Use Local Fashion to Drive Economic Growth in Your City.
I recently came across a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on the geographic importance of New York's Garment District to it's local fashion scene.
While now much smaller in size and statue than in its glory days, it continues to serve as a creative hub that enables the success of the many local designers who frequent it when preparing for New York's fashion week. The success of New York Fashion Week then trickles down and feeds the rest of the fashion industry and stimulates the local economy. In the article, HBR's study attempts to validate the effects of a thriving local fashion district on the success of the designers who frequent it.
HBR concludes that specific location is not as important as the existence of the hub itself, in helping the local designers to network and build products for the rest of the country and globe.
And they aren't the only one looking at this. American designers themselves are also realizing that innovation in the fashion industry needs to be nurtured: new fabrics, new processes and new technologies. The local fashion industry creates a lot of jobs and revenue, because clothing is the fabric of life (pun intended). New York's Mayor is also realizing this and making the most of it.
I couldn't help but wonder: would a more active local fashion industry help the people of Toronto? and by that measure, other cities in Canada?
Toronto's Fashion District (West of Queen West & Spadina) has largely succumb to the same economic and social forces as that of its global kins. What was once a bustling area, is now still active, but definitely lacklustre when it comes to fostering the local fashion industry. It's still a good source for resources when needed, but could the city's designers, people and industry benefit from further investment in it? The answer seems to be "yes".
A more active fashion district would provide better support to local designers to grow their talent, potential and business. This in turn would allow local citizens to purchase more locally made goods, many of which are made for the local landscape and climate.
How big of an impact can the fashion industry make on the local economy?
The answer is: A Big One. Six million fellow Torontonians spend about $3,816 per household on clothing each year. That means $5.8 billion leaves the city annually, because most Torontonians aren't buying locally produced clothes. Huge numbers right?
A healthy local fashion industry would allows us to improve the city's job market and infrastructure, and would support growth in our local economy. Shopping the international brands at the mall fuels the economic growth of other countries and cities and makes us dependent on them. Toronto prides itself in its rich tapestry of local design talent. So why aren't we doing more to help the cause?
We've got a massive opportunity to build quality products for ourselves, and improve the local economy and create many, many local jobs while doing so! Clothing is a necessity to life. We aren't going to stop dressing up everyday. How is this not a part of anyone's political campaign?
We've made the connection between local food and our economy. We need to make the connection between better local fashion and our economy.
It doesn't have to be difficult.
Sure, we don't have an unlimited amount of funding to support all industries. We've got to see things more holistically by establishing fruitful networks and support systems that allow each local industry to develop and grow, instead of over- or under-investing in any given industry. New York is investing $15M in support networks and collaborative spaces. It's not pledging billions, but what it is doing is seeing its fashion designers as business people, and the local industry as a huge labour market.
Building sharing economies seems to be a cost-effective and sustainable way to move us all ahead because it allows us to use limited resources to build collaborative models and support systems that help industries and small businesses grow. Both governments and businesses needs to embrace this.
While in business school some years ago, I learned that North America's future is that of information and service-based industries, selling knowledge and ideas. The manufacturing of goods and materials would move to developing countries who were still growing and establishing their trade economies. This would supposedly help them prosper.
The more that I think about this, the more that I realize this extreme thinking just doesn't make sense.
This outdated thinking feels very much like the old-world industrial era, where workers are put into assembly lines and made to do one thing based on need and efficiency. Everyone in Cambodia shall make shirts. Everyone in Canada shall survive on natural resources. Anyone working outside their local 'chosen' industry - good luck finding support and funding! Dare I say, this approach to global capitalism and economic policy has always seemed self-limiting, isolating and weirdly socialist to me.
This theory assumes that all people are the same; want to do the same things and work in the same way. How can we still hope to build societies and industries that fit people into economic 'boxes' based on their country of domicile? And what happens when we become too dependent on other countries for basic goods?
What about human creativity? And an understanding of inspiration and the creative process itself? Innovation and creativity does not bow to such standardized thinking. In my experience, creativity and innovation stands on the legs of diversity. The creative process demands proximity to play. New fabrics and processes are developed while working closely with the production team, with agility and feedback.
We've encouraged the pendulum to swing to economic extremes. We've over-engineered against human nature.
We really need to embrace local economies rich in diversity and complexity, with industries and businesses big and small, ultimately driven by the talent of people who are truly free and encouraged to follow their dreams, talents and passions.
Humans encouraged to do their individual best - whatever that is - are best able to reach their potential, which in turn, optimizes the prosperity of their locals and other markets.
Investing in local sharing economies supports several different micro-economies, and builds collaboration and creativity which can power the city's sustainable growth, diversity and innovation.
When I look at the instability of the markets and the economy, it becomes undeniably clear to me that it's people who will turn things around for their towns and cities. By believing in our selves, our crafts, and our causes, we underpin the growth of the local economy by nurturing the power of human potential. The sharing economy is a platform to do a great many things for all local industries in a cost-effective way.
It's time to change the dynamics of the local fashion industry.
Both governments and citizens need to realize the potential of the local market, and must work in creative ways to establish hubs incentivized to sell locally.
I'm not saying that we should only produce and wear locally made clothes.
I am saying that we have a huge economic opportunity on the table: to strike a better balance between our accessibility to local and globally produced goods, and by doing so, to improve our economic resilience, independence and boost local growth.
Where and how carefully do you want to spend your money?
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