MADIFESTO 2014: A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDRA LAMBERT

Interview by Filep Motwary

Madifesto held its first European fashion summit in Brussels over a course of three-day workshops and lectures, inviting around sixty representatives from organizations dedicated to supporting fashion and design, inviting key institutions (fashion and design schools, textile federations, in order to discuss the major challenges faced by players – and aspiring players – in their respective creative industries. Somewhere between a fashion version of a TED Talk  and “fashion G8″ Madifesto successfully brought together questions, solutions and hope for the future of the fashion industry and education.

Alexandra Lambert, the Director of MAD Brussels was happy to answer our questions…

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Alexandra Lambert, Director of MAD Brussels.
Photography Pauline Miko ©

The first edition of the Madifesto European Fashion Summit took place in Brussels lees than a month ago. Madame Lambert, what is MADIFESTO exactly and what is its purpose. How did it all start?
Madifesto was created in 2013 with the idea of organizing a festival dedicated to fashion professionals in Brussels, a creative hub of 500 million Europeans.
In 2014, the European Fashion Summit has become an important part of Madifesto, a European think tank about the future of European fashion, a meeting point for discussion about the business models of tomorrow.

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I would like to ask who are the people behind the MADIFESTO team, how have they been chosen to serve this role?

Individuals who participated in the organization of Madifesto have all between 10 and 20 years of experience in the fashion sector, export and training.
The Madifesto Team consists of Alexandra Lambert, director of MAD Brussels, Didier Vervaeren, artistic director of MAD Brussels, Olivier Zeegers, fashion consultant, Elke Timmerman, fashion coordinator and Lenie Steels, project manager. Our communication and production team also support the realization of the event.

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Madame Lambert, what are the key challenges concluded from this first edition?

The creation of a European Data Base was acclaimed. An active and ongoing engagement and more accountable and transparent sourcing have been requested. The desire to facilitate and improve access to financing of SME’s in the fashion sector has been expressed.
Finally, to show greater clarity regarding quality labeling at European level.

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How has fashion become such a strong parameter in the global market? And what about its current state, which seems to be moving to a more political dimension?

Firstly, the textile industry is the third global industry. In addition, tourism is an important source of revenue for states and fashion and tourism are closely linked.
Because of its economic importance, fashion is no longer considered just as an artistic discipline, but as a real business, a significant source of income and a dynamic employment channel. The political world is showing a growing interest in fashion as well.

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How does the Belgian government support Madifesto’s vision?

Madifesto is financially backed by the Ministry of Economy and the City of Brussels.
Queen Matilde also attended the summit and in particularly she asked that a round table be organized dedicated to the economic problems in this sector.
With the active help of actors in the public sector, this initiative has become an annual event.

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And in conclusion what is MAD’s role in the creative support of local talent?

Mad Brussels is aimed at promoting the economic development of the fashion and design industries in Brussels in different ways:
We promote fashion and the work of designers. We organize exhibitions, seminars and events. We develop career coaching, job perspectives and services dedicated to employers. We organize work studios for collaborative design in the city. We encourage cross-overs between creative and economic industries.
We share with a broad audience our vision and talents. We fight for Brussels to be the capital of creative industries.

Is talent enough for one’s success today?

This is a vital issue. Unfortunately, talent is no longer considered a sufficient quality in the global economy of today.
Talent is the element that makes the difference, but today it is essential to also have skills in terms of management, sustainable impact, production, etc.

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Where does fashion and business meet and what is the role of education today?

Fashion and business come together regularly. Education has an important role to play to bring clairvoyance to creators regarding their profession…. It brings them back to the “real world”.

During Madifesto 2014, there was an intense focus on the current global educational status and its affairs. It seems some radical steps will need to be taken in order to modify the current educational system, not only in Belgium of course but internationally. The business of fashion has become more demanding than ever in terms of hiring new employees…

To meet the expectations of the job market, we must think about a European business school model … or bring together several high level schools within the European area to collaborate on performance.

Could we dream of a unified educational system program in the future?

I don’t believe that a standardized system is the solution as diversity is an advantage.
One can imagine a system that would encourage exchange, a crossover between schools. Good practices and avant-garde visions need to be identified. This could inspire and be introduced by others.

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And how feasible would be for a system to be evaluated and updated constantly?

I’m not directly involved in the educational system …
Madifesto brings together a number of stakeholders to reflect on these issues. This is the beginning of harmonization. Today, each country still has its own rating system. It is necessary to bring together the assessors and implement a common evaluation system.

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How can we secure the future of creativity?
That’s a good question! Creativity is a fundamental dimension of innovation and innovation is what makes the economy and employment move forward. To ensure a future for creation, it should be considered as an economic activity and not just an artistic discipline. To survive, the two dimensions of creation should not be detached.
Creative industries must begin a sustainable assessment of what they are and their impact. They must emerge from a short-term vision. There is no deadlock possible on this consideration.

Every year, thousands of young people graduate from fashion schools. One cannot help but wonder, is there space in fashion for youth?

Fashion is not just styling, there are many other careers in the sector. For example, in Brussels there are about 300 designers and 15,000 jobs in the fashion industry. All students do not become the Raf Simons of tomorrow – we must inform on the diversity of the profession.

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How can the government help these young designers become established and what other ways can they seek for achieving business success?
By allowing for the creation of structures such as MAD that supports and accompanies young designers and professionals in this business. These structures must maintain an active monitoring of the sector.
It is not an assistant-ship, but a contract that defines the right combination between support and individual experience. We need to examine and define the participation of each party involved.
Supportive mentoring and communication between stakeholders should also be encouraged.

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In conclusion, how can we build a bridge between the fresh and the established in the fashion industry?

We need to create an active community to combat against the isolation of the players.
Thus the construction by MAD of a 3,000 m2 space dedicated to fashion and design, bringing together the stakeholders and enabling the exchange of information.
One could imagine a system of sponsorship by experienced designers, who bring their experience to new creators. Young designers in turn would bring a breath of fresh air to established creators. MAD wants to encourage this inter-generational collaboration.

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Madifesto’s first edition was by great percentage a success due to the polyphony of your guests and international lecturers and participants. How many countries attended? What was the general response?

We are very happy with the quality of the participants and stakeholders. 20 countries were represented, these are countries with fashion institutions who did not know each other. The feedback of this event was very enthusiastic. The desire to continue the network was “madifested!” The created network is able to influence the policy of DG Enterprise with regard to creative industries. Creative industry professionals will join the lobby of textile producers.
Sign of the enthusiasm generated by Madifesto, three institutions have already expressed interest in broadening the topics discussed at Madifesto: Villa Noailles is focused on education, the British Fashion Council on the business and the Danish Fashion Institute on sustainable production.
See you next June 4!

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Madifesto has just been invited by Mister Jean Pierre Blanc to the next edition of Hyeres Festival for a day to expand on the subject “Fashion Education In The Future”. How important is this second meeting and what is the aim?

It is important that other institutions cooperate and encourage reflection and that all players get involved in the topics they are focused on. A full year before the next Madifesto is too long. Although the annual meeting in Brussels remains the backbone, it is important that other appointments during this year further reflection on the initial findings identified in June 2014 and to find solutions; MAD’s action strategy is to propose a five year plan to the commission.

What would be your message as MAD BRUSSELS’ Director?

While fashion is a matter of business, it is above all a passion that motivates each professional of the sector.
I think we should continue to maintain a certain “MADNESS” to elevate fashion to the highest level of recognition.
I will be proud of what I did if the sector considers me an important part of this future construction.

MADIFESTO 2015 >> from June 3-6, 2015

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