Q&A: The Business of Fashion’s Imran Amed talks Canadian designers, Facebook shopping and mobile fashion

By Rea McNamara

Luxury is in real time: Livestreamed runway shows, style blogs, personalized shopping apps and expanding global markets. Aggregating this conversation has been the Business of Fashion, an industry must-RSS read. At the helm of the site is Imran Amed, a McGill-educated Calgarian. We caught up with the London-based founder and editor, a Harvard MBA that the Independent calls an “inspirational, interesting, and influential” player, to discuss these changes.

I remember reading a couple years ago that you had heard, as an assessment of Canadian fashion, that “Canadian designers lack the confidence to push forward their own ideas, choosing instead to be ‘inspired’ by major international designers.” Fast forward to this spring, and you reported a “Quiet Canadian Fashion Revolution in London.” What do you think happened between now and then?

“Wherever I travel, I am always on the look out for interesting stories to tell; stories that will be of interest to a global audience and from which our readers can draw lessons and inspiration. Naturally, I want to tell stories from Canada as well.

In 2007–the year BoF was founded–I was in Toronto and as I asked around, feedback from other Canadians who operate in the global fashion market was that the domestic fashion scene lacked confidence and an international outlook. Having now come back several times and explored further, I do think there is some truth to this. That said, we have regularly featured Canadians like Rad Hourani and Juma on BoF, and most recently wrote a piece on Inventory, an excellent menswear title based out of Vancouver.

The “Quiet Canadian Fashion Revolution in London” article came as a result of a dinner at the residence of the Canadian High Commissioner earlier this year to celebrate Canadians working in the British fashion industry. Really talented Canadian designers like Erdem Moralioglu, Todd Lynn, Jean-Pierre Braganza, Thomas Tait and Mark Fast mingled with Canadian fashion editors like Bronwyn Cosgrave and Tim Blanks. Perhaps the most important Canadian fashion stories to tell are those happening in the major fashion markets.

Indeed, as several readers pointed out in the comments on the piece, Canadians are doing big things in other fashion capitals as well. Michelle Obama darling Jason Wu grew up in Vancouver, but is based in New York, along with Jay Godfrey of Toronto and Joe Zee, the Canadian creative director of [US] Elle. Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared grew up in Toronto, but are now based in Milan. I think this international success is something Canada should be very proud of.

The truth is, you can go to a fashion week pretty much every week of the year, in countless cities around the world. And there is only so much time that international buyers and press have to travel to all of these fashion weeks. So, while we should always nourish and support our Canadian designers at home, we should also encourage them to go abroad if that is what they need to do to take their careers to the next level.”

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about how to make the fashion week calendar work in favour of the consumer. In your Fashion Pioneers chat with Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet, she suggested that we skip a season and adopt more of a trade show model. What’s your take?

“I found Natalie’s suggestion intriguing and interesting. While it may be difficult to achieve global coordination amongst all the major fashion weeks to skip a season, the idea of making fashion week more of a consumer-oriented event makes sense–indeed, it’s already happening, with events like Fashion’s Night Out.

“Up until the early 2000s, it took six months after fashion week before stories and trends appeared in the consumer press. Clothes arrived in stores about the same time. Today, the internet beams fashion week to consumers as it happens, creating excitement–and then disappointment, because the clothes are generally not available until several months later. The communication cycle of fashion has sped up dramatically, but the operational cycle of fashion has yet to catch up.

“This is a missed opportunity. It’s the equivalent of doing a big red carpet film premiere and then saying, ‘Sorry you can’t watch this now. You have to wait.’ It makes more sense to communicate with consumers about new collections closer to the time that they can buy into them.”

BoF prides itself in providing thorough business and technology intelligence for the fashion industry. What are the key trends you’ve been keeping your eye on?

“Now that the industry has come to terms with e-commerce and fashion blogs and have built up sizeable followings on Facebook and Twitter, the next horizon of innovation will be in social commerce and mobile commerce, leveraging these online relationships to drive sales.

“We will see the rise of Facebook storefronts, where people will shop right from a brand’s Facebook page. Likewise, with all the time being spent on mobile devices, it’s natural that brands will look to these devices to drive revenues as well using mobile apps and websites specifically designed to be consumed on mobile phones and tablet devices like the iPad.”

In the future, brands are going to feel the pressure to ensure that their digital product authentically syncs with their regular offline product. (I’m thinking of BoF’s posting on the Nike+ initiative and their sneakers with digital sensors that gives you access to the “world’s largest running club”). Do you think luxury brands would jump at the chance to make a dress that’s also a cellphone?

“Combining technology and fashion shouldn’t be about PR gimmicks–they should genuinely enhance the experience of buying, owning and experiencing a luxury product. There is no doubt that mobile will be an important zone for luxury brand innovation. More consumers are likely to connect to the internet from mobile devices than PCs within five years and mobile technology continues to improve at a rapid clip.

“But there is more to mobile technology than just cellphones. There are projects like Louis Vuitton Soundwalk which provided podcast tours of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to coincide with the Beijing Olympics in 2008. With Louis Vuitton’s heritage in travel and existing offering of travel guides, this was a natural extension for the brand to explore its heritage using new media.”