by Ieva Zu

As part of my job I tend to travel back home, to my native Lithuania, a small Eastern European/Baltic/Nordic country. A country that aspires to be called Nordic and is geographically positioned in Central Eastern Europe. Last week, I travelled home again to speak at the international fashion conference.

A small-scale conference with big ambitions was organised by the local college, targeting local fashion brands. Personally, I think that the idea behind the title was great – emerging designer brands from emerging fashion markets struggle to see a bigger picture too often and needs guidance. This conference was an excellent opportunity to find where you stand as a brand in the international context. Unfortunately, my high expectations to meet hundreds of curious, talented minds were defeated by the half-filled auditorium. The popular opinion amongst the ones who managed to come was that the reason behind empty seats was the price tag – €120 for a full-price ticket. In my humble opinion, the content (more specifically, the content of the presentations on stage) was worth much more, for those who made an effort to get the most out of the vast amounts of information. I shared a stage with five remarkable women (Italian, Lithuanian, Argentinian) and each of them taught me something new. Search #squadgoals on Fashion Bloc Social Media, and you will reveal the faces behind my praise.

Fashion Market Conference in Vilnius
Fashion Market Conference in Vilnius

The rest of the fashion conference, including poor time management and slightly misleading promises (‘luxury environment’ and ‘gala dinner’), looked way better on paper than in reality. Don’t get my wrong, I’m not fussy, not a tiny bit, I grew and lived in Lithuania, and I know that college canteen menu is limited, but I did experience several Michael Scott moments (as my boyfriend describes the awkward situations when you feel uncomfortable standing in someone else’s shoes). I’m eager to share an anecdote that is a pretty accurate metaphor of the situations like this.

The first break, conference speakers and guests having lunch in the university canteen. Everyone is presented with a set-course menu in Lithuanian (the official conference language is English as some of the speakers and audience members are non-Lithuanians). A waiter comes to take the order; the conversation is happening in Lithuanian:

Waiter: What would you like?

Me: Some of our guests don’t speak Lithuanian, so…

Waiter: Sto budete kusat (‘what would you like’ in Russian)?

For some, it might sound like a minor detail, for me, it is a perfect illustration of reality vs. aspiration and a very healthy reality check for the organisers of such an international event. The problem here is – the content, as I already mentioned, was great, but the promotional message was completely wrong.

The so-called gala (seriously) dinner was set at the university canteen. The canteen is just fine, but please, do not call the sit together a gala dinner. There was nothing luxury, glamorous or anything like that as it was regularly advertised. And that is fine; it shouldn’t have been! It was a business related event aimed at young professionals with enough information to write their realistic business plans and enough inspiration to start thinking about the next season.

In my opinion, the promotional message was lost in translation from the very beginning, possibly targeting the wrong audience. That, not the ticket price, resulted in the half-empty seats and slightly misplaced audience. Being realistic is so much better than false aspirations, which also applies when creating your fashion brand.

Fashion Forum was an excellent opportunity to get a good portion of valuable information and meet interesting industry experts for a slightly ambitious price tag. You should have come if you knew.