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Virgil Abloh Talks E-Commerce, New Talent and Masks as a Status Symbol

Off-White creative director Virgil Abloh doesn’t have a definite vision for the future of e-commerce, but he’s betting that a new designer might.

Before COVID-19, the e-commerce industry was projected to grow from $4 billion to $14 billion by the end of 2020, Priya Tanna, editor-in-chief of Vogue India, said in the third Vogue Global Conversations video chat on Thursday. The pandemic’s effect on the economy and subsequent shift in consumer values have many questioning those projections and scrambling to find a way out of the slump.

The solution, Abloh said, needs to come from someone with fresh eyes—and added that one of the 7,059 viewers tuned into the video chat was most likely to know how to take e-commerce to the next level.

“I guarantee that in each country, there’s probably someone who is between the age of 18 to 22 that has the exact answer,” he said.

Abloh called on young designers multiple times throughout the conversation, noting that diversity not only includes different ethnicities and genders, but also experience levels. “Diversity isn’t a marketing technique in the new world. It actually brings new ideas to the table,” he said. “That’s where I’d like to see the industry latch on.”

Abloh got his start in fashion when someone took a chance on him as a young adult, and he feels confident these different perspectives are what the industry needs to come out of the crisis stronger than ever.

Stephanie Phair, chief customer officer at Farfetch, agreed, describing working together as essential for navigating the challenging times—and the younger generations seem to do that best.

“So many young designers have actually already jumped onto being open source and sharing their patterns and thinking about how they can collaborate,” she said. “Young designers are the ones that are leading the way in that collaboration aspect. We need the bigger brands to also work that way.”

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Remo Ruffini, chairman and CEO of Moncler, also noted the importance of welcoming fresh new voices into the industry, adding that he often feeds off the energy of entrepreneurs and smaller brands.

In Thursday's Vogue Global Conversations, Virgil Abloh, Stephanie Phair and Remo Ruffini discussed the future of ecommerce after COVID-19.
Moncler presentation at Milan Fashion Week PIXELFORMULA/SIPA/Shutterstock

In order to navigate the new normal, Ruffini also suggested that brands should consider reorganizing into two teams: one that’s focused on the short-term, and another that’s focused on the long-term, ensuring they cover their bases.

Adding to that, Abloh suggested an entire shakeup that ditches the approach of “top-down fashion,” insinuating that fashion should no longer be dictated by select designers and instead by the masses.

“There are maybe a few hundred [big designers], and we’re providing clothes for billions,” he said. “It’s critical that we as designers realign ourselves with the voice of the people today.”

He used an example of masks—an accessory he predicts will be the new handbag—and suggested that young designers be given N95 mask production guidelines the same way they’re shared with fashion houses. His idea was to give fresh talent the opportunity and resources to be creative and use larger fashion houses as support.

“That change in logic moves our industry from vanity to humanity,” Abloh said.

Brands are also relying heavily on social media to communicate with consumers through the crisis. But rather than focus on promotions and sales, they’re bringing in a more human element.

“[We changed our social media strategy] about one month ago,” said Ruffini, adding that the new approach shows more warmth and emotion. “This isn’t the moment to show another jacket.”

It’s time, Phair added, for the industry to change its tone toward consumers—and the fashion industry is the one that’s best poised for success in that regard.

“It’s not just about selling. It’s about actually creating that human connection,” she said. “And if there was any industry that was able to adapt, I think it’s the fashion industry because we’re an industry of storytellers.”