This week, it seems everyone in America is talking about the value of the social network.In both the fields I occupy - fashion and journalism - the topic has been bouncing off the walls for some time, as long-standing houses (fashion and publishing alike) struggle to evolve under the pressure to produce faster, cheaper, more. Designers and journalists blog, tweet and re-tweet in hopes of building their audiences, but as any shoe-leather reporter, fashion production assistant, or even Malcolm Gladwell can attest, real progress requires real presence. So it's smart of the folks behind Afingo Fashion, the soi-disant "first online platform to merge social networking and fashion industry sourcing," to establish their presence with "Behind the Seams," a series of real-life panels on Friday to feature insiders like Steven Alan and Fern Mallis.
Behind the Seams Panelists: Steven Alan, Lesley M.M. Blume, Fern Mallis, Simon Collins, Amy Smilovic
"Sourcing," in the world of fashion, after all, does not refer to the web-based reporting journalists call crowdsourcing, but rather to the materials and people required to produce a physical, tangible garment. And while a journalist searching for sources for a story (or even baseball tickets) might make all the connections they need on Twitter, a designer Tweeting in search of a sample-maker to sew a silk gown (were they ever to do such a thing) would likely meet resounding silence. That's because sourcing, especially on a small scale in New York, is still a street-level, word-of-mouth business. Designer Mina Stone likened producing her collection in Manhattan to provisioning a kitchen in old-world Europe--you go to the butcher, the baker, the fish guy, the dairy. In this sort of sourcing network, you're more likely to look at a proud parent's pictures tacked up behind their sewing machine than on their virtual wall.
And yet, for fashion, like journalism, the need for innovation is real. We can't just keep turning out - whether content or clothing - more product with less value. It's not sustainable. But enacting change, whether that means re-setting the fashion calendar, re-zoning the garment district or re-thinking production practices, requires tremendous motivation, interaction and organization. (Just ask Fern Mallis on Friday. She established New York Fashion Week as we know it.)
I'm not sure that the fashion industry is wired yet for the sort of sourcing network Afingo seeks to create. But maybe, as the list of panelists for Friday would suggest, they've touched on an area of even greater value: the possibility of a real social network.