creativity on every level; and an airport-sized shop popped up in the Dubai Design District soon after, featuring 400 designers from all over the world (again NJAL got paid to take the space) and attracting 21,000 people in the opening weekend. It is all, Siegel said, about establishing “honest and less wasteful supply chains” – encouraging new talent and rescuing the culture and expertise that already exists.

“Digital and tech will shoot us back by 100 years but also back to the future,” said Siegel. “We are creating a system where the creator can sell directly – this was happening 100 years ago, but somehow has been forgotten.”

But it’s more of a 360-degree approach than just sorting out the supply chains. Mindful luxury is also about giving the designers space to create, said Siegel.

“Independent designers tell us that they can work from anywhere – with a great idea and a laptop, a designer can inspire globally,” said Siegel. “They want to live in cities where they don’t need to compare themselves to other designers all the time. They want to live in cities where they can make mistakes – this is so important, we must create scenarios where designers can make mistakes.”

Calling on CEOs and big businesses to wake up to the demands of the designers of the future, Siegel told the gathered delegates to take note. “Data is the new oil. Whether you like it or not, you have to accept that data will change your business.”

He also asked them to remember that there is a straightforward way to achieve authenticity and connect with customers: “A brand can show authenticity if it stands up for what it’s selling,” he said, adding that it is possible to change, brands just have to want to.

“We need to be more transparent and the only way to make people care is to tell the full story,” closed Siegel. “Changing the world is not an option, it is an obligation – at least to try.”