BoF VOICES at Soho Farmhouse: In conversation with Imran Amed
This week, The Business of Fashion’s annual gathering of big thinkers returns to Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire with a line-up of speakers from the world’s biggest industries. Here, Soho House’s Chief Creative and Content Officer, Nabil Aliffi, talks to BoF founder and Shoreditch House member, Imran Amed, about what we can expect from this year’s event
‘When we first came up with the idea for VOICES, we wanted it to be disruptive. Fashion doesn’t exist in a bubble, and so I wanted to bring other voices into the conversation,’ says Imran Amed, the founder, CEO and editor-in-chief of The Business of Fashion. Since 2016, he has brought together the great minds of fashion with other industry big-thinkers and trailblazers who are shaping the wider world.
Over three days at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, a line-up of experts from the world’s leading sectors will reimagine the future of a post-pandemic fashion industry, set the agenda for its global community, and analyse its role within current global affairs through a series of in-person and digital events.
This year, guest speakers include Dame Vivienne Westwood, Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit, mixed-media artist ALOK, and designer and climate change campaigner Daniel Lismore. ‘We have some great speakers, and to be able to bring it back to Soho Farmhouse where it all began is an absolute delight,’ says Amed. ‘It’s become such an important part of our annual event calendar and everyone in the fashion industry really looks forward to it.'
Ahead of the event, Amed sat down with Soho House’s Chief Creative and Content Officer, Nabil Aliffi, on Zoom to talk about getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations, building community, and this year’s topics.
How would you describe BoF VOICES?
‘It brings together the really important, relevant leaders from fashion and connects them with people from philanthropy, economics, health and wellness, music, technology, and innovation. When you bring interesting, highly curated groups of people together, you get this incredible burst of energy, learning, and human connection.’
What can we expect from BoF VOICES this year?
‘The themes at VOICES are emergent. They emerge while it’s happening. However, there are topics that are bubbling to the surface across all of our sessions. First, there’s the climate crisis: what tools, metrics, innovations and opportunities does the fashion industry have to address and reduce its carbon emissions? It’s front of mind for everyone in the world following COP26 in Glasgow.
‘Then there’s the metaverse: a word that wasn’t even in the common lexicon at the beginning of 2021. But with the rise of NFTs, the intersection between fashion and gaming and the continual blurring of physical and digital worlds, it’s coming up a lot in conversations.
‘And lastly, I think it would have to be intimacy and human connection. There’s a real desire for people to reconnect with other humans. It is core to the human experience.’
Whose idea was it to host VOICES at Soho Farmhouse in 2016? Did it take much convincing getting the fashion circuit to the English countryside?
‘It was tough, but we managed to get some really amazing people there. When they come to VOICES, they can expect meaningful conversations and some uncomfortable conversations. This isn’t a self-congratulatory PR platform. It’s an opportunity to take a hard look at the industry and ask: is this who we want to be? 'The success of that first year made our job a lot easier in the years that followed. We’ve had Alber Elbaz, Dries Van Noten, the CEOs of Gucci, Farfetch and Saint Laurent there in previous years. This time, we have the CEO of Balenciaga, Dame Vivienne Westwood and Tommy Hilfiger attending. Plus, lots of people outside of fashion who are just as exciting. About 50% of the attendees at VOICES are people that come back. It’s a real community. They mark it out in their calendar and say “I’m not missing it”.’
There are many synergies between BoF and Soho House. What do you think the two communities have most in common?
‘At their core, they are global. We have members in 125 countries around the world. Soho House has embarked on growth in places where our members are present. It’s one that’s made up of creatively driven people who are innovators in their respected spaces. Also, there is a general level of curiosity and interest in our community that’s very similar. People want to meet people and make connections and relationships. Fashion is a global community, and what we’ve both done is find ways of bringing those communities together.’
What do you value most about your Soho House membership?
‘Electric House is my neighbourhood canteen. I have meetings there as I know that I can always get a table. I work from home a lot, so having that and White City House around the corner is so convenient. They became part of my weekly rhythm when I couldn’t escape or travel in lockdown.’
What do you order for breakfast?
‘Usually a vegetarian breakfast, cappuccino and one of those citrus House Press juices.’
And your drink of choice?
‘A Picante, of course.’
We’ve all read about ‘The Great Resignation’, which has impacted many industries, including fashion. Who in your line-up of speakers do you think will have the most to say on this topic?
‘It’s a really negative phrase – I’ll probably avoid using that. I think it’s more about a focus on purpose. The resignation is the symptom. The core thing at work here is that people are seeking more meaning in life and at work. “The Great Resignation” is a negative spin on a really positive thing. We’ll be discussing that a lot at VOICES. We have an entire session at the end of the day on Friday called “Live Your Best Life” and we’ll be talking about purpose. My lesson is that if you can align your purpose and your passion with your career, then there’s magic in that.’
What were your personal reflections in lockdown?
‘It was an important opportunity to ask myself why I do what I do. What is the meaning behind it? I’ve been lucky and fortunate to have gone on a journey where I was able to bring different things that I was interested in and align them with my professional skills. And I can really feed that into the purpose of BoF, which is to be a constructive voice for good within the global fashion industry.’
I’ve heard what happens at VOICES stays at VOICES. Can you let us in on a secret?
‘I don’t think that it’s about controversial or scandalous things. It’s about really meaningful, personal human interactions that feed your soul. And that’s why everyone wants to come back. When you take a bunch of busy, high-profile leaders outside of their day to day, put them in a place like Soho Farmhouse and surround them with fascinating people, everyone lets their guard down. They don’t feel like they have to be the persona that they are in the industry. It’s a crucible, it forges connections that you can’t make in a business meeting, or in the middle of a city where everyone is running around.’
This year, we will be livestreaming the discussions at the conference for members to join.
BoF VOICES: inside the fashion system
The fashion industry is transforming before our eyes. Here, we meet the people who are asking questions about how it needs to change and imagining the exciting opportunities that it could bring. Speakers include Tommy Hilfiger, Cédric Charbit, Halima Aden, and Indya Moore.
Thursday 2, 11am to 1pm GMT
● Mumbai: 4.30pm to 6.30pm
● Hong Kong: 6.30pm to 9pm
BoF VOICES: live your best life
Let’s put things into perspective. Getting your work-life balance right can be hard, so listen to passionate individuals with inspiring stories and discover how to be the most authentic version of yourself. Speakers include Christian Louboutin, Rozan Ahmed, Richard Christiansen, Roger Frampton, Mohsin Zaidi, and Vanessa Kingori MBE.