In 2017, Imran Amed was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to fashion. It was only ten years ago the Canadian-born entrepreneur — a former consultant at McKinsey & Company — founded a blog about the business side of the fashion industry from his home in Notting Hill, London. Today, The Business of Fashion (BoF) attracts 1.3 million unique visitors each month having expanded into a fast growing media company and a pre-eminent voice in the publishing landscape.
In just over a decade, BoF has established itself as one of fashion world’s most signiﬁcant voices. Its audience is regularly treated to reviews written by veteran fashion critic Tim Blanks, breaking news such as Christopher Bailey’s exit from Burberry, exclusives like LVMH’s major reshuffle, and the annual BoF500 list of the industry’s MVPs (modeled on Forbes500). Last year, Amed went a step further and launched VOICES, a different kind of industry gathering featuring speakers such as fashion designer John Galliano, photographer Mario Testino, Vogue China editor-in-chief Angelica Cheung, and artist will.i.am.
We sat down with Amed to learn more about the evolution of BoF, and to discuss the importance of transparency, the influence of technology, and the rise of the niche brand.
Harriet Quick: BoF is a leading digital fashion news service. What does VOICES — a gathering of people in real time — bring to the equation?
Imran Amed: VOICES is constantly evolving, but we really try to pick up on the zeitgeist of the moment and bring interesting people and experts from diﬀerent disciplines and sectors together. VOICES proved to be eﬀective at sparking conversations last year, and what we learnt was that people really wanted to have more organised conversations away from the main stage. In response, we worked with [our principal partner] QICGRE to introduce VOICES Salons in 2017. During these Salons, we will explore ﬁve of the main topics and issues that arise during the day in moderated conversations over dinner and into the evening. The Chatham House Rule [all conversations are conﬁdential] will be observed allowing for free ﬂowing interaction. Our thinking is that if we have some of the biggest minds in one room, we should tap into that trust and see what outcomes
HQ: 2017 has been a year when the ‘morals’ of fashion have come to the fore. From diversity and sustainability, to harassment, the treatment of models, and cultural appropriation. Why do you believe this is happening now?
IA: It is probably a conﬂuence of several diﬀerent factors. I don’t think the industry chose to be more transparent, but as the dissemination of information is not as regulated any more, secrets are harder to keep.
Earlier this year we watched a story unfold around the mistreatment of models. Casting agent James Scully, who spoke at last year’s VOICES, raised this topic in a talk that later went viral and really helped to put this issue on the radar. It was no longer just fashion news; it was a global news moment. The issues discussed at the conference, and media’s response to them, are something we have been tracking very carefully, and we’re pleased to have seen the development of the Model Charter [The Charter on the working relations with fashion models and their wellbeing] signed by Kering and LVMH as a ﬁrst step to address this problem. Of course we cannot address everything, but our goal is to introduce the most pertinent topics into conversation and to advance thinking and action.
HQ: If we step back ten years to the beginning of BoF, when you were writing a blog, I presume it was quite diﬃcult for you to get access to people and brands, as opposed to now when there are so many more information channels? Today, companies come to you pitching ideas. Can you paint the picture between then and now?
IA: In the early days, when it was just me writing from my sofa, the mind-set about what I was doing was very diﬀerent. Often it’s hard for people to understand that, because they know BoF as it is today. Back then, I had just left my career as a management consultant and I was the consummate outsider. I believe though, that it was this slightly innocent and naïve approach that put me in good stead in the long-term, as I was coming from a place with completely fresh eyes. Very shortly after I started writing, people began asking me questions, and within a few months, they were requesting my commentary. This was around the time when Facebook and Twitter were gaining momentum, and so as my audience shared articles with their friends and family, it really improved the visibility of the website.
Today, are we a gatekeeper? I think what we do is we edit, and we curate, and we facilitate. The role of the editor has been around for many years, but today that role is so much more important and developed than before, because we are so inundated with information. For people within the industry, having a daily edited and curated email that drops into their inbox in the morning and makes sense of the many global events occurring is a very valuable service. Our role is also that of facilitator too, and VOICES is a perfect example of that. Because we are now connected to every single part of the industry, we can help to facilitate interaction, communication, conversations and hopefully ideas that will push and shape the fashion industry as it continues to develop.
HQ: BoF has played a signiﬁcant role in highlighting the importance of infrastructure behind the industry of fashion. Can you comment on how these roles or infrastructures have developed over time? Do you see a new space emerging for diﬀerent kinds of management positions?
IA: Yes, I think one thing that we did very early on was to put the spotlight on people in the industry who in the past had never enjoyed that same type of attention. One of the things I discovered as I started to navigate the world of fashion is that there is so much more to it than designers, models, and that famous glossy surface. Of course, that is a very important part of the industry, but behind the scenes there are all of these people, like art directors, consultants, set designers and casting directors who make the industry tick. When I think about diﬀerent roles evolving, I’m certainly seeing shifts as the industry goes through a period of radical disruption. For example, the day-to-day role of retail buyers is changing as much more is being bought from online platforms as opposed to small boutiques. Similarly, art directors who used to work on still images in a magazine are now focused on motion for the screen. The evolution of technology has presented a really interesting opportunity for new forces to emerge and it’s fascinating to watch.
HQ: In respect to that, where do you think we’ll be in ﬁve years time?
IA: I think a lot of the interaction between brands, people creating a product, and the consumer is being completely dis-intermediated. Whether this happens through media or retail, anyone creating a product won’t need to rely on someone else to get that product to the consumer — they can get it to the consumer themselves. Alongside that, you see another force — the rise of the niche. You no longer have to be a behemoth player to have a global impact, you can be a small brand and trade almost anywhere in the world, and if you have something unique to oﬀer, and a compelling way to get your message out, you can grow your business.
"Because we are now connected to every single part of the industry, we can help to facilitate interaction, communication, conversations and hopefully ideas that will push and shape the fashion industry as it continues to develop. "
HQ: What lies ahead for BoF?
IA: We launched the subscription service one year ago now, that was a big moment for us. As something that began as a casual but very earnest blog, BoF has today become a professional service for a global industry. There will always be diﬀerent elements to our business — like the careers platform, the education platform — but our membership business, BoF Professional, is clearly right at the centre of that.
HQ: What is the most moving event you have witnessed in fashion?
IA: I was lucky enough to see the Alexander McQueen collection they showed just after he passed away, at Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. McQueen was always known for his huge, elaborate productions, but given the emotional poignancy at that particular moment and how close we were able to see the garments, that was the single most emotional fashion moment I’ve had. It was so incredibly moving. There are also those pinch-me moments when I’ve interviewed real icons of the industry that I grew up admiring as a kid. The ﬁrst time I interviewed Karl Lagerfeld and Tommy Hilﬁger or when I met Ralph Lauren, I still remember that feeling.