These are uncertain times, across the industry, the winds of change are blowing. There are more uncertainties than we’ve seen in multiple generations, with that in mind I caught up with Oliver Spencer to discuss how he’s moving forward and embracing opportunity and have a look at the latest collection.
Designers have had an array of ways they’ve spent the Covid lockdown, some took a pause, others started new lines or created new projects, how have you been spending you time?
I battened down the hatches as most of us did, preparing for a very different fashion industry when lockdown was to eventually lift. I won’t lie, it has been a challenging period, but lockdown in some ways afforded me some time and space to reassess how we move forward as a business.
With every disaster there is opportunity. In fact we rolled out a brilliant collaboration with Brompton Bicycle during lockdown that couldn’t have gone any better.
You’ve been a fixture at London Fashion Week Men’s since it’s inception, how did it’s cancellation affect you?
Well it did and it didn’t. The world in 2020 has changed beyond all recognition but the fashion industry was already in flux. Fashion shows just aren’t what they used to be. Don’t get me wrong – I love putting them on, but the audience is online, the consumer is online.
There’s certainly still a place for fashion shows but right now we’re taking a step-back and letting the dust settle. When we have a better idea of how the market looks and what its appetite for shows is like, then we’ll be in a place to make a decision.
In recent times a lot of labels have looked towards Asia and its growing market, you have some stockist, but have you felt its a focus market for your future plans?
The Asian consumer isn’t a target audience for us right now and pursuing them would feel disingenuous. We have a great consumer base in the UK and a growing audience in the US and Europe which is where we are focusing our efforts. Sustainability is a critical element to our business model going forward (70% of our SS20 collection was either organic or ecological) but its just not on the radar of the Asian consumer as much as it is in Western economies. I’m sure that will change as the market matures, but until then we’re focusing on the markets where our values are more aligned.
What do you think draws people into the fashion market?
There will always be the lure of luxury, but I think today’s consumer is increasingly driven by quality and sustainability. From the provenance of fabrics to our carbon footprint via the social progressiveness of the factories we use, our community want to know what we’re doing and how we intend to improve. Eventually we want to be producing collections that only consist of sustainable or ecological fabrics, either organic or recycled. It’s not easy and won’t happen overnight , but we’re determined to get there eventually.
There has been a seismic shift towards digital this year, the situation has perhaps driven change that would have taken years naturally into mere weeks, how much of that change to you think the industry is ready to retain?
It’s an interesting question because at heart I’m a shopkeeper – bricks and mortar has always been my passion, but the last six months have changed the way people shop, perhaps forever.
The takeaway from the Covid situation is actually long-term positive because everyone has realised that their online business wasn’t nearly as optimised as it should be and now everyone’s looking to refine the digital experience and try new things to get an edge. At the same time, bricks and mortar stores are under no illusion that they have to reinvent themselves in order to get a slice of the much reduced footfall. So actually, I see a period going forward of consolidation at first, but then quickly followed by innovation and that’s exciting.
Interview By Ross Pollard – Emerging Fashion Designers Editor