Consumers are increasingly looking to their favorite brands for action against systemic racism. Some companies, like Glossier and Nike, have donated millions to organizations fighting racial injustice; others haven’t disclosed just how much money they’re giving. More are simply posting messages of solidarity on Instagram, often with lukewarm results. The swift backlash to those perfunctory statements and lazy regrams has brought to light a harsh truth about fashion’s own lack of diversity.
Fashion won’t correct its imbalances overnight, but change-makers are emerging. One is Resonance, a vertically integrated platform for sustainable, on-demand fashion production, which just announced a new initiative to “empower 10 creators of color to build and launch their own fashion brands by August 2020.” Applications for Be Resonant opened last night, and later this month selected brands will be given $50,000 in cash and services. They’ll spend the month of July developing their collections and will officially launch their brands in the fall.
If that sounds fast, it is. But Resonance doesn’t operate on the traditional fashion model, in which a designer spends almost a full year designing, sampling, producing, and selling a collection. Resonance owns its factory in the Dominican Republic and stocks it with preselected fabric deemed functional, sustainable, and accommodating to a variety of colors and prints, from organic cotton to silk to linen. Its high-tech, nearly automated supply chain enables designers who have partnered with Resonance to design an item and produce it on demand in as soon as a few weeks (or a few days). Most of them sell their pieces on their own direct-to-consumer websites and don’t have to worry about selling out or not selling enough; they only produce what they really need. In contrast, a department store might ask a designer to produce a large quantity of items many months in advance and then return them if they don’t sell and inflict charge-backs. It’s a guessing game that has led to extreme waste and inefficiency: The items that do sell out can’t be reproduced quickly enough, and the ones that aren’t a hit end up going on sale or being destroyed. In short, inventory is the greatest risk to a brand.
The inner workings of Resonance are complex, but the takeaways are simple: less waste, faster turnarounds, lots of freed-up time. “When you explain it to designers, and you tell them we have our own factory and are printing fabric on demand, it relieves quite a bit of the pressure [they’re used to experiencing] with deadlines,” explains Nicole King, Resonance’s design director. “This technology allows them to spend more time being creative. The pressure of predicting what fashion will be like 12 months from now is completely eliminated.”Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond developed his spring 2020 collection in partnership with Resonance.Photographed by Corey Tenold
“It isn’t about discussing your spring 2021 collection,” chairman and cofounder Lawrence Lenihan adds. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s talk about your June 15th collection.’” Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond produced his spring 2020 collection with Resonance in just four weeks. The clothes are available on his e-commerce site now, though the hoodie or T-shirt you’re eyeing likely hasn’t been produced yet; Resonance won’t make it in your size until you enter your credit card. That means Jean-Raymond isn’t saddled with thousands of units he might need to put on sale. As he explained to WWD last year: “You click buy, they make it, and you have it at your door in six days. And that involves very little water usage, no waste of any fabrication. I think that’s what we’re going to move to. It’s going to be made to order, no inventory, and brands are going to have to start creating experiences.”
Jean-Raymond has become known for the experiences he designs; in September he’s taking a documentary about the making of his spring 2020 collection on the road to a series of drive-ins. Lenihan is interested in working with more innovative, boundary-pushing designers like him, men and women who are willing to break with convention and don’t feel attached to the old-school system. He also believes they’ll be drawn to Resonance because it removes so many of the traditional barriers that make it so difficult to build a resilient business. “The people who are most entrenched in this industry are going to have the hardest time making the shift [toward on-demand production],” he says. “The people who are least entrenched have the biggest advantage. Our platform changes the amount of capital you need, the amount of people you need to hire, the overhead costs—all of those things are barriers to creators, especially creators outside the system.”
He stresses the word creators rather than designers because he’s hoping Be Resonant will attract those creative thinkers outside of fashion’s “system.” He wants to empower people who are willing to think differently, whether they went to Central Saint Martins or not. The idea for a new designer incubator first came up a few months ago, but Lenihan and his team were moved to focus on Black designers as protests swelled in recent weeks. “Everyone can write a check, but it’s not going to fix this problem in the fashion industry,” he says. “How do you do that? You create opportunity. Our whole mission is to reimagine the fashion industry, and it occurred to us that you can’t reimagine the industry without reimagining who is making it. That’s the opportunity.”
“Our goal as an executive team will be to understand who the star applicants are—who has a vision, who’s assertive,” King adds. “If we give these people the tools and the opportunities through our team, it’s going to be a win.” Their only challenge? Getting the word out. King says she’s received lots of inquiries on Instagram but hopes the application will make its way to Black men and women all over the country before the June 30 deadline. Read more (and share with your own following) on Resonance’s website.