What does disruption in the fashion industry look like in 2019?
Disruption (n): an interruption in the usual way that a system, process or event works
Innovation and disruption are similar in that they are both makers and builders. Disruption takes a left turn by literally uprooting and changing how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day. Harvard Business School professor and disruption guru Clayton Christensen says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative (via Forbes).
The nature of a start-up is to be both innovative and disruptive – so who are the individuals that really power these businesses and ideas that interrupt the status quo? Who are the change-makers, the trailblazers, the pioneers? Sitting down with Erin Forwood, creator and director of the Limited Collective, we have a chat about her label, entrepreneurship and what it takes to be ‘successful’.
Erin and I meet at her local coffee shop in the heart of Surry Hills, where she seems to be something of a regular. She seems to make a connection with everyone she meets – I’ve only been there a minute before she’s having a chat with our waitress about the deeper meanings of her tattoos. She confesses to me that she loves hearing other people’s stories and though she is modest and claims to be not much of a storyteller herself, it’s clear that through her fashion label she is becoming adept at sharing them. Generous with her time, Erin is more than happy to take me through her own story from the beginning.
At only 25, Erin is in the early stages of designing the third collection for her label after releasing her second capsule collection “Burnt Out” in May of this year. It might seem young, but she explains to me she’s been working in fashion since the tender age of 15, when she landed an internship as a stylist with Channel 9 wardrobe on Saturday Disney. She tells me she’s known she wanted to be a designer since she was 9 – it was just a matter of how to get there.
“I think I was probably destined to be an entrepreneur, just because of how I was brought up,” Erin explains as we sip our coffees. “My father and brother both had their own businesses that I heard about and later worked with as I grew up. I knew from a young age that if you couldn’t see something that fit your creative ideas, you could make your own space and build from there.”
To get to know her industry, Erin decided to work across it in every capacity. She took jobs in retail and digital merchandising, she worked events and she spent two weeks in the basement of Sass and Bide archiving their stock.
“I needed a 360 degree view of the industry before I was ready to start my own label,” says Erin. “To be a boss, you need to know every role. You need to know your area or industry inside out.”
She also worked with her brother on his wildly successful stall at Sydney’s Night Noodle Markets and when it sold to Chatime, she started working for him and his partner’s digital media agency.
“The best thing that my brother did for me and my business was let me learn through my own mistakes. I think you need to have those bumps in the road to be able to build something successful,” she tells me. “Being able to mess up on someone else’s dollar, unfortunate though that might be, taught me so much that I don’t think I could have learned otherwise. Making mistakes gave me the power to succeed.”
Meanwhile, Erin was starting to design on her own terms. Perpetually broke, she didn’t have the money to buy into fashion, despite her love of it. It wasn’t long before she was cutting up her own old clothes and turning them into something new… and so the idea for a label built from waste really took root. She started collecting the garments that the people around her were throwing away and she realised she was onto something – people were always getting rid of clothes. It was just a matter of making them into something new.
“I spent six years hoarding all this material, even though people kept telling me I needed to get rid of it,” she laughs. “I moved across five houses, had two or three boyfriends come and go…but this fabric kept coming with me. When I released my first two collections, they were made from that material and they ended up being a diary entry of those years.”
She’d stumbled on sustainable fashion by accident, but as she did more and more research, she knew it was the beginning of her label. She was making things that inspired her and invigorated her, making them unique in the world of fast fashion. It’s a convoluted tale as to the birth of the Limited Collective but these little pieces reveal to me the pioneer that Erin is; she’s the millennial hustler in the flesh and it seems like she never stops.
As we move on to talk about startups and the world of entrepreneurship in general, Erin is adamant that it’s the world for her. She thrives on the period of change that she is certain we’re in and loves the community of small-business owners she’s connected with, both male and female.
“There might be a misconception that when you’re doing something unique and new, you’re on your own and it’s just you and your imagination,” she concedes. “I don’t think that’s the case – I’m always learning from the entrepreneur community and I’m always asking questions. It’s a collective after all.”
After two coffees, we’ve come full circle and I ask Erin about why she didn’t follow a conventional path. Where did the drive to do something different come from? Why not push out a fashion label that followed all the rules?
“I’m all about flipping the narrative.” Erin says. “I think we can turn problems into solutions – we can turn waste into something wearable. Fashion is a difficult industry to break into, or so they say, and in a tough situation it just doesn’t make sense to do something the way it has been done before. It’s like trying to push through a crowded path – I just think that I’ve been able to see a different path, even though it might take longer and be a bumpier road.”
In the context of Erin, disruption is finding the path that no one else seems to be able to see and persevering down it. It might not make sense at the beginning and it’s never straight forward, but disruption is a roundabout way of finding something better.
Check out her work at https://limitedcollective.com/ and see what the Limited Collective is all about. If you’re looking for your own way to be disruptive, jump onto Incent and sign up to a program that’s revolutionising loyalty.