LONDON — Stephanie Phair is getting straight down to business in her new role as chair of the British Fashion Council with plans to give London’s creatives some commercial firepower and to face the challenges of Brexit and a fast-changing industry.
London has always been the city with the top fashion schools and creative talent and a breeding ground for international trendsetters. It’s also a difficult place to set up an international, sustainable fashion business.
Phair has arrived at a difficult time for the industry, with the government’s Brexit plans in limbo, a weaker pound weighing on foreign costs and sourcing, and a marketplace that’s clogged with merchandise — and competition.
With her background in marketing, business and digital, Phair, who is chief strategy officer for the soon-to-be public fashion marketplace Farfetch, has some very clear ideas about what she wants to do.
She’s looking at securing more private funding for the BFC, supporting emerging and mature brands, and bringing the investment community closer to the designers so they can have a better shot at building long-term businesses.
“It’s about how we can create a strong, sustainable industry that can really be ready for the investment community and that can grow and scale. It’s about creating new investment opportunities and stronger relationships,” said Phair, who was named to the post in May and succeeds Natalie Massenet in the role.
“I feel particularly strongly that it can’t just be the really young designers [who get the support], but that we have to look further down the line at businesses that have been around for many years and that need that help and push to get to the next level.”
Phair is former president of The Outnet, Net-a-porter’s off-season site, and began her digital commerce career heading Portero, the first pre-owned luxury marketplace. Early in her career she worked on the business side of American Vogue with initiatives such as the launch of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion fund and the annual Metropolitan Costume Institute Gala.
She believes the continuing mission of the BFC is to position British fashion on the global stage, and to demonstrate why it is a valuable export and one that is all about creativity and innovation. British fashion, she said, is not just for a domestic market but for the international one, too.
Phair will be traveling to China soon with David Beckham, who earlier this year was named ambassadorial president of the BFC. As reported, Beckham will be hosting events in China and the U.S. and unlocking his global network to convene support for the BFC.
As part of its international ambitions, the BFC also has a new partner in VIP.com, its first Chinese sponsor. On Thursday, VIP.com and the BFC staged a multibrand runway presentation ahead of London Fashion Week, which starts today.
The show put the spotlight on four designers: A Life on The Left, Bailuyu, Kisscat and Mukzin, and the aim of the partnership is to promote Chinese talent in the U.K. and U.K. talent in China.
Phair said she’d like to see more of these long-term partnerships and will also be seeking more private money in a world where securing government funding is a challenge.
She also plans to tear a page out of the tech funding playbook and bring the investment community closer to the fashion one. She said she wants to work toward understanding how to create a “an investment ecosystem around our businesses, and how we can ensure that we are really supporting and helping these designer businesses throughout the entire life journey.”
She wants to help British brands reach a global audience, do cross-border shipping, or move into the U.S. or Chinese markets.
Phair is braced for more Brexit drama, too, and agreed that the fashion industry will be impacted in myriad ways by the U.K.’s exit from Europe next spring.
“The BFC has always had a direct line to government. It has been — and still is — a channel and a conduit to raise some of the most urgent topics of the industry. Fashion is a particularly challenging industry to tackle when it comes to Brexit because it’s an industry that requires free movement of goods and people and services. If something works for the fashion industry, it should work for a lot of the other service industries and industries that focus on the arts.”
She’ll be focusing on digital, which “should be used as an opportunity, a tool, an enabler, something to be used positively.”
Earlier this week the BFC unveiled a joint partnership with tech companies including Google and Holition that will take place during the five-day fashion showcase.
Blossoming Fashion Conversation will show, via colorful graphics, the number of posts and the reach of a series of LFW-related topics on social media and other digital outlets. Topics will include sustainability, model health, luxury and streetwear climates, designer and production heritage, emerging talent, diversity in the industry and overall innovation.
The BFC said it is looking to educate the LFW audience about the event’s global reach.
There are many battles to be fought, and Phair said she’s up for the challenge.
“I’ve always embraced change, and I think that now the fashion industry in particular is going through shifting times. They can be seen as challenges or disruption or the old world going away, but they also can be seen as opportunities and white space to do something entirely new — and I love that.
“I think that a lot of these changes have to do with the rise of digital and consumer behavior. I think that’s something where, personally, I can bring something to the table. I can mix elements of my career and can help to set guidance and strategy – and hopefully bring an industry together to try to navigate these changing waters.”