In the September issue of Vogue, beyond the luscious, fantasy filled fashion photos, an article about the business of fashion design piqued my interest. Entitled ‘What Price Fashion?’, it points in a direction that is also useful for garden and landscape designers–yet I haven’t seen anyone in the traditional garden press writing about it. In the garden glossies there is a bubble of fair economic weather surrounding flowers that bloom in impossible perfection in gardens that cost more than most people make in a year–much like what is pictured in fashion magazines.
The article’s author, Teri Agins, describes a revised design business philosophy surfacing among fashion designers. Even before the current recession drove shoppers away from buying anything but the essential, the author asserts that ‘…overpriced fashion no longer made any sense. Amid a declining demand for clothes and accessories, the biggest challenge for fashion houses is to better justify why things cost what they do.’ Don’t we as landscape designers have the same challenge? In the good old days, before the recession hit, we could often propose big ticket gardens for our clients based solely on their own need to possess the glamorous garden images they had seen in magazines and coffee table books.
With signs of an emerging economic upswing, the New York Times reported this week that even the super rich aren’t getting richer for the first time in thirty years. These are the clients for luxury products like designer dresses and designer gardens and they will, in the future, spend less–although less, in the upper income brackets is relative. Some fashion designers are providing ‘more’ for less by reinventing old business models, finding creative ways to provide interesting and novel details not found in more expensive clothes, and keeping close track of what their customers want–without sacrificing quality and growing their businesses at the same time. Can’t we as landscape designers benefit from the same thinking?
Consumers are questioning the inherent value in what they are buying from well known designers in all disciplines. Of course I know that custom built gardens aren’t the same as couture, but how many of us are still lamenting the loss of ‘the good old days’ without exploring new and real ways of upping the value of our work? Not perceived value…real value. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know–gardens enhance people’s lives in so many tangible ways and clothing doesn’t…STOP!!! Great, thoughtful and innovative design offered at a fair price enhances people’s lives no matter what the product.
Right now, there is an opportunity to change direction that doesn’t come along often. I think it’s time for landscape designers (myself included) and garden designers to look for new ways to give their customers more for less without sacrificing sound garden practices or bleeding their bottom lines. Offering the same isn’t working for many now and isn’t likely to work in the future.
Read the article in the September issue of Vogue, it’s on page 394. Oh, and tell me what you think, I’d love to hear your comments on this one for sure!