The Business of Fashion, the Internet & Corporate Style – with UK’s Susie Bubble

The meteoric rise of Zionfelix, GhKwaku,RonnieIsEverywhere, thousands of Instagram shops and tens of thousands of social media influencers are products of millions of Ghanaians running to the internet when the pandemic started. During the lockdown, the internet wasinescapable.

The impact of this on retailers in the short term has been divided. Those offering essential items such as food and cleaning products experienced high demand. But non-essential retailers such as those selling clothes and clothing accessories were forced to close stores or experienced a steep decline in sales.

A year ago in May 2020, the Communications and Digitalisation Minister, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, shut down certain offices for not adhering to proper COVID protocols.Since then, the Government and other stakeholders have been consistent with their message for retailers to have sufficienthygiene measures in place in stores all over the country.

So for me, I expected the focus of the ensuing 12 months to be on clean shopping, contactless technology and improved hygiene measures becoming the norm, especially after witnessing some pretty significant pent-up demand for regular outdoor activities.

To a large extent, Ghana did not disappoint. The rise of Zeepay and other local tech companies, twitter choosing Ghana for its first African base, Mobile Money integration everywhere and the steady embrace of venture capitalism all send the right signals. 

However, within an election year in a developing economy, COVID protocols gets trickier to enforce, plus the pandemic keeps having a toll on the economy.

For an industry like that of Fashion, all these mean thatcustomers will remain cautious about buying, whether indoors or outdoors. I think people will continue to be cautious and also value conscious for the time being about anything fashion.

Here’s why.

Within the short time that Ghanaians were forced into lockdown, many of us spent more time online buying essential items such as groceries to avoid long lines at the supermarkets and to avoid the possibility of contracting the virus through contact with others.

Other companies selling non-essential items, like clothing,also saw an upturn in sales through online channels but this was not enough to mitigate the decline as consumers began prioritizing and limiting their spending in the medium term.

Online sales has since continued to grow but to a large extent the focus will remain on essential items. During this pandemic, people have either lost their jobs and there are many that have fears about the future. So don’t let the trending Instagram photos mislead you into thinking that people are not limiting their expenditure.

Many brands in Ghana are shifting their focus either solely or more predominantly to e-commerce innovation and these technology advances will make online shopping experiencesmore exciting.

For the local fashion industry, the immediate goal has been toprovide competitive prices and a quick, efficient delivery for consumers. Beyond that, they need to think about how best totranslate the in-store experience online and provide more forms of convenience such as contactless delivery and curbside pickups.

Curbside pickup can be as simple as its name implies: your customers pick up their orders from a convenient location somewhere else other than inside the store, like the literal curb or a warehouse closeby. As innovative as that sounds, I am aware that it won’t be as easy to leave your customers orders on the curb for them to pick up later.

But isn’t that why we have these discussions weekly? Is it not to deliberate and brainstorm and talk through our ideas towards creating meaningful change however we can and wherever we find ourselves? It is. And if it’s about trailblazing in fashion, one person I know that’s done that is Susie Bubble.

Susanna Lau, also known as Susie Bubble, is a writer and editor living and working in London. Susie started her fashion blog, ‘Style Bubble’ in March 2006, and is now one of the most prolifically read blogs of its type. 

Style Bubble consists of Susie’s thoughts, personal experiences and observations on fashion with a focus on spotlighting young and unknown talent. Previously, Susie was editor of Dazed Digital, the website of Dazed & Confusedmagazine, from 2008-2010. 

She now works full-time on freelance content creation for brands such as Prada and Gucci and also writes regularly for publications such as Elle, Grazia and Guardian. She also sits on the experts panel for the LVMH Prize.

Recently she has been actively involved in the #StopAsianHate campaign, getting involved with spreading awareness online together with other prominent Asian American designers and fashion professionals.

She is currently working on a project to support ESEA women in the UK. During the lockdown, she has also co-founded a bubble tea and bubble waffle shop called Dot Dot in Stoke Newington in North London to explore her Hong Kong roots.

The following is authored by Susie Bubble.

On how important one’s fashion is to entrepreneurial success.

My own style has been pretty important to establishing both my USP in writing and I guess in terms of personal branding projects. I love young designers and experimental design and I’m not scared of colour and print. I think my style is open-minded and that in turn translates to the projects I do and the type of writing I do for publications. I’ve always wanted to promote fashion as a medium for self-expression on your own terms – not to please other people – but to please yourself!

On where one can find and follow trending business wear.

I don’t have a prescriptive notion of “business wear”. Those days of dress codes are definitely eroding and particularly post pandemic. I think it’s more important to feel comfortable in your own style and skin, whatever that may be. I feel most “powerful” when I’m wearing things that feel the most me – vintage Comme des Garcons pieces, Simone Rocha or Molly Goddard dresses. They’re not typical business attire but that’s the beauty of working for yourself – there is no dress code! 

On giving some tips on how to dress for that power meeting.

Like I said above, dress for yourself and not for others. You should convey the essence of who you are. If you’re not into wearing suits or typical power dressing attire, then wearing them would make you feel like an imposter. Not that I’m saying dress as casual as possible. I guess I think idiosyncratic style is more important that a jacket with power shoulders.

On quitting her job for full-time blogging/influencer work and excelling at it. Also on clear signs someone should look out for if they ever wonder “is the fashion business for me”.

Are you eternally curious? Are you someone that thrives on creativity? This business is very tough and longevity is also a tricky thing to maintain. The main thing is keeping up your enthusiasm and love for the industry – whether you’re a designer, photographer, stylist, writer or anyone else – and do the machinations of an industry that is always in flux stimulate you. The day you lose interest, and your curiosity begins to wane, then you’ll know it’s not for you.

On her view on influencer work and how one becomes an influencer.

I don’t think there’s one hard and fast way of “becoming” an influencer and even that term has a lot of variations of what it means. The more important thing is to find out exactly what you want to project on Instagram – is it great imagery, great tastemaking, writing, photography, art direction, video content? What is your niche? What is your POV? It’s more important to hone those things before then setting out to embark on monetisation. Hone in on content first before trying to sell your voice.

On the benefits of the fast fashion business model and how businesspeople can make the most out of it like the big corporations in fashion do.

The fast fashion model needs to be revisited in terms of who it is uplifting. If you can produce quantity, responsibly, then there’s nothing inherently wrong with fast fashion. The problem is the lines of “responsible production” are very vague. And if you are thinking of profit above responsibility then I’m not sure that’s a good angle to go with. Maybe it is about creating/producing ad hoc and not ordering huge quantities in advance but instead meeting the demands of the market in that instance. Maybe it’s about onshoring production with local factories that can still provide quantity.There are a lot of ways of approaching the business model but I think we can all agree that it doesn’t work currently!

On corporate dress code for women.

Persona/personality is so important in your attire, whatever field you work in. I understand there are work places that require very formal dress codes but I really think the pandemic has changed all of that.

On fashion dropshipping and advice for Ghana’s fashion entrepreneurs.

It’s a business model that I think works really well with smaller and independent designers as long as you have a good wholesaler/supplier that can fulfil ad hoc orders. It’s not something I’m super familiar with as I don’t work on the design side but if you can make it work for your brand or online ecommerce, then I would say just make sure you have good contracts and agreements with your suppliers. Also it’s a great way of testing out what works for your audience so there’s more room for creativity. 

On casual work fashion and how it’s done.

You’re speaking to the wrong person as I don’t really believe in tracksuits. I’m not a fan of this WFH [work from home] attire. I’m very comfortable in dresses and ornate fabrics. For me, I love a contrast. Trainers and tomboy shoes with dressy girly things. As long as my feet are comfortable, I’m comfortable!

On collaborating with Ghana’s High Fashion advocates like Nana Akua Addo and promising talents like Lharley Lartey and Cindy Lita Adio.

I would love to learn about the work of Ghanaian fashion creatives for sure! I wish there were more opportunities to go physically as that is my experience of going to globalised fashion weeks to see what’s actually going on in the ground. Hopefully post pandemic!

On how to connect with her.

You can of course follow me on Instagram @susiebubble – or sometimes I pop up in Clubhouse on a lot of the fashion related chats.

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Maxwell Ampong is an Agro-Commodities Trader and the CEO of Maxwell Investments Group. He is also the Official Business Advisor to Ghana’s General Agricultural Workers Union(GAWU) of TUC Ghana, the largest agricultural trade union in Ghana. He writes about trending and relevant economic topics, and general perspective pieces.

LinkedIn:/in/thisisthemax   Clubhouse:@thisisthemax  Instagram:@thisisthemax   Twitter:@thisisthemax   Facebook:@thisisthemax   Website:   Email:    Podcast:   Mobile: 0249993319