Interview with Scott Lipinski & Jens Zander

Scott Lipinski is the CEO of the Fashion Council Germany and Jens Zander is the managing director of Neo.Fashion. We talked to them about Berlin as a fashion location, the future of live events and their personal approach to sustainability.

You both deal with the promotion of fashion and talent - to what extent does Berlin play a special role as a fashion location in this respect?

SL: Germany plays a role for us first and foremost. But Berlin is of course rich in creativity, in disruption and in diversity. Especially in today's times in and after the pandemic, change is needed in the fashion industry and that's exactly what Berlin offers.

JZ: Of course, I am not the fashion expert that Scott is. But from past experience, I see Berlin as the clear number one creative capital in Germany. This is especially true for fashion. The number of fashion labels and the multitude of public and private fashion schools is unparalleled in Germany.
In a positive way, I see the emerging cooperation between the fashion labels, the associations such as the VBM - Verein Berliner Modedesigner*innen (Berlin Fashion Designers Association), the FCG - Fashion Council Germany and the business development agencies as a magnet and accelerator for fashion "Made in Berlin". And we with Neo.Fashion. are also supported by the Berlin Senate to give young German designers a platform here in Berlin.

The entire fashion industry has suffered from the pandemic - is there a learning that you think can be drawn?

SL: Certainly the pandemic has shown us many limits, but it has also opened up some opportunities. We still observe that many brands have used the time in the pandemic to digitally reposition themselves, to focus and especially to question their business processes. Has what has been done, performed, produced, stored and distributed so far actually been right? And I believe that these learnings are still ongoing and will continue. They are also a key to new approaches that focus on sustainability and technology.

JZ: Yes, the restrictions of the pandemic measures, but also the rapid change from retail to online trade, with all its digital changes, has hit especially small and still emerging labels hard, in my opinion. At the same time, however, new and direct approaches to the target groups have been developed at very short notice, which are leading to recognisable growth right now, after the emerging revival. What is certainly comparable with other areas is that the concepts/labels that had an independence and a high USP came through the crisis better than others.
The topic of "storytelling" is an important building block for success in marketing. A particularly big advantage turned out to be "local value creation". In other words, if the production chains from design to delivery were easy to manage and easily recognisable to customers.

The pandemic has shown how essential art and culture are. Where does fashion stand as an economic sector?

SL: Art and culture have always had a very special significance, which was also evident during the pandemic. It is regrettable, however, that it is not communicated and made clearer. It is a particular concern of the Fashion Council Germany to strengthen the perception of fashion as an economic and cultural asset. We still have a long way to go, but the pandemic showed where we would be without literature, art, film, music and fashion. We lacked concerts, theatre performances and many other cultural institutions. Above all, art and culture are formative things of a society. Some of the things mentioned have enriched our lives especially in lockdown, homeschooling and home office. Others are still sadly lacking.

JZ: The past lockdowns have badly affected fashion as an industry as well as everyone else. I am sure that this has almost forced many companies to rethink. Similar to culture and art, new paths had to be taken, which were demonstrably accepted by the customers. The innovations that have been introduced should therefore be a good basis for the future. However, I am curious to see how long the industry's good intentions will last, for example.
Moreover, I have noticed that there is a "post-covid" fashion. People are longing for "going out", culture, partying and enjoying the city. This is also expressed in the way people currently want to dress. Everyone has got used to being comfortable, but now there is more focus on being "chic" and "cool" again. 

What do you wish for the future of Berlin Fashion Week?

SL: Disruption.

JZ: I would like to see the path we have taken continue. I think that the talks with all stakeholders last year created a great sense of WE. It is important to maintain this. I also see a lot of potential for various event formats and exhibitions. Therefore, it would be my wish that this is also given the opportunity and space to develop.
The big change at BFW is that it is developing from a "business to business" model to a business to consumer model. This means that Berlin Fashion Week will become more of a happening, a melting pot where fashion merges with music and art. Of course, the business aspect remains very important - but the fun, the discovery and the trying out and redefining oneself leads to the long-awaited new self-confidence that fashion from Berlin, fashion from Germany, has been lacking until now.

How important will live events and runway shows remain in the future, despite digitalisation?

SL: I don't think you can have one without the other. Digitalisation is a very important aspect of shaping the future. But we are people, we live from touch, we live from experiences, impressions, smells and we want that to continue. Fashion has to be experienced and grasped, just like social interaction, where we have the opportunity to exchange and network. Furthermore, it is important for us to implement and offer hybrid models, because fashion is not a purely physical or digital experience. The possibilities that digitalisation brings us are fantastic: the reach and the offer. But unfortunately also a certain lack of commitment.

JZ: Our nine shows at Neo.Fashion. are still to come. But already I notice the tingling, the anticipation and the excitement among our graduates. But let's not forget the models, the photographers, the technicians and the make-up and hair teams. They all thrive on those moments when the lights go down, the beat floods the hall and the models walk the catwalk. In my view, these emotions cannot be replaced with a purely digital event. The emotions and experiences are one thing. Clearly, I also see the advantages of simply seeing each other and taking hold of each other! A dialogue, the exchange of experiences, being inspired and cultivating the network - in private or in a group, I don't see that with a purely digital event either. However, I absolutely see the need to provide digital content before, during and after the event. This is how we achieve an appropriate reach and a high relevance. 

Sustainability has become an important credo since the last season of Berlin Fashion Week - what can other European cities learn from Berlin in this respect?

SL: The diversity makes Berlin unique. The abundance of creative, sustainable designers and brands, but also the way resources are used in the organisation of a fashion week.

JZ: For many fashion labels, sustainability is certainly one of the core aspects of their business idea. It was also in Berlin where think tanks and platforms or entire trade fairs on this topic were started and successfully developed. Sustainability in fashion is also very much on the rise in other countries. Denmark with Copenhagen is certainly leading the way. In Paris, too, many big labels are turning the tide. I see it more as a mutual inspiration or a "sporting" race in which the most innovative and best ideas and concepts will prevail. I see Berlin and the German fashion industry as being well positioned.

What sustainability approach do you take in your daily work?

SL: I try to be more thoughtful in my everyday life and consciously question habitual processes in order to find resource-saving alternatives. Mindfulness is considered a top priority in my decisions, not only at work but also in my private life.

JZ: From the very beginning it was clear to me that the format of Neo.Fashion. is or will be unique in this form and breadth and an absolute premiere for promoting young talent in the German fashion and creative landscape. Thus, with the first Neo.Fashion, I pursued a sustainability approach, both in the organisation and in the implementation. For example, it was important to me that we continue to grow year after year and strive for a continuation of the participation of all German universities with fashion design. We simply did not want to become a "flash in the pan". 
Furthermore, it is important to us to pay attention to environmentally friendly solutions in our daily activities. For example, all our service providers are from Berlin, all meetings are held via video call whenever possible and our current Neo.Fashion. Magazine, for example, we have greatly reduced the number of pages, because we
we rely on QR codes and links to our website for the transfer of information.