I am pleased to say I will soon be embarking on my annual collaborative challenge module with the staff & students of the London College of Fashion. Always a fascinating period of my year, absorbing the enthusiasm and energy of another generation of designers & young retailers.

The students are so tech native that visual imagery and social media communication is second nature to them. It is the polar opposite to the starting point for myself and many of the lecturers who were initiated into retail through the creative product development process.

Putting ourselves into other people’s shoes.

For the students to come to a successful conclusion and deliver exciting brand and physical shop experiences, they need to find this balance between the product realities, and the almost limitless possibilities of imagery. It is an excellent exercise for them.

The teams have been selected so that both product merchandisers and social marketers form part of the same teams. They must collaborate to ensure that neither part of the total picture is left behind.

The brand imagery must not overpower the assortment, creating unfulfilled expectations for the customer. Nor must the brand anticipation be uninspiring so that it takes away value and appeal from even the most attractive of assortments.

This is the challenge. It can only be overcome with full-team collaboration. Sadly, not something that is as commonplace as we would like to think, in the real world of commercial fashion.

The fusion of fashion reality with digital dreaming

We have been looking together at the recent demise of some famous brands. Of great interest is the fact that when the assets of brands like Top Shop, Debenhams and Made.com are put up for sale during administration, there is a clear divide between the physical assortment, and the emotional brand.

In most cases the brand is seen as more valuable. Snapped up immediately. Clearly the world is full of stock, awash with products, largely valueless products it would seem, more difficult to sell to investors. For these brands, it is the carefully crafted brand identities and personalities that have added value and differentiation for the customer.

So clearly the brand is always more important that the assortment? Well not really. Remember we are talking here about failed businesses. And part of the reasons for the failure is the lack of integration between the brand and the product, the illusion and the reality, marketers & merchandisers.

Stock is not without value. Only for brands that gave it no value.

And this is the valuable lesson for the LCN students.

Success for them, and in the real commercial and creative world of fashion, is about creating the harmony between the product proposition and the brand experience.

On with the show…

The student groups will soon be matched matched with young designers, part of the alumni at LCF. The Collaborative Challenge for the students to work with their designers and evolve these fledgling businesses into complete market propositions with commercial channel strategies, targeted customer profiling, and with brand identities brought to glorious life with physical shop visualisations, and exciting marketing campaigns.

The project will culminate in a visual showcase as the students take over the ‘Not Just a Shop’ pop-up space on Holborn. If the student’s innovation and enthusiasm of previous years is anything to go by, then we can expect all kinds of visual interaction and multi-media experiences.

I cannot wait…