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Joseph Tang is the Fashion Director at Holt Renfrew, Toronto. Here Joseph talks to us about dancing his way to an internship at Holts, the changing face of menswear, and the responsibility to embody and communicate company values.

I started out my career by interning at a television show called Fashion Television, while I was still in university. It was a pretty revolutionary show for Canadian television at the time, and my role involved pulling up archive, like old McQueen and Chanel shows, and producing fashion stories about them. That’s how I learned about fashion history, and that’s when I fell in love with the industry. 

That same summer I also worked at Canadian retailer, Club Monaco. I learned so much about customer behaviours and visual merchandising. And I learned how to overcome my childhood shyness, and talk to people! After four years working at Club Monaco, I can talk to a wall if I need to. Club Monaco is on the same street as Holt Renfrew, and whenever I walked past, I would dream about working at Holts one day. It didn’t happen overnight though! I applied to be a sales assistant, but didn’t get the job. Years later, a friend of a friend invited me to apply for an internship. I remember the interview was pretty informal, quite unusual in fact — they were filming an internal video that day, and they asked me to be in it! I ended up dancing on camera with then fashion director, Barbara Adkins. Needless to say, I got the internship. 

My job is never the same from day to day, there is always a new challenge. Having said that, it does follow a bit of a calendar. We are currently finishing up the Spring 2020 buying market, which involves working with the buyers and marketing teams, coming up with the overall themes that speak for the season, and thinking about how to communicate that to the customer. On another day I might be on a photoshoot, making sure our product is represented the right way, or you might find me at a fashion show, or showroom, looking for new collections or those must-have pieces for our customers.

The best part of my job is forecasting. We begin by forecasting high level trends that we think are going to be really important, in dialogue with what is happening in society and culture at that moment. Then we think about how we can translate and modify those trends for our customers. We do a lot of research, and we work really closely with the buyers to communicate that research before they go to market.

When I started out, streetstyle was really peaking. I call it fashion peacocking because people had a real appetite for logos and stacking on the accessories. It was very ‘look at me’! We have really moved away from that now, and there is a desire to be more neutral. I think the idea of casualisation, and breaking down the barriers of what corporate dressing means today, is also a drastic change in our society as a whole. It used to be all about the suit — men would wear the perfect brogue, briefcase, and suit to the office every day. Bespoke tailoring was big business. The changing work landscape has been reflected in what people are buying and wearing to work. Office spaces are changing, and working from home is far more prevalent. Even in the financial district in Canada and the US, and also in Europe, there is a move toward more casual working attire. It’s exciting to see such a big shift in such a short time. 

I think the pandemic has affected menswear and the tailoring business drastically. The demand for suits was already on the downtrend, and it has completely fallen. We aren’t seeing as many structured blazers or pumps in womenswear either, people are definitely investing more in comfort and casual wear. I think part of our role is to help ensure that we’re both buying for the customers needs now, and also marketing towards those needs. That’s the fun part of the job, it straddles both product and image.

 

'The changing work landscape has been reflected in what people are buying and wearing to work. Office spaces are changing, and working from home is far more prevalent'

There have been some positive effects of the pandemic, personally. Reduced travel commitments has let me focus on things that otherwise may have slipped through the net. I have been able to think more creatively about how to do things. People still manage to fill my calendar up though! Last year, I travelled pretty much every other month, from New York to Europe and back again. While I do love navigating through the shows and market digitally, it doesn’t replace the experience going into the showroom, or being at the show, and feeling the energy of everyone around you — so I am excited to get start out there again. It will be really interesting to see how brands and companies will take these digital practices we have had to develop into the future, when the pandemic is over. Both travel and budgets will reduce across the board, but I’m really excited to see how everyone adapts and evolves. Some brands have done an amazing job at digitally presenting the collections, and some are still trying to come into the 21st century! It’s a learning curve for all of us. 

I think we are living in a time when the customers’ voices are very important —  our brands and stores must reflect the values that our communities put forward, and companies are having to be more transparent than ever. This year has been really transformative. When Covid started, customers were the first ones to react if your store didn’t close, or if you didn’t make a meaningful statement— and commitment — to tackling inequality within your own organisation. Businesses have to address these big issues through their own brand values. We must now ask the important questions, and really stick behind the core values and beliefs of both the company and ourselves as individuals. I think in fashion specifically, we’ve seen more designers speak out about sustainability practices in their productions or in their supply chains. We have also seen a lot of designers embrace inclusivity, both in diversity, size, and age. This is all necessary, if we want things to really change. If your brand or company is not in the movement and making a change, creating new work processes, getting rid of the old formulas, and breaking down barriers, then you’re just going to be left behind.

 

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