Designer Karen Walker has been creating collections of ready-to-wear, sunglasses, outerwear, accessories and shoes since launching her eponymous label in 1988. In nearly three decades, she has witnessed many of fashion’s identity shifts. But nothing, according to Walker, compares to the changes she’s seen in the past year.
“Everything continuously changes in fashion, including in the last five minutes that we’ve been talking,” said Walker, who operates boutiques in her native New Zealand, and sells her collections through wholesale partners like Barneys and in her online store. “It’s never static. The speed with which change is happening is what is phenomenal at the moment.”
Walker’s independent brand has undergone several evolutions of its own. This September, the designer announced that she would no longer be participating in New York Fashion Week. The runway as a marketing channel, Walker said, is no longer an effective tool for reaching consumers. She decided to forego the traditional set up of the seasons of the fashion calendar, and this month, released her most recent resort collection, a collaboration with the artist John Reynolds.
Walker shared insights on her brand’s continuously shifting strategies, how social media medium’s don’t matter, and why it’s more important than ever to talk to your audience.
The most difficult part of being a designer today: “There’s no longer a period of pause in fashion, a stretch of time where you feed your mind with inspiration. There’s never a still moment, and it’s complex, complicated and difficult to manage.”
The constant chaos of today’s fashion calendar: “It’s a much more complicated tapestry that we’re dealing with now. There aren’t two seasons anymore, there are 25 different collections overlapping one another. Not to mention that most designers are not just thinking about ready-to-wear, but other categories as well. You have to build a full brand. We’re launching a new product every two weeks.”
Her secret to simplifying process without cutting back on production? “Surround yourself with a smart team and know how to create an organized calendar. Also, don’t say yes to everything, or else you’ll give yourself a nervous breakdown.”
On skipping New York Fashion Week: “Today, your consumer is seeing all the looks on social media before the last girl leaves the runway. It doesn’t make sense as a marketing spend anymore.”
Instagram or Facebook? “Instagram. I like the speed, sharpness and effectiveness of it. It’s our most effective platform.”
Snapchat or Instagram Stories? “Instagram Stories. But I find the lack of polish a little boring.”
Why mediums don’t actually matter: “You have to have something worth saying. You can write a good idea on a piece of paper with a ballpoint pen and stick it on a pole on the street and if people like it, they’ll pay attention. The medium is irrelevant — there will always be the next Instagram or Snapchat.”
How social media has globalized fashion trends: “The last two weeks, we’ve been in Sydney, Hong Kong, London and Auckland and I didn’t see any difference in the way people dress. Everyone has access to the same inspiration: Even if they don’t travel, their thumbs do all the traveling. The idea of having a localized look has gone away.”
One tip to staying relevant in a changing fashion market: “Our online store is our global storefront. We never stop updating it; there’s always one corner that’s under construction. I think a lot of fashion designers forget about the importance of keeping an online store fresh. We throw a grenade in there every 10 days so it’s always looking completely different.”
On style versus function: “Everyone’s different, but I like to walk to work. I like to throw a cross-body bag over my clothes. I prefer functionality, and I’ll probably never wear a stiletto again in my life.”