PHOTOGRAPHY JULIA HOWE ART DIRECTION JULIA HOWE, JULES VOLLEBERG, TRACEY SUEN STYLING JULES VOLLEBERG, TRACEY SUEN HAIR SAM ROMAN BEAUTY @REVERYUONLY TALENT with thanks to CONTACT AGENCY
We all know that for new designers, breaking into the fashion sphere is hard. Only 16% of the creative industry is made up of people from working-class backgrounds, the cost of studying is overwhelming, general living costs are rising quicker than the minimum wage, and all these existing struggles that have only been exacerbated during the global pandemic, Brexit and the current climate crisis.
It’s no secret that the traditional modules of the fashion industry are also struggling. The Global profit for the fashion industry in 2020 is expected to have fallen by around 93%. And now, more than ever before, consumers are more conscious about where they choose to spend their money. Fashion lovers demand more transparency on who makes their clothes and at what cost when it comes to people, health and the environment.
Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. During much needed times of change, new ideologies are born.
Income APOC STORE, a new online marketplace celebrating the next generation of fashion creatives. The brainchild of Tracey Suen and Jules Volleberg, APOC’s business module is made up of a made-to-order and pre-order system. Acknowledging the unprecedented climate and struggles new designers face, APOC is committed to paying their designers and artists a fairer commission, providing them with the resources to grow sustainably, within their own means.
BRICKS editor Tori West caught up with APOC’s founders to discuss their goals and strategy, what the future holds for the fashion industry and their advice for budding designers.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves, what were you both doing before APOC?
Tracey: I have had a varied career, in the past, I have set up a community bathhouse, worked for socially engaged art agencies as well worked on projects as part of local authority culture strategies, but somehow ended up in Fashion. Before this, Jules and I were both working in fashion which is how we met and both were drawn towards the design of emerging designers which is what lead to APOC Store.
Jules: My BA and MA were in Fashion & Retail and with both dissertations I analysed the future of retail. Then after my MA, I worked at a startup (Tracey was my boss/mentor at the time) where we worked with and met many young designers.
What were your main reasons for starting the online store?
J: With the pandemic hitting, we were both looking for a change. We noticed how the futures of designers around us became more uncertain as their orders got cancelled, physical stores closed and their production centres closed. We wanted to create an (online) space that truly supports young designers and instead of putting demands on them, letting them sell what they want when they want.
APOC is a combination of the words ‘Anthropocene’ and ‘epoch’. Could you please explain your initial gravitation towards them?
T: I am really interested in anthropology and a few years back I came across the word Anthropocene (although it was first coined in the 1980’s) which has always stuck with me. Something that was very apparent to us and about the designers that we work with is that they have a sense of responsibility towards the world we line in. I think that is because we have reached a point where the human influence on the environment around us (aka anthropocene) is now undeniable and unfortunately quite often very destructive. APOC is also a play on the word “apocalypse” which feels like where we are headed if we do not collectively come together.
We also made the shift to letting our designers ship out their orders directly to reduce our carbon footprint.
You’re passionate about stocking “consciously-created items”. Sometimes, loving both fashion and the environment can sound quite contradictory. How can we do better as both makers and consumers?
J: You can start with buying less and buying better through investing in pieces that are produced lastly, buying from independent designers and wear clothes that last longer.
From the designer side of things, one can start with working with deadstock materials, upcycle existing materials and so forth. A lot of the designers that we work with produce their pieces made from either deadstock, recycled and/or upcycled materials. We also made the shift to letting our designers ship out their orders directly to reduce our carbon footprint.
T: Ethics also comes under “conscious” and for both makers and consumers it’s important to consider supply chains and production. Are people being exploited? Who is making your clothes? Where are they being made? How are they being made? We need to be asking questions about what is happening at every point before it becomes the final product.
The majority of your listings are made-to-order or on preorder, we’ve also shifted to pre-order for our bi-annual publication to cut deadstock waste. It’s a big contrast in comparison to brands who aim to do next-day deliveries, especially with the rise of ASOS and Amazon prime. It’s made consumers expect that sort of immediate demand for products. However, do you believe that one day made-to-order will become the normal way to buy products? How quickly can we all slow down?
J: We offer pre-order/made-to-order services based on what works best for the designer. We were a bit nervous about offering this service as we didn’t know how customers would react. However, it’s been a pleasant surprise to see that customers are happy to wait and seem more excited about having something produced specifically for them! I believe there will always be a large number of products directly available in the market, but we want to keep exploring made-to-order and pre-order routes as well as options for having something completely custom.
As a company, you’re very driven when it comes to supporting emerging talent. Why do you think the fashion industry is so hard to crack for new designers?
J: Unfortunately, to run a fashion brand, it usually requires a lot of financial capital and expertise in different areas. We hope to make this slightly easier for them by helping them with getting their product to their customers.
T: Also the industry is very profit driven, so retailers do not want to take a chance on new designers when there is no guarantee of sales. They have to play it safe.
What advice would you give for budding creatives hoping to get their first stockists?
T: Build your identity and audience as much as you can organically. Keep your autonomy and agency for as long as you can before the inevitable moment you need to start compromising. Take it slow and self-reflect often, are making the right choices for you in the long term? Do not let yourself get caught up, I have had countless designers say that due to financial or retailer pressure they went down a certain route and at some point they always regret this.
J: It is such a cliche, but it is really about staying true to yourself and sticking to that one thing that makes you unique. With the great amount of new designers coming up every year, their own identity is more important than ever. I don’t look at followers or how business savvy they are, but we just look for that one unique thing that nobody else does.
We hope to see a more local consumer mindset as opposed to global corporations still ruling the market.
In conversation with Vogue, you mentioned that for the last couple of years you’ve noticed that there was a new generation of designers that weren’t making work for the sake of it or for beauty purposes—there’s much more meaning behind it. It’s definitely something we’ve noticed too. Why do you think that is? Where did this shift come from?
T: I touched upon this a bit earlier, about how we have reached a point where human influence on the planet is undeniable, and this is due to consumerist culture and capitalist principles which go hand in hand. Which leads to “Structures of Feeling” a term coined by Raymond Williams and refers to the different ways of thinking vying to emerge at any one time in history. Since the industrial revolution we have been about mass production, then we were making more than we needed and so marketing and advertising was born to sell off this excess. We have reached a peak for this consumerist lifestyle that is unsustainable for the planet and we are starting to see that people coming to realise this and want to do something about it.
What are your top 3 favourite pieces on the site right now?
What is the future of fashion? How will the industry operate and look like in 10 years?
J: We hope to see a more local consumer mindset as opposed to global corporations still ruling the market. Also, it would be nice to see an end to this tiring discount culture
T: I believe that it’s going to be more diverse, as in, in terms of the different working models that make up the retail landscape. A mixture of big and small, made to order, pre-order, custom etc…. We will be taking a step back from the growth model and working out what a post-growth world is and that will mean also returning to older more traditional ways of working.
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