A Look Into The Growth of Community-driven Fashion Brands

We are all constantly looking to be part of something bigger.
The Chanakya workshop in Mumbai, India. Images shot for Christian Dior Couture.

Pharell Williams, freshly appointed creative director at Louis Vuitton, made a stellar debut recently with one of the buzziest runway shows of the season. The collection, however, was not the most discussed, but rather, the star-studded performances after the show. As he marched out with the rest of the team, the
media called it: “a fashion show beyond just clothes”. Williams was definitely not the first—and will not be the last—designer who calls for this approach. Fashion brands are putting culture and people forward. It’s all about the community now.

Earlier this year, Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri hosted a show in Mumbai to celebrate traditional Indian artisanship and craftsmanship, casting light on the nation’s unsung prowess in the fashion world. Adopting a different approach—the same core values nonetheless—Dior is bringing the backroom to the front, sharing the spotlight that has been long given to just one “big-ticket designer” as
fairly as possible among each other.

Community-led brands map out their strategies in several forms: either a visual appeal that is layered upon an existing community, or like Dior, making everyone involved in the creative process the star of the brand. The common ground is to shed heavy emphasis on one “celebrity designer”, downplaying their presence as the sole anchor. The goal is to set up an “our-brand”, with diversity and inclusivity as the main charm.

Ultimately, the idea is to break the obsolete assumption—as much as possible—that fashion is an exclusive circle where everybody is on their own trip.


Pierpaolo Piccioli describes couture as an instrument to voice out the course designers believe in, louder and more effectively. Telfar, for example, is the blueprint. A cultural touchstone in the industry, it relies heavily on the Black community, heightening the opportunities for these talents to thrust their names and make their culture visible—something they’ve been struggling with and striving to achieve. The brand recruits mostly Black talents, spokespersons or models, using fashion as a medium to give back to the community.

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A novelty in the industry, it worked out a pricing model where customers put their desired price to their purchases, making luxury accessible. The “T” logo quickly earned its cult status, known to many as the “Bushwick Birkin”. To get around resellers, Telfar also introduced the “Bag Security Program”—put to a halt now—allowing unlimited pre-orders instead of buying with an unreasonable marked-up price. After all, the stance of the brand has always been, “Not for you—for everyone.”

A community with shared hobbies and interests too, have the equal power to foster the growth of a brand. Patagonia, a brand for outdoorsy people who advocate sustainable lifestyles fit the bill. A noteworthy incident was how the American-based brand added a hidden political statement “Vote the a**holes out” that went viral later. The initiative was directed at Trump and those who run the office at the time for their anti-environmental measures. It works as both a marketing tactic that drives actual sales and dovetails with Patagonia’s ethos that would otherwise fail if done by others.


A community-led brand doesn’t just mean engaging with the customers; it could also be looking inwardly at the brand itself, or in this case, the many pair of hands that bring the collections to life.

Giving credit where it is due is very much appreciated by consumers, specifically the younger cohorts: the woke Millennials and Gen-Zs. They prefer ethical values over ostentatious designs. Take Lush, for example. The beauty brand placed stickers of employees who made and packed the products on the packaging itself, allowing consumers to connect to the staff behind the scenes. It’s only a matter of time before fashion brands adopt this practice.

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Against the historical backdrop of the Gateway of India, Dior showcased their Pre-fall 2023 collection with the Chanakya Ateliers, artisans behind the brand’s immaculate tailoring. The idea of celebrating the nation’s traditional craftsmanship finally provided the craftspeople with the long-overdue recognition they deserved. Despite having room to improve, it is still considerably progressive.

Atelier Jolie further cemented this. A red carpet fixture, Angelina Jolie had finally revealed her fashion venture with a lending hand from Chloé. Forget seasonal releases—Jolie is gathering all the talents from across the globe, including marginalised groups like refugees, to start a creative hub. Instead of yet another Hollywood-star-turned-designer label, Atelier Jolie fully utilises the celebrity’s influences to foster fashion talents.


However, there’s a reason why the creative director is often the “face” of a fashion house. They represent the cogwheels of “make or break”. That said, having an incubator to facilitate newcomers are vital. Fashion East, for example, launched—and is continuously supporting—independent creatives where some make it big, such as J.W Anderson, Chet Lo, and Grace Wales Bonner, to name a few. The success proved that giving young talents a community that serves as a seedbed is more good than bad.

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Founded by the late Alber Elbaz, AZ Factory offers young designers like Thebe Magugu or Esther Manas a spot on their rotational designer list, otherwise known as “guest amigos”. Off-White too, replaced the creative director position with image and art director Ib Kamara, passing the creative batons to emerging talents. Backed up by formidable names, budding designers get to roll their sleeves up without the distraction of financial aids.

The ever-growing number of fashion collaborations has also reached a fever pitch. While not a new thing, the people willing to queue for the collection drops are not to be trifled with. The initial intention was to reach a new audience group but thanks to globalisation, collaborating for that reason is now redundant. Instead, brands collaborate to pool resources and share patented skills or innovations. In fact, many collaborations today took place only because their ethos and clientele align. When like-minded gather together, a community is formed. This unfolds another approach: guest designers.

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Unlike in-house designers, these guests only appear once, or occasionally, to co-create for a serial collaboration. Moncler Genius by outerwear brand Moncler is one of the first few projects that roll out a designer roster, inviting designers like J.W Anderson, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Simone Rocha, Matthew Williams, and many more. Its appeal is reflected in the numbers. Despite only 10% of the revenue coming from Genius, the project draws a younger demographic with 40% of Millenials and Gen-Z among the overall Moncler customers, in turn boosting the sales of the non-Genius products. This eventually sloughs off the brand’s association with “just puffer ski jackets”.

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Exchanging knowledge, regardless of how eminent they are, carves a window for designers to push their own boundaries—sometimes even cross-sector, creating a platform for creatives to jump out of their regular images. Jean-Paul Gaultier, for one, has been making the most out of it. From Chitose Abe, and Glenn Martens, to Olivier Rousteing, the French Maison has fashion enthusiasts hooked with social media going on a frenzy every Couture season.


The benefits to build a community are apparent. For the brand, welcoming more voices to the conversation brings in fresh views, eventually “democratising” the industry; the designers get to step away from the usual framework (or restriction) to enjoy a creativity boom. The emerging ones get the exposure, visibility, financial support, and connections that will come in handy for their career.

The sad truth is, building a community for a brand is not a slam-dunk solution—it is, after all, a money-making business. Too many cooks can spoil the broth, hence curating and selecting members become the ultimate key. For example, sunsetting brands names might see having a guest designer as the solution to reviving the brand, but it could also exacerbate the underlying problems. Tiffany Hsu, fashion buying director at Mytheresa shares, “If the brand is purely based on rotating designers it might be slightly inconsistent for both buyers and clients as it is hard to establish a DNA for the brand.” It may be refreshing, but is it sustainable? Let’s also not forget the amount of effort and funds needed to calibrate after every season. As for culture-based brands, weighing between homage and tokenism is a challenge. Can the cultural identity of a brand be the ideal representative of an ethnic group that exist for more than centuries?

There are so many unanswered questions which is why most brands perceived community as an add-on upon a well-grounded foundation, but even with that, the result is never guaranteed. Tod’s project the Tod’s Factory and Calvin Klein’s Ckubator for examples, tried to mimic the Moncler Genius model but never make the cut. Street culture and skateboarding brand Supreme had a whale of a time with its ad-nauseam collaborations. The rise and fall, unfortunately, gradually took place within years, not dead yet but definitely not the juggernaut it once was. The formula is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Alas, a community-led brand remains a nice-to-have instead of a core, at least for now.