1. Introduction: organization profile
Couture Fashion Week (CFW) is a set of fashion events most usually organized in New York. Started in 2003 by Andres Aquino, a luxury show producer, author, fashion designer born on Dominica, CFW organizes fashion weeks with participation of designers from all over the world. Started as a photographer and having covered thousands of shows in that role, Mr. Aquino launched Fashion Cyndicate Press – a fashion photography agency with big number of clients worldwide. Having made himself a name, he decided to use his charisma and experience in fashion to give his career a new development and to start organizing the fashion events. In February 2003 he gave a birth to his project Couture Fashion Week – the first six fashion shows were organized at Manhattan Penthouse, New York City and featured designers from Dominican Republic, South Africa, Ecuador and Austria. The continuation came later that year in September, when Couture Fashion Week New York City was organized, and wide international representation of participating designers (Russia, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Brazil, USA, Lebanon) encouraged Mr. Aquino to create International Fashion Designer of the Year Award, which was awarded to Russian designer Helen Yarmak. The award, however, failed to gain any recognition and was later abolished. In 2004 Aquino organized several fashion shows that were not a part of Couture Fashion Week, however, it is hard to separate the activity of Andres Aquino from that of CFW as the latter barely possess strong brand identity and is an integral part of entrepreneur’s broader undertaking.
Though locally successful, Andres Aquino and CFW failed to achieve any significant recognition in the United States. In fact, his might be better known outside the U.S., as he is being often invited to the home countries of the designers that participate in CFW – Bulgaria, Romania, Curacao (Netherlands), Mexico etc. Mr. Aquino is considered to be an important contributor to fashion industries in these countries, which is great, but probably not good enough for a person of his ambitions. The purpose of this work is to analyze internal and external environment of CFW, to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with the organization and to offer recommendation that may help develop the business.
2. Internal Analysis
Fashion industry is the industry of perceptions with no objective criteria of quality, which is why creating strong brand identity is unbelievably important. As the target audience of CFW is high-end consumers as the guests and spectators, and luxury brands as sponsors, the whole undertaking needs to be appropriately positioned. The very inclusion of the word “Couture” in the name suggests that CFW seeks to create association with luxury, but what the name fails to do is to distinguish the product from other presented on the market, which is badly needed for fairly unknown set of events. “Couture Fashion Week” is a poor choice of name, in my opinion, as it includes three words neither of which provides a hint why this particular set of events is positively different from the others (the word couture, in fact, translates from French as “dressmaking” or “sewing” and provides no differentiation at all).
And the irony here is that the events organized in the framework of CFW are different. The concept of finding talented designers (and models) around the world and presenting their collections in New York appears interesting and deserves appropriate positioning – instead, the events are positioned as though they feature the most known designers, which is not the case. The name including meaningless but ambitious words makes sense if the event is well known, otherwise it is hardly appropriate. The way CFW positions itself reminds of the quote by Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s baseball team general manager, in the Moneyball movie: “If we play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there”. Even though the setting is different as Beane was talking about player recruitment process, one may argue that recruitment in the baseball industry is as important as brand positioning in the fashion industry, and the core message is that smaller market participants are unlikely to be successful is they simply replicate the strategies employed by the market leaders – it probably applies to every industry.
In my opinion, awards is a beautiful idea for the events where designers from many different countries participate, but once again, the idea failed due to the wrong positioning:
“International Fashion Designer of the Year Award” name is overly ambitious as it practically implies that the world’s best designer is being chosen, which is far from true. Award, the name of which fails to reflect reality, is unlikely to be perceived seriously and to gain wide recognition. Besides, the awards are usually integral parts of contests, and if the award is supposed to be meaningful, the fact that it is a contest should be manifested in the name of the event. In fact, it is another instance how a good idea fails because of positioning that does not correspond to it.
CFW serves for Mr. Aquino as an important platform for establishment links abroad: having started himself designing clothes in the end of 00’s, he widely exploits his opportunities presenting his collections in India, United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, Romania, his home Dominican Republic etc., so while the success of the Couture Fashion Weeks themselves may be limited, they support the other activities of their organizer.
If Mr. Aquino seeks to develop popularity and reputation of CFW, he should definitely work on the online communication channels. The website of the events fails to produce a positive impression and is more likely to repel the people who are interested in participation in future events both as guests and sponsors. The “Schedule” page still advertises the event that took place on September 5-8, 2013 and offers the visitors to buy tickets; the navigation is poorly organized and the design is anything but creates the perception of quality. Among positives, there is an informative page containing profiles of all the designers associated with CFW, including Andres Aquino himself; the website also contains the link to the CFW channel on You.Tube, where videos from the events are being uploaded; the FAQ section is comprehensive answering majority of questions that may arise. Apart from the website, CFW is present on Facebook and is being followed by more than 40,000 people, which is helpful for communication on the on hand (for example, links for the life streaming of events appear there), but on the other hand, the result is far from impressive as by global standards the audience is fairly small. The other medium for communication is the official blog followed by 4,768 people, but without own domain name (it uses WordPress standard domain) the page looks amateurish, though informative as it includes descriptions of all the relevant events associated with CFW.
3. External analysis
PEST analysis is one of the most common tools for conducting an analysis of external environment of the companies. It analyses Political, Economic, Social and Technological issues the company faces and helps identify threats and opportunities. Before proceeding with analysis itself, it is important to decide which geographical markets the company is in. Apparently, while Couture Fashion Weeks take place in New York, Mr. Aquino more and more focuses on emerging markets – the countries where his participating designers come from. As it was mentioned before, Mr. Aquino is travelling around the world presenting his collections and apparently, his New York events become more of the promotional tool, than the target itself, which should be taken into consideration.
Political. Given the dominant position of the United States in the world, it is uncertain how American audience is likely to perceive designers from developing countries, especially if they are supposed to provide something luxury. Given that fashion is mostly the industry of perceptions, nationality of a designer may be a problem – countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Swaziland and Lebanon are not associated with luxury. On the other hand, the attempts to establish full-time presence in foreign countries may be limited by the tendency to protect own producers – it is fine as long as Mr. Aquino is an ambassador of fashion and a guest, but there may be restrictions imposed if he starts dominate the market.
Economic. Entering fashion markets in developing countries, and especially BRICS countries (Aquino is known in all of them, except, probably, China) might be a great strategic move, as not only these economies grow (which is not really helpful for the luxury goods industry if the growth is uniform across social classes), but also because income gap is widening – rich become richer, which makes these markets very attractive for the luxury goods producers, and fashion designers in particular. In this case, being perceived as a “guy who organizes fashion events in New York” is a powerful marketing tool.
Social. Not only do the consumers in developing countries become richer, but they also become more sophisticated. Besides, the attitude towards marketing in these countries is changing, too – the sales force in luxury shops becomes more client oriented. Xuehua et al. argue that arrogance of retail service employees discourages sales significantly, and with improving business culture these markets become even more attractive (924). When it comes to the U.S. markets, with so many famous people being originally from different countries, a fashion event organized as a competition between designers from overseas may be perceived exotic and worth attention-worthy.
Technological. With environmental issues playing important role in today’s society, the pressure on clothes producers to be socially responsible is hard as never. CFW already demonstrated their commitment to ecologically safe technologies by introducing the award (that lasted for one event), which is supposed to serve well in the U.S. market, but may well be irrelevant in emerging economies, as they do not pay much attention to ecological factors at the moment
4. Conclusion and recommendations
In my opinion, CFW is a socially beneficial (as it encourages development of fashion industry worldwide) and holding profit potential undertaking, which lacks marketing decoration. I believe that the New York events should be rebranded as international fashion contests for talented designers world wide, which would attract more attention to them in the U.S, providing positive differentiation from other fashion events organized in the country and also giving value to the awards, which should sound accordingly (e.g. International Fashion Talent of the Year) reflecting the nature of the contest. It is also possible to organize “elimination events” in the countries participants, meaning that the selected by jury designer would go to New York to participate in the contest – during these events Mr. Aquino may also present his own collections, more and more integrating into foreign markets.
Andres Aquino. A sort of bio. Retrieved from: < http://www.andresaquino.com/bio.htm>
Couture Fashion Week. Official Website. Retrieved from: < http://www.couturefashionweek.com/luxury.htm>
Couture Fashion Week. The official blog. Wordpress. Retrieved from: < http://couturefashionweek.wordpress.com/>
Facebook. Couture Fashion Week. Retrieved from: < https://www.facebook.com/pages/couture-fashion-week/184373687274?fref=ts>
LinkedIn. Andres Aquino – Owner, CoutureFashionWeek.com. Retrieved from: < http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=11613109&authType=NAME_SEARCH&authToken=ETXa&locale=en_US&srchid=1658509961379365805647&srchindex=2&srchtotal=393&trk=vsrp_people_res_name&trkInfo=VSRPsearchId%3A1658509961379365805647%2CVSRPtargetId%3A11613109%2CVSRPcmpt%3Aprimary>
Xuehua, Wang, Chow, Cheris W, Chung Leung, Luk. Does Service Employee Arrogance Discourage Sale of Luxury Brands in Emerging Economies? Psychology & Marketing. Oct 2013, Vol. 30 Issue 10, p918-933.