What fashion can learn from Ford Motors: Things I learnt from my trip to the motor capital

If you follow us on Twitter, you probably noticed that I was in Detroit, Michigan last month for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) and many people emailed and tweeted to me wanting to know why I was the car capital of America (car buffs may argue that Detroit is the car capital of the world). But besides being given a “free” trip from Ford Motors, it was because Ford wanted to showcase how they design their cars – not just to the car crowd who already have a passion for a beautifully designed vehicle.

Flying out over 140 bloggers to Detroit, Michigan – or online influencers as Ford put it – from 16 countries as far reaching as Turkey, China, South Africa and Australia from various blogging disciplines like art & design, travel and fashion, Ford were set to send waves through the car marketing industry. Influence use to be a hard thing to measure with print publications, especially with the readership ‘statistic’ which uses parameters like cover image recognition to count how many people read a single magazine here in Australia. But with digital it’s different, everything is measureable.

When everyone found out that I blogged about fashion and beauty, the one question kept coming up: How I was going to cover the motor show? I have written about cars in the past, but mostly because they’ve teamed up with an amazing fashion designer or supermodel – not about how much horsepower it has. Fellow bloggers were great with suggestions – I especially liked the one where I showcased the outfits worn by the female models used by the car brands. Then I realised that unlike some of the tacky local motor shows, there wasn’t a busty girl in skimpy clothes in sight. Not that there weren’t girls in sexy dresses, but there was a level of class to it all, after all the NAIAS is for the seriously serious industry folk. I toyed with the idea of doing a day by day recap of what I did, but that would only serve to appease my own needs.

Then a thought came to me while I was starting my 25 hour journey home to Sydney; maybe fashion could learn a thing or two about the design process from the motor industry, or from Ford at least.

5 things the fashion industry could learn from Ford Motors


1. Technology is amazing

It’s not that fashion don’t utilize technology, but for Ford (and other car brands), it has become an integral part in the design process. We were shown how Ford use 3D and CG technology to design a car every step along the way – from sketching an idea to seeing how light shimmers across the surface of the vehicle, there is not one feature of a car that is not accounted for.

While I love paper sketches, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that most fashion designers don’t even draw anymore.  We see the designs on Project Runway using design tablets (thanks in main part to the show’s sponsor HP) but the 3D modelling and effects used by Ford was astounding. While we would all love to see a haute couture creation, it’s just not physically possible for us all. Last year saw Valentino Garavani and his longtime business partner Giancarlo Giammetti launch a 3D digital museum at http://valentino-garavani-archives.org spanning 50 years of Valentino’s namesake brand (he retired in 2008). The online museum features nearly 100 fashion shows on video, 5,000 dresses, the original working sketches from the designer’s hand and photographs of the clothes, the celebrities who wore them and a vision of the world of Valentino.

“It is the first time there has been a virtual fashion museum — and people can interact,” says Mr. Giammetti. “To be called pioneers for what we have done — and at our age!”


2. Quality over quantity

I was pretty amazed when Ford showed us all the steps it takes to get a car from the design phase to the showroom floor. The work and the thought that goes into a single vehicle is astounding.

Some could argue that car brands launch too many cars per year, but it’s not like they’re Karl Lagerfeld churning out up to 20+ collections a year for the likes of Chanel, Fendi and his own lines. There is beauty in something that takes time to create and thought is given.

Ford has teams of people who test everything, from how seats should be placed in cars (with a lot of research into how people step in and out of their cars) to how a car drives in traffic via simulators. It would be nice if some fashion designers would focus on having a quality pieces made, not just shipping everything off to a cheap maker in Bali who gives you back wonky seams or uneven shoulders. When you’re charging a few hundred for a single tshirt.


3. Where is the eco-fashion focus?

I met several eco friendly bloggers during the three days I was in Detroit for Ford’s Fantasy Camp / NAIAS. It was kind of rare because I think I know of one writer in Australia who is fairly prominent in Australia with her writings about eco fashion and living – the lovely Tullia Jack.

Ford have teams who are working on finding sustainable and recyclable materials to build their cars with, like soy for soy-foam seats to corn based plastics and fabrics. Whether some of those materials are actually sustainable was up for debate amongst some, it was good to see a brand as big as Ford striving to deliver options for the eco-friendly conscious.

In fashion eco-fashion tends to get sucked up into the vortex that is fast fashion and we lose sight of the brands who are creating beautiful designs or making a difference with their work. Even we’re guilty of forgetting about eco-fashion, something which we are looking to change.


4. Fashion trade shows could learn a thing or two from NAIAS

I’ve been to several fashion trade shows here in Australia and they usually consist of booth with racks of clothes, looking rather uninspired. Sometimes there is a designer or two that stands out, but where is that showmanship? Each car brand at NAIAS had allotted times when they could do a spectacular unveil of their latest models and the crowds who turned out to see the new Ford 2013 Fusion was astounding. Hundreds of people from the media and car industry insiders pilled in to see the unveiling of the Ford Fusion car with even more walking around the huge convention space.

Premiere at Fashion Exposed in Australia comes close to hitting the mark with a luxurious showroom for the luxury designers, but I didn’t feel the excitement in the room when I went last year. Maybe fashion trade shows are different overseas – I’m dying to hit the Pitti Immagine Uomo trade show in Florence or MAGIC in Las Vegas one day – but in Australia they could do with a revamp.


5. Bring people together – much like Luisaviaroma’s FirenzeForever

This point is a little self-indulgent… because I love meeting bloggers. Conversations never just stay in your own industries and you make friends with so many different people who share some of the geekier/girlie qualities people don’t always appreciate. I’m not saying fly bloggers to a location together like Ford did with their Fantasy Camp, or LuisaViaRoma do twice-yearly with their Firenze Forever styling lab, which I had the pleasure of attending last year. But if you can show a blogger a good time at a fun event, then the chances of getting coverage is exponentially higher.

After meeting so many bloggers on the Ford Fantasy Camp and listening them speak at Ford’s Ignite evening I grew more inspired to work on SASSYBELLA.com more, and even have plans to tweak the design a little. Even though everyone is at different stages of their blogging careers – some work on their blogs full time, some blog part time, while others write for bigger digital properties – it was fascinating to hear about the in’s and out’s of blogging in their respective countries and get an insight into their worlds.

Back to the Social Media aspect of the Ford Fantasy Camp…

The question on every digital marketers lips is probably “was it worth it?” Clearly that is a question not for me to answer, but Ford’s head of Social Media, Scott Monty gave us a quick list of stats from Ford’s perspective after the first day of NAIAS. Thanks to the social media power of all the attendees, Ford had:

  • 2,200 twitter mentions
  • Reached 5 million people
  • 40% coverage was about Ford today from the NAIAS
  • Share of voice for their new car, the Ford Fusion (aka the Mondeo in Australia) is normally 9.5%. Today it was 58.5%.
  • 70% of all the coverage from NAIAS during press conference was about Ford and the Ford Fusion

Before I end this, let me just give a big shout out to some of the cool people I met that made my time in Detroit a fun and memorable experience: Nikki, Dylan, Alix, Kai and Stuart.

Hope I see you all again soon – preferably in Australia!


Ford covered all travel costs for the trip to Detroit for NAIAS and their Ford Fantasy Camp. All thoughts and comments are our own and have not been influenced.