The fashion industry has seen its share of disruption during the last decade. From designer turnover at high fashion houses to an increased awareness of sustainability issues in apparel manufacturing, those working in the industry have to be more knowledgeable than ever. The source of that information has changed as well; traditional trade rag Women's Wear Daily – which Ad Week announced in February would cease publishing a weekly print issue in favour of focusing on digital coverage and special printed issues – was once the industry's go-to news source. Now, all eyes are on The Business of Fashion (BoF), a website launched 10 years ago by Canadian expat Imran Amed.
"BoF was started with no specific goal," Amed says. "It was my creative outlet, and a fun project for my friends and family to follow my new adventure in fashion." As the founder, CEO and editor-in-chief of BoF, he has created an outlet that's better described as a hub than a news source. It sees over one million unique visitors per month, and its content is a deft mix of hard reporting and analysis presented in a format that's lean and supple like a racehorse.
"WWD has much deeper financial roots and since they are both private companies it is hard to do an objective measurement," says Beverly Bowen, a journalist and lecturer on fashion communications at Ryerson University's School of Fashion. "But BoF does resonate with a young readership." Both BoF and Amed himself are marking new milestones this year: The site recently set up an office in New York, and on April 7, Amed will accept the Vanguard Award at the annual Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFAs) in Toronto. In 2016, Amed also won the Media Award at the Council of Fashion Designers of America's yearly gala.
It's a heady time for Amed, who admits that fashion was just one of several interests during his youth in Calgary. "It was amongst a few creative disciplines, including music and film, that I was really drawn to as I was growing up," he says. Amed didn't find appeal in what he describes as the "surface stuff," noting, "I was less drawn to what Michael Jackson wore than how his latest album was performing on the Billboard charts."
A fascination with the machinations of building a success story led Amed to study business at McGill and Harvard before joining the management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company. It was only after leaving McKinsey in 2006 that Amed, now based in London, England, dipped a toe into the fashion world. He ran "a small incubator for young fashion businesses," and recalls that Erdem Moralioglu (a designer from Montreal based in the British fashion capital who, today, dresses Kate Middleton and Cate Blanchett) was one of the first emerging designers he advised. Amed says he was meeting designers like Moralioglu and others who had "tons of press, but were really stressed out about how to make their business work. I spotted a disconnect with creative people – especially the entrepreneurs – between what they could do creatively and what they could do operationally," he says.
The incubator didn't last, but in 2007, Amed launched BoF. Despite not having a background in fashion, media or technology, he could see that the fashion industry was in need of something to connect its disparate elements. "My brain was trained to look for ways to do things better," Amed says of his time working with McKinsey, where he became adept at adapting to new business cultures. "The unfamiliar and the ambiguous are things that I was quite used to professionally."
Today, BoF has over 260,000 daily newsletter subscribers – compared to around 50,000 subscribers for WWD's Digital Daily – and plays an important role in connecting creatives and propelling the $2.4-trillion (U.S.) global fashion industry into the digital age. Bowen credits Amed's business experience as being essential to the site's prominence. "Amed's MBA background is definitely part of the success story," she says. "We often forget fashion is not only about whimsy and fantasy but it is also about business and marketing," she says. "Frankly, it's good to see people thinking about fashion in a more in depth way."
While Amed's ability to thrive in uncertain situations has certainly helped with BoF's success, the growth of the initiative has been boosted by the changing media landscape. "Six months after I started writing this blog, the context of the world started to change," he says. BoF launched in January 2007, just before the iPhone's debut. As Amed and a handful of other bloggers, including London's Susie Bubble and Toronto's Tommy Ton, began to prove that audiences craved diverse voices in fashion coverage, the way their content was being consumed shifted as well.
Amed is quick to note that his approach was different from his counterparts: Instead of a personal blog, BoF has always documented his take on the fashion industry's inner workings. "Over time, as I began to write more about my observations of the industry and how it was transformed by the forces of technological disruption, globalization and the global financial crisis, I began to approach it more seriously, investing time and money to grow a team and a more fleshed-out content offering," says Amed. "Today, we are a team of more than 50 people building a modern media company that aims to have a global impact."
BoF now has minority stakeholders, including luxury conglomerate LVMH, and has released special print editions with cover stars including Stella McCartney and Kate Moss. It also partnered with McKinsey to produce a State of Fashion 2017 report, which was unveiled during the site's annual "global gathering" called Voices. The ticketed symposium-style event brings together designers and industry watchers to discuss the business's big issues. The most recent instalment of the series was held at the Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, England last December. At the event, casting director James Scully vowed to start naming those in the industry who mistreated models. He did just that during Paris Fashion Week this past February when he took to Instagram to call out casting directors Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes for reportedly leaving models in a darkened stairwell for over three hours during a casting for the Balenciaga show.
BoF reported on the claim, including an exclusive statement by the casting duo refuting the accusation after Balenciaga fired them. "Providing a platform for people like James – it's such an important part of our mission as a company," Amed says. He also points out, however, that it's not Voices' mandate to take sides. "Our role is to get people to talk," he says.
The site's ability to facilitate dialogue and affect change are two reason why Tim Blanks joined the BoF team in 2015. Blanks is an industry veteran who hosted CBC's Fashion File in the early 1990s and was the editor-at-large for Conde Nast's Style.com. "Everybody who's into BoF feels like they've invested in it, that it's not passive," Blanks says of the website's collaborators and audience. "People bring themselves to BoF and engage with it. It feels super young and energetic and forward-looking. It feels new, even though it has been going for 10 years."
Liz Rodbell, the president of Hudson's Bay Company, which sponsors CAFAs Vanguard award, agrees. "We love that aspect of what a vanguard is – at the forefront of change, of a movement, and really making things happen," she says. "In a very concise and digestible format, [BoF] doesn't only look at what's important, but it goes deep enough that you can get the hows and whys of what's going on."
According to Amed, there will be no shortage of stories for BoF to tell in the future. "We're in the midst of a massive shift of how retail works, how marketing works, in how fashion week works, and how all those different parts work together," he says. "Smart companies are experimenting with new things, and not always successfully. I credit companies that are trying to do things in a new way – at least they're trying to shift. [And] how do you shift while preserving the creativity, the exclusivity, the excitement, the story telling that makes fashion about more than just clothes?"
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