Is the fashion industry broken, or is it me?

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Feeling stuck? Overwhelmed or frustrated by an old system that doesn’t work? You’re not alone. I’ve been feeling very down about the fashion and luxury sector, an industry I’ve dedicated decades of my career to. In this personal essay, I share a story of how a broken turntable led to a powerful realisation about my relationship with the fashion industry. It’s a tale of letting go, embracing change and finding the music that truly resonates with your soul.

PS: An unusual introduction 

A couple of days ago I read that one of my favourite brands, Mara Hoffman, is closing down. The designer makes the most amazing bikinis (they are pricey but worth every penny) and I can’t get enough of her laid-back, flirty yet minimalist style. 

Beyond the stylistic appeal of the clothes made by Mara Hoffman, I discovered that the brand’s values mirrored my own. I felt tempted to reach out - why not get involved, right? 

You guessed it: I never did. I assumed the brand was doing great - what would they need my problem-solving skills for?

Whether or not they would have benefited from my expertise, we’ll never know. 

While many things need fixing in the fashion and other industries, I’d argue it’s worth us all making a concerted effort and pledging our support for those companies, brands or designers that are doing right by us. 

Ms Hoffman wrote a beautiful letter to explain her decision, which brought tears to my eyes. It feels especially tender as I read it after penning my own story. What struck me most was this: 

‘Maybe we all need to see someone make [hard choices]. 

To show us that endings of cycles are also beautiful and that there is so much grace to be had when we lovingly LET GO when it is time. 

When we can trust in a new version that is forming even when we cannot see it yet. 

When we actively choose something else, something embedded in love, healing and Truth as opposed to staying put in something that has run its course. 

I take solace in knowing that if I move in the direction of what is true to me it will help inspire others to do the same for themselves.’

You can read the full letter here.

Now onto my story.

I’ve been feeling down about my own industry for a while now. I’ve argued myself out of getting involved in more fashion or luxury brand consulting gigs — not for fear of pitching my services but for fear of getting the contracts and finding myself working in an environment I no longer appreciate or admire. 

Not every company is the same and my generalisation may have you rolling your eyes. But when I think about the fashion industry as a single entity, the image of a thick dark block fills my mind. 

Harsh? Weird? Feel free to judge me, I am judging myself too. 

I’m known to be a skilled problem-solver and am fond of self-coaching. Yet I found myself marooned for weeks and unable to find my way to the right answer. 

My conundrum expressed itself in the form of a funky metaphor during a coaching session a few weeks ago. 

“It’s like the fashion industry is a broken record,” I ventured. 

The image of a large collection of vinyls appeared in my mind. 

“Oh, there’s that big bookcase in my house, filled with music I never listen to.” 

The two things were linked, somehow. 

My coach nudged me: ‘Can you tell me more?’ 

“The system feels antiquated, it repeats itself over and over, but it’s crackling under the cover of artistry and codes that no longer make sense, at least not to me.” (I’m trying to remember my exact words, these are an approximation). 

The industry is broken, is the message that was bursting out. From unsustainable consumption, bad labour practices, rampant burnout, fast fashion made for the landfill, fur back on the runway, lack of representation for plus size models (men and women), unreasonable seasonal cycles, and now lack of materials, crazy price hikes. I could keep going. 

I paused, my mind pulling at the thread of the metaphor.

“Actually,” I said, feeling something opening up in my body as I spoke, “It’s time to get rid of all those records I don’t play. 

I need to make room for the music I want to listen to, the books I want to read.”

Something had clicked, my face previously furrowed softened with a big smile that lit up my eyes. 

Bubbling with the energy shift, I held onto the metaphor and sat with my newfound perspective. Time to clear that bookcase. 

You may wonder how this has improved or changed my relationship with the ball-and-chain that is my ‘old’ industry 

Have you ever looked at a person, a situation (or yourself) with a fresh perspective, as if a veil had been dropped, and discovered that the problem is not them, it’s actually you? That you’re the one who has changed? 

Well, here’s what happened to me. Let me tell you the story. 

The story of my dad's record collection

I claimed first dibs on my dad’s stereo system and record collection while he was still alive.

One of my late father’s pride and joys since I was a child was a towering Akai sound system, known as the top of Japanese audio equipment at the time. The stack of modules was set up in the centre of the mezzanine, above our living room. The house was a converted 17th-century barn in the backend of county Geneva, so picture thick uneven stone walls, maroon antique ceramic tiles and dark wooden beams throughout. 

The two large speakers were set up so they would offer a maximum blast radius throughout the house, because my father was one for loving to play his music (or his radio) at a loud volume. 

He once declared he didn’t care for playing opera at home (I was very fond of The Magic Flute), unless it was at the same volume you’d experience in an opera house. The neighbours never complained. This fact still puzzles me. 

For years, my father collected classical records and eventually CDs. The resulting selection (in the low hundreds) required a local carpenter to design a floor-to-ceiling wooden case to accommodate them. 

I fought my father for a number of months: I argued to no end for my own (baby) audio system (which I would only be allowed to play in my room, on the opposite end of the house). Victory eventually ensued, and I became the one who’d blast my music (though behind closed doors and windows). Not long after, I found myself singing incessantly over George Michael, Madonna, and later Ella Fitzgerald or Lauryn Hill. Again, poor neighbours.

Perhaps this common love of music played at high volume bonded us, father and daughter, despite the fact our favourite genres and artists were radical opposites.

Reminiscing about these times, I admire my dad for his capacity to make time to savour this art form he found so nourishing. As a child, this habit of his obstructed my favourite pastime (the TV was in the living room right below, and it was an either-or situation). Hard to stay mad at him though, he’d come running down the stairs with a joyous grin on his handsome face as the music swelled throughout the house.  

Neither of my brothers felt inclined to fight me over my father’s music or his sound system. I had them packed up when my dad entered an elderly care facility and they followed me to New York, then Paris, then Rome and since 2020 they found their place with me in Geneva. I felt proud to have found a Bluetooth attachment that allowed me to play from my phone through to these vintage speakers. 

Despite my best efforts (and pricey white-glove service movers), the vintage audio system is (finally?) showing signs of ageing. I haven’t played any records on it in a couple of years, having invested in a couple of those fancy Apple Bluetooth devices now dotted around the house. 

A kind friend recently gifted me the vinyl of a Brazilian artist she thought I’d love. Disaster struck when I found the turntable stylus nearly crumbled in my hand. Resourceful as I am, I fiddled with it and found a new one online in a gist. But then, the dust cover also refuses to stay up (as if it were reverse broken), and let’s not forget that one of the speakers refuses to work properly.

I loved the sound that came out of this vintage hi-fi stereo, but was it time to let it go?

I was at a loss about the records, however. How can I choose what to keep if I have nothing to play them on? 

There I was, surrounded by piles of old vinyls littering my dining room table, a broken stereo system, dust everywhere. My cats climbing atop the musical tower: I took to the internet, as one does. 

Staring at the screen, I discovered an affordable, good-looking, and Bluetooth-enabled turntable. Full body sigh of relief. Next day delivery, check. 

Finding the upgrade

We’re not meant to stick to broken old systems for eternity, however nostalgic it may make us feel. Sometimes, we may just not be the person to fix them either. It may be that we just have to find the next best step for ourselves, mindfully (and ideally, with sustainability in mind). 

I received my new player. Of course, it refused to pair up with my Apple speakers but it delightfully synced to another Bluetooth speaker I’d gotten for holidays. The sound of the old records is still great — different, but great. 

I’ll fix the old stylus and plan to donate the Akai units to charity. I’m sure it will bring an audio nerd a lot of joy, eventually. Now I get to choose which records to keep on playing and which to give away. 

Out with the old, in with the new: for now at least

Let’s close the loop with my earlier metaphor. 

I tried for a long time to remain loyal and support the old system. Of course I’m attached to it. I grew up with it. It turned me from a Saturday girl to a businesswoman and executive. 

It’s not (just) the fashion industry that is broken. I came pretty close to being broken myself. 

Unlike that turntable, I’ve undergone several system upgrades away from the industry — coaching, mindfulness certification, storytelling masterclasses, and much more. I changed. The veil lifted, I had outgrown the system. 

I feel like that clean Audio-Tecnica turntable: light, free, new, Bluetooth-enabled. I can still be the impactful partner I’ve always been, one willing to start fresh, break from the status quo, and make magic happen. 

I’m not washing my hands of fashion altogether. Maybe some broken turntables are worth being salvaged. 

Episode Cover
Is the fashion industry broken, or is it me?
A story about my dad’s broken turntable and how it made me realise it’s time for me to move on from an industry I’ve dedicated most of my career.