For decades, Los Angeles has been the powerhouse behind California’s creative economy with its expansive movie studios, TV production facilities, architectural firms and fashion companies accounting for 15 percent of the state’s economy.
California’s creative economy took a few steps back during the pandemic, but it quickly recuperated by adopting new technology. In 2021, this statewide sector directly generated nearly $507.4 billion in revenue and produced 7.6 percent of California’s jobs, according to the latest annual “Creative Economy” report presented Friday in downtown Los Angeles by the Otis College of Art and Design.
This was the 16th year that Otis College’s “Creative Economy” report calculated what effect creativity has on the state. Newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass was on hand to give the opening remarks about the importance of the creative economy, of which she is very familiar: Her son and daughter-in-law attended Otis College and now are toy designers.
“This city stirs the soul of the world with our movies, music, architecture and fine art,” she said. “And Otis is critical to that creative power. As creative people, you all know the power of art and design.”
Following her remarks was a synopsis of the 161-page report covering five categories: entertainment, fine and performing arts, architecture, fashion, and creative goods and products.
Most categories are growing, but the fashion industry, with 63.6 percent of the state’s fashion and apparel manufacturing jobs located in Los Angeles, continues to struggle. Fashion employment in the state has shrunk 13 percent, from 72,135 jobs in 2018 to 62,671 in 2021.
Many jobs disappeared in manufacturing, which accounted for more than 60 percent of the state’s apparel employment. But gig jobs in fashion, which include graphic designers, fashion designers and stylists, rose slightly, from 7,187 in 2018 to 8,240.
“I think technology is going to open up a lot of new opportunities [in fashion],” said Adam Fowler, the founding partner of CVL Economics, which produced the economic report. “What we can do is empower [fashion] entrepreneurs who are moving into digital spaces.”
Moving into digital spaces includes creating 3D designs that can be quickly executed with the right measurements and sent by computer to a manufacturer. It means more fashion shows held in the metaverse. Recently BCBGMaxAzria debuted a metaverse fashion show online with avatars instead of models showing a recent eveningwear collaboration with stylist Maeve Reilly. In 2020, Balenciaga built a video game to display its collection, and everyone could play along.
“Gaming technology is opening up a whole new world. If you go to the film studios’ backlots, it’s not just props that are mothballed back there. It’s fashion,” Fowler said. “Like the Jedi costume I would like to have a copy of. In the old days, we wouldn’t be able to digitize that and translate that over to different mediums. Now we can.”
Technology was the underlying theme to this year’s creative economy report, and it is being quickly adopted by the entertainment industry, the largest of the state’s creative sectors.
Entertainment, encompassing the massive film and gaming industries, employed 1.13 million people in California in 2021, compared with a little more than 1 million in 2018. More than half those jobs are located in Los Angeles County, where big studios including Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount Studios, Universal Studios and a host of TV production companies are located. Entertainment contributed to 81.5 percent of the $507.4 billion the creative economy generated for the state’s revenue in 2021.
It is also the industry adapting a host of technology programs to make movies, create video games and incorporate virtual reality. “The next few years will present a sea change for the creative economy as new tools for developing and distributing creative content continue to proliferate at an accelerated rate,” the report said.
Video games have become a valuable U.S. export. In 2021, U.S. video game exports skyrocketed 54 percent over 2017. It is no coincidence that Activision Blizzard, a big gaming company, is located in Los Angeles. It is the force behind the popular “Call of Duty” series of video games, and also is the target of a takeover bid by Microsoft that is facing scrutiny from global antitrust authorities.
Video game technology is making inroads far beyond the gaming community. It is being used at the opera, on virtual backlots and on fashion runways.
Pelle Sjoenell, the chief creative officer for Activision Blizzard, participated in a gaming panel following the economic report’s unveiling. For the last year, he said, his company has been working with Otis College’s fashion design students to use “Call of Duty” and other game characters as their inspiration to create clothing designs, create avatars and have them walk down a virtual runway.
“Obviously there is a juxtaposition between games and fashion,” he said. “To see the crossover and the blurring of lines is an opportunity to expose young diverse talent to a new opportunity.”