‘Patient and Particular in Provenance’

CONVERSATION

According to the Australian Financial Review, our Slow Luxury ‘phenomenon’ is part of a move towards transparency, meaning and ethics in today’s consumer behaviour.

The article ‘Patient and Particular in Provenance’ (by Hannah Tattersall) explains all…

“In a scene from hipster comedy Portlandia, two characters order chicken from a local restaurant, but not before questioning where the chicken came from, what sort of life it led and what it ate before it was killed. They learn that “Colin” was woodland-raised and fed a diet of sheep’s milk, soy and hazelnuts.

The scene pokes fun at the slow food movement – a development that in recent years has become more a norm than a trend. Today, restaurants on every street corner spruik farm-to-table ideals; at the very least they offer artisanal sourdough with organically whipped butter.

Slow fashion, in particular slow luxury, is based on much the same principles. It follows the idea that consumers aren’t interested in simply buying a leather bag any more: they want to know which cow was killed to make it, how that cow was treated when alive and whether it ate organic grass. They’re also willing to wait months and sometimes years for a better-quality, more exclusive item, giving rise to the belief that the longer you wait for something the more you appreciate it once it’s yours. It’s not a new idea. Savile Row tailors and companies with British royal warrants built businesses on the values of supplying the best-quality products through the most sustainable means.

Savile Row master tailor Steven Hitchcock says he often makes garments for customers willing to wait years for their creation. “A client fell in love with a cloth, then when I went to order it from the mill it was out of stock and they had to reproduce it. The procedure of weaving the cloth was about five months. So by the time I managed to cut it and fit it to the customer in New York, it amassed to nearly two years.” He says the customer was enamoured. “If someone is looking for something unique and has a certain image they want, then the wait is worth it.”

Britt Allanson Bivens, a trend forecaster and lecturer at The New School in New York agrees. “What the customer is getting is complete and utter exclusivity, and they’re part of the design process – that’s desirable,” she says . “We have had the whole, ‘fast fashion is evil’ pushed down our throats now and there’s definitely a much higher awareness than there ever was about the price to pay for fast fashion. Second, luxury companies – because they wanted to justify the price of their products – started putting all those marketing videos out there detailing things such as the 51 steps involved in making a Chanel 2.5 bag.”

360-degree consideration in a product

American Jade Dressler and Scottish-born Fiona Fraser co-founded Slow Luxury two years ago, to teach brands and consumers about ethical manufacturing and alert them to where their products are originating. “It’s really about all the things that Slow Food is similarly about – taking care of community, making sure people’s families are taken care of, so that it’s a ­360-degree consideration in making a product,” Dressler says.

Prior to forming Slow Luxury, Fraser had developed her own bag label, Fraser Balgowan. Deer were often killed for their prized venison but their hide went to waste – so she found a way to put it to use. Customers interested in the bags could visit the estate in Inverness-shire, where the deer were raised and killed by a single deer hunter. Buyers from Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, the Middle East and Russia travelled to Scotland to enjoy a highland experience with tailored local food and whisky – and place an order for a £400 to £1700 ($700 to $3000) bag. Fraser says it was important to draw attention not only to the provenance of the bag but the history and traditions of the families of the Scottish highlands. (For personal reasons she is no longer able to produce the bags but is working on a new project.)

Luxury brands are also doing their part. Louis Vuitton allows customers to order custom-made pieces including handbags and shoes in exotic leathers such as alligator, ostrich or python that can take 12 to 18 months to produce. The main reason for the wait is that these skins are hard to come by. To ensure a steady flow of sustainably produced, untarnished leather, LVMH last year bought an Australian crocodile farm for $US2.5 million ($2.7 million). Competitor Kering followed suit, acquiring a majority stake in French tannery France Coco, which specialises in sourcing and processing crocodile skins. Last year one brand in its stable, Gucci, released new eco and ethical versions of its famous Jackie, Hobo and Tote bags. The bag now comes with a “passport” detailing “the precise history” of the cow it was made from, from birth to the final product.

Others have the long wait without guarantee of best-practice. A Hermès International Birkin bag, a staple of the wealthy, sells for about $10,000 in leather; a crocodile version could set you back $50,000 – with a five-year wait. Dressler says they are not as transparent as they should be about the materials used. “We talk so much about sustainable cloth and no one wants to wear fur, but there is conversation around that. There’s no conversation around leather,” she says.

“An amazing Hermès bag is made of factory-farmed leather. We’re having this consciousness around our food, but it’s not necessarily extending full-fledged into what we put on our bodies – what we wear, and the impact on the environment, whether it’s factory-farmed animals or whatnot. Of course Hermès is going to pick a really high-end leather, but that animal suffered just the same.”

She believes luxury consumers are far more educated than they used to be and that will drive a change. “It’s not a niche discussion any more. I know couture designers may not be all open to considering it, but I think within the next five years, it’s going to happen.”

Certainly, as with the slow food movement, the idea of slow fashion is starting to enter the mainstream. Even fast fashion retailer H&M has a Conscious Collection of clothing made from organic cotton, Tencel and recycled polyester – God forbid that the consumer feel shame at buying a $5 factory-made maxi dress.

Dressler says “there’s a growing number of people who want that connection with their purchase and it’s absolutely about some kind of emotional connection with a product that means something to them”.

 Read the original article: ‘Patient and Particular in Provenance’ (by Hannah Tattersall)

 

The Big Interview: Fiona Fraser, Slow Luxury Co-Founder

CONVERSATION, DESIGN, FASHION, MANUFACTURE, PEOPLE

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Anthony Akilade of the Herald Scotland meets Slow Luxury Co-founder, Fiona Fraser, as part of the Scottish Enterprise ‘Knowledge for Growth’ series…

Bling. A flash in the eye. You wanted it. You bought it. It was fast, often noisy. There may have been quality but it wasn’t essential. What mattered was that it stood out, that it shouted.

“That was then,” says brand development specialist Fiona Fraser, the world of high-end luxury is turning and buyers are now looking for a bit more substance in their purchases.

The trend is showing up in many different sectors. We have slow food where consumers take a deeper interest in where food comes from, how it is cooked and indeed how it is eaten. We also have slow travel, where the journey is as much a focus as the destination. In architecture, we have slow health with places such as Maggie’s Centres. Now we have slow luxury.

“The slow aspect recognises that the face of luxury has changed. Luxury consumers are far more educated today. They are really looking for meaning, value and connection in what they purchase. Their interest is in sustainability, they are interested in quality, heritage and in provenance. They are looking for products with a soul,” says Fraser who, along with co-founder Jade Dressler, has now established Slow Luxury.

Fraser and her New York-based business partner have both individually designed and developed luxury brands of their own. These have sold internationally to the top luxury retailers and it is this experience that informs Slow Luxury’s brand development work.

Luxury leaders such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Joyce in Hong Kong sold accessories Jade Dressler designed and she developed runway and stage pieces for Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and celebrities such as Cher.

“We’re not just saying let’s look at your marketing. We’re actually able to use our experience throughout the whole process to develop brands,” Fraser says.

“It all started when we worked with Scottish Enterprise’s textiles team to bring together a showcase roundtable conversation on the idea of slow luxury.

“We invited a number of non-competing Scottish brands, such Johnstons of Elgin and Hamilton & Inches, to come and take part so they had an opportunity to connect with American destination and events planners and tastemakers. These people included a planner who does the decorations for the White House in America, and writers for the New York Times, Forbes, About.com, Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. These were people with a lot of influence in the market either directly with the consumer or with buyers for high-end retailers,” says Fraser.

Fiona Fraser’s previous business, Fraser Balgowan, designed and developed bags and accessories that were made with sustainably-sourced red deer hides and sporting tweeds for the top end of the market.

“Within the first year of business we were selling to Saks 5th Avenue in New York and we were in The Wall Street Journal and Forbes magazine. It was the depth of storytelling that really connected with the people we were marketing to. Every bag had a story. That story connected people to those who worked on the land, worked on the estates, it related to shepherding, weaving, deerstalking and to the history of the communities in the Highlands.”

Fraser took this thirst for detail a step further and invited tastemakers from the US to Scotland. These high-end fashionistas were treated to a full tweed and heather deerstalking adventure so they could understand the way of life. So successful was this Slow Luxury immersive sourcing event that they are now offered by the company as a key brand development service.

“It’s about touching on something very personal, dipping into the richness of the craftspeople and the components of the products. In Scotland we are well positioned to highlight our history of manufacturing, our years of excellence and to tell a really great story,” she says.

But for Fraser too many of Scotland’s manufacturers are failing to truly connect with potential markets and customers.

“Technology obviously gives us much more of an even playing field than we had before. We don’t need to spend £10 million on a marketing campaign in the way we would have had to five or ten years ago,” Fraser says.

“If we are really going to work across the digital opportunities which provide us with other routes to market, we really have to improve on the way we tell our stories. It’s absolutely not good enough to say here’s our lovely scarf and it’s made with the best materials and it’s Made in Scotland. There needs to be more depth to the storytelling.”

Fraser does praise Scottish producers for being able to sell into the wholesale market however she sees a downside to this success.

“When all we do is sell to wholesalers we don’t have direct contact with the end customer so we don’t know what they are connecting with. We are not getting the intelligence back that helps us innovate and create new products,” Fraser says.

“The ‘cash rich and time poor’ luxury consumer is increasingly looking for curated product, it’s that idea of connection and personal engagement. That means the consumer is often interested in the lifestyle. They want to know what is the Scottish lifestyle.”

Learning these lessons from their own forays into high-end retailing has enabled Slow Luxury to reach out to other sectors of the luxury market and the company now is in discussions to consult and develop product with top-end Scottish retailers in apparel, interiors, accessories, food and drink, and experiential travel.

The company’s online brand development strategy focuses on using technology to strengthen social engagement by providing rich personalised content to create a virtual cycle.

“You build your audience and you build your conversation, that then drives traffic, which in turn drives sales and influences the media and buyers,” Fraser says.

In all this Fraser has high praise for the assistance she gained from Scottish Enterprise and the Global Scot Network.

“Stewart Roxburgh and the textiles team really connected with what we were doing. He’s been a fantastic mentor and helped with the initial introduction to Saks. The Global Scot Network too, both in the UK and the US, were a tremendous help. The advice I got from them was advice I couldn’t get from the agencies,” Fraser says.

“The irony of the Slow Luxury story is just how fast the journey has been,” Fraser adds.

Read the full interview in the Herald Scotland here