Creative Leaders: an Interview with Lewis R Waters of Fashion Scout

Posted March 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm in Digital, Fashion, Features, Interviews
  •  Xiao Li a Fashion Scout designer, Chinese designer, Chinese designers trained in London,
    A look from Xiao Li, a Fashion Scout designer

OVER the past five years, Fashion Scout has developed as one of the world’s pre-eminent support organisations for emerging designers. Initially a partnership with Vauxhall (the car manufacturers) but now independent, Fashion Scout has spread from London to Paris and Kiev to bring important new design talent from the UK and across Europe to international attention.

Lewis R Waters, digital editor for Fashion Scout, holds a unique position to communicate the work of the organisation and their chosen designers to a global digital audience. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Lewis to chat about the goals of Fashion Scout and the benefits and challenges of working with young design talent.

Fashion Scout separated from its longtime sponsor Vauxhall in 2014. What have been the challenges of the transition?
When you go from one sponsor who wants one specific thing to an amalgamation of sponsors of about 20 then everyone wants less. It is easier to get across our vision, because you have less things that you need to do.

I think it is nice that it is just one entity, it’s just Fashion Scout – it’s not Vauxhall Fashion Scout as part of another company. It’s its own brand now and within that brand there are several sponsors. So rather than it being a sponsored event – when it’s all about the one sponsor – now it’s about the designers,the exhibitions, the graduates, the fashion and the creative talent  in Fashion Scout rather than so much branding.

How important is sponsorship to Fashion Scout?
Sponsorship is essential as not only does it allow for the event to go ahead it, sponsorship is essential for branding, social media (as the sponsors write about us on their platforms which increase awareness of our brand, so it will grow and grow and grow which is want we want. We want it to be a nationally and internationally recognised as well as we have Paris and Kiev Fashion Scout as well.

What defines the Fashion Scout brand?
I would define it as “creative innovative new talent”. I think every year it is getting bigger and better, as every year we have more people that come through Fashion Scout who go on to big, big things like David Koma, Felder Felder, Mary Katrantzou who have all come through Fashion Scout.

Christopher Bailey (the head of Burberry) also came through Fashion Graduate which is the other element of Fashion Scout. I went to the Burberry show (at the recent London Collections Men) and interviewed Christopher backstage.

How is this brand different in 2015 than in previous years?
The longer we keep going, the more success stories there are going to be. The bigger it’s going to get and the more selective we are going to be able to be to push the strongest talent through.

The Fashion Scout 2015 Merit Award winner James Kelly is one of the most exciting young designers on the scene. What set him apart from the other impressive roster of finalists?
He uses really amazing textures and fabric with a very natural feel.  His cut, I just think is fantastic. I think what I see personally from him is a very distinctive range which could stand on its own as part of LFW. The finish of his particular pieces is outstanding. This is what led to the award.

At London Fashion Week, the Fashion Scout Ones to Watch is arguably one of the best shows for raw talent. What are the highlights of this year’s group?
For London, I think I am looking forward to Sadie Clayton who is one of the newest designers that we have announced she has created some fantastic pieces in the past in the past including a collaboration with Galliano (pre his disgrace). Being able to show work to him and to have that collaboration and to be welcomed in and to be able to see from the inside his Parisian showroom has given her an amazing edge. She does very structured pieces and this show is going to be one of my personal highlights.

Fashion Scout also has a great Graduate Showcase. Who is not-to-miss in this year’s group of designers?
It is really hard to choose as everyone is so talented. I am choosing from the ones I have personally met and been to their studios and have looked through their samples. However, a designer that I interviewed recently in Paris called Min Wu who specialises in 3d-printed accessories.

Min is using creams  and blue leathers and studded fabric combined with tie-dyed white shirts – really vibrant bold colours with pure white 3d-printed accessories. I think being able to pull all these elements into one cohesive collection is great. She has recently made some a range of earrings that contain sand. They move with the environment they are in. She is a good example of someone who has really shown the innovation that Fashion Scout and Graduate Fashion Week is all about.

Unlike the London Fashion Week show, Fashion Scout is truly international, with links from London to Paris and Kiev. What is the value of your trans-continental reach? How did Fashion Scout first tap into the talent pool in Kiev?
Whereas LFW, and MFW, PFW and NYFW are standalone entities, overlapping and clashing and, for example, one market doesn’t want you to do castings for another market, because you might miss their shows – which causes all sorts of politics and competition.

Because we are Fashion Scout in London, Paris and Kiev, we are able to take away all of that stress to allow people to pick the best. If you are a London-based designer but your clothes might be much better suited for a Parisian or Eastern European market, or vice versa, by being the orchestrators we are able to make it work best for everyone rather than having to go through politics and organisational problems as we do the schedule for everywhere.

How important is social media to the Fashion Scout strategy?
It is essential. At the moment we have around 50,000 followers on Twitter and 10,000 on Instagram, so every time we post something we know it’s going to reach a huge audience. And on top of those 50,000 each of those people could retweet and so it grows and builds more.

Social media is a really instant way of seeing what all the designers are doing – there are around 20 to 30 so we could spend everyday calling them to find out what they are up to. However, through social media we are simply able to go on their feed and check in. It is a really essential way for us to hear about what all the designers and all the people associated with Fashion Scout are doing.

How does the fashion world engage with the Fashion Scout brand outside of the bi-annual fashion weeks?
I think how the fashion world engages with the Fashion Scout brand outside of fashion week is two-fold. Firstly, through editorial content, as the Fashion Scout designer gets bigger and bigger and preparing for each collection, they’ll attract a number of editorials and that helps us get the brand out there which feeds back to Fashion Scout.

And secondly through placements and internships. So if a designer sees someone has a Fashion Scout award or merit or has been designated a One to Watch, it really gives them that an extra edge on the CV which makes them stand apart from their peers. The Fashion Scout name really helps up-and-coming designers.

In your opinion, is digital changing the landscape of the fashion industry? If so, in a good way or a bad way?
I think it really is as what I think digital has done is really taken some of the huge costs away from fashion. Before the explosion of online magazines and social media, to be on the cover of a magazine or in print was a huge thing. Whereas these days there are so many online publications, it has made it more accessible, open and collaborative to people who don’t have a lot of money behind them to pay for promotion and pr agents.

Anyone can set up an online magazine and get some editorial content and make it a valid piece of fashion. You are not limited to a few publications now that one can go onto Tumblr and select the parts you like and form that into its own work. It’s a fantastic collaborative age.

As you are editor of the Fashion Scout blog, what is your content strategy?
First and foremost that we showcase the designers so it’s very important that if one of our designers has been featured in a noted publication, or clothes worn by a celebrity so when Taylor Swift wore a Dora Abodi shirt on the Ellen show we posted that clip from YouTube on our site and it got lots of hits.

So my content strategy is to showcase our designers’ work to emphasise that being part of Fashion Scout is really worthwhile for designers and does lead to these fantastic opportunities.  If our designers get internships, or a chance to shadow big designers in huge brands or houses, I cover that. We also write about our sponsors on the blog.

How do you reach out to new readers to inform them of the Fashion Scout brand?
I would say that social media comes into how we inform new readers of the Fashion Scout brand.  The collaboration that we have with each university for Graduate Fashion Week really helps because every year we have new people coming through who will be looking at the channels. I see every post we put out there as helping allowing the brand to grow and grow.

The ambition is to try to get it out there as much as possible and until it becomes a mainstream (as in well-known and well-respected) brand, making people as aware of Fashion Scout as one would be of Vogue or Dazed. There is no one else who compares to us, so it’s a case of bettering our own performance all the time.  I think is where the excitement is as there is no competition. It’s the creativity of the people involved in Fashion Scout that will make it bigger.

What are you plans for the future for the Fashion Scout site, content plan, and beyond?
I think working with fashion journalism students to increase the content for more diverse posts from all over the UK and also streetstyle posts, more backstage editorials and videos. The large blogging team including illustrators and photographers that we have for the live events I would like to have them working for us all the time, not just during fashion week which would build anticipation for new collections.

by Caroline Simpson

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