- For fashion brands, improved alignment between creative and commercial teams leads to efficiency, innovation, and a unified customer experience.
- Strategies to improve alignment include involving financial planners, providing access to customer insights, creating open channels for feedback, and fostering mutual understanding through cross-functional workshops.
- Emerging technologies, such as advanced data analytics and virtual design tools, can empower brands to marry artistic vision with business goals.
- Prioritizing flexible and scalable technologies can create an environment of creative freedom while driving revenue and growth.
In the world of fashion, there seems to be an inherent tension between creative expression and commercial success. Designers aim to produce innovative, aesthetically pleasing collections that push boundaries and define trends. Brand executives and accountants, on the other hand, need to ensure financial viability and drive profits. This divergence frequently leads to conflicts, misalignment and lack of mutual understanding between creative teams and business operations.
However, the most successful fashion houses have found ways to combine these two critical functions. When creative talent and commercial leadership work synergistically, brands can achieve the ideal balance of artistic merit and commercial achievement. Both valid perspectives are essential to produce inspiring, differentiated collections that also meet sales, cost and brand positioning goals. Here, we’ll explore practical tips for fashion companies to improve alignment and communication between creative staff and business teams.
Benefits of improved creative and commercial harmony
When functions like marketing, product development, operations and sales operate in silos with mismatched priorities, it causes redundancies, inconsistencies and delays that reduce efficiency and impact. However, when departments collaborate seamlessly with shared vision and metrics, immense value is unlocked. Companies can streamline processes, maximise capabilities and provide customers a unified experience.
Working collaboratively also helps to engage staff and customers alike. For example, every September, tech giant Apple hosts a special event to announce the newest additions to its product line and innovative features in the works. This year’s theme of Wonderlust sparked the usual buzz and excitement within the tech industry.
September is also one of the busiest months for high fashion brands, with major fashion weeks taking place to announce autumn and winter trends. It’s a time when both tech and fashion industries come together to gauge demand for new trends and plan their production strategies for the upcoming year. For this reason, it’s the perfect opportunity for creative and commercial teams to work closely to find the right balance.
Cross-functional collaboration also promotes innovation, as diverse perspectives come together to brainstorm solutions. Perhaps most importantly, it enables the organisation to nimbly and quickly capitalise on opportunities, be it innovative materials or moving towards sustainable processes. By prioritising communication and strategic alignment across teams, businesses can optimise talent and resources to accomplish strategic goals. The result is the ability to provide consistent, high-quality services and products that exceed customer expectations.
Ultimately, achieving creative and operational harmony enables fashion businesses to drive growth and profitability. With all sides of the business working together, brands can maximise opportunities to convert creative concepts into commercial results. They can respond faster to market trends and consistently deliver collections that are both inspiring and financially successful.
One major issue between creative and business-focused teams is the differing priorities and perspectives — designers aim to push aesthetic boundaries and experiment with new styles each season, while business teams need to ensure collections meet sales forecasts, margins and cost parameters.
Additionally, limited contact and closed-door planning causes creative and operational teams to operate in silos, where key information falls through the cracks. This leads to last-minute changes, budget issues and missed opportunities. Bridging these gaps requires effort on both sides, including designers gaining business acumen and executives appreciating the creative process.
The importance of experts for startup success
Fashion startups that succeed (also known as ‘unicorn’ startups) are great for the sector because they inspire and shape the future of the industry. While entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking are crucial for any business, the reality is that most early-stage ventures lack skills and experience in key areas needed to grow. As a fashion startup evolves from idea to validated product to scaling company, the expertise gap becomes more pronounced.
In the initial startup phase, founding members often have to wear many hats and fill knowledge gaps themselves. But failing to bring in targeted experts and specialists at the right junctures can severely limit a startup’s success and progress. As startups raise funding and build out capabilities, leveraging external expertise is critical.
Here are some key benefits of bringing experts into a fashion startup ecosystem:
- Accelerated learning: Experts provide insights from years of experience that would take founders years to acquire themselves, transferring knowledge through training and mentoring. As designer and mentor Huishan Zhang explains, “I am very lucky and fortunate to have met some great mentors in my career so far, [and I] feel that it is my turn to give others an opportunity to help them with an insight and understanding of this industry”.
- Credibility and visibility: Advisory boards and experts from established companies validate the startup’s offerings and attract investor interest.
- Connections and networks: Experts open doors to partnerships, talent pools, media opportunities and new vendors. For example, as one leading accounting firm states, “we can tap into the knowledge base of our network of colleagues and fellow professionals to find lateral and innovative solutions for any business”.
- Efficiency gains: Specialists with deep skills boost output and excellence in functions like engineering, marketing and operations.
While expert support costs more upfront, the long-term value of filling experience and skill gaps outweighs the investment. The alternative of having generalist founders and early employees stagnate from lack of world-class capabilities in areas like product, recruitment or data can severely limit a startup’s chances of success.
Strategies to improve alignment
There are several concrete steps fashion brands can take to build better connectivity between creative and commercial teams:
- Involve accountants and financial planners early when making design choices to help quantify potential risks and tradeoffs. By getting their input on costs, production feasibility and sales projections, creative leaders can make informed decisions about pieces that push boundaries versus more commercially-viable options.
- Provide designers access into customer insights and brand positioning strategy. Access to this market intelligence will allow creative talent to produce collections that meet consumer needs and brand goals, while still exercising originality.
- Create open channels for giving feedback between functions, both formally through reviews and informally. Business teams should share feedback on creative options that might pose risks or opportunities, while designers and other creatives can highlight inspirations that require operational flexibility.
- Foster mutual understanding through cross-functional workshops, job shadowing rotations or including both perspectives in brainstorms. These interactions build empathy and context beyond day-to-day tasks.
For businesses in this industry, balancing creativity and commercial success can be a major challenge. However, emerging technologies offer new ways for brands to marry artistic vision with business goals. Advanced data analytics, for example, allow brands to gather rich customer insights that inform both design and marketing strategies.
Virtual design tools empower designers to rapidly prototype new styles and visualise products in 3D. And digital platforms like social media and e-commerce open up avenues to directly engage with target audiences while expanding sales channels.
For tech leaders in the fashion industry, prioritising flexible and scalable technologies that integrate across design, production, marketing and sales can be key to creating an environment of creative freedom that also drives revenue and growth. With the right technical infrastructure and data-driven approach, brands can feel empowered to push creative boundaries while meeting commercial objectives.
In today’s evolving fashion landscape, leveraging creative inspiration to drive commercial success is critical for brands to thrive. While creative teams and business operations often have diverging perspectives, the most successful companies cultivate mutual understanding and symbiosis across these functions.
By implementing strategies to create joint decision-making, transparency and shared vision early in the design process, brands can enable creative talent and executives to work synergistically towards unified goals. Designers gain insights to make commercially balanced choices, while business leaders provide the strategic guidance and resources creatives need to realise their vision. The outcome is the ability to consistently deliver artistically compelling collections rooted in brand identity and commercial viability.