The show must go on: How Brisbane Fashion Month created a flexible experience for its annual event

Lights. Camera. And, ahh, is this thing on? 

Hosting a runway event online is hardly the spectacle of a real life event, but when life gives you lemons, well, you know how it goes. 

At a traditional fashion show, the hustle and bustle of the crowd before and after the show are as important as the runway event itself. For many, a place to be seen is as important as the goods on show. 

Maintaining this atmosphere, showcasing the city’s fashion and ensuring it was done in a COVID-safe manner were all considerations when planning Brisbane Fashion Month’s line-up of events. 

But cancelling the annual event was never an option, director of Brisbane Fashion Month Laura Churchill explains. 

“Earlier this year, the main consideration was how we go ahead with Brisbane Fashion Month in some shape or form – whether that was 100% online, partly online and partly in person, or business as usual,” she says. 

Brisbane Fashion Month is about showcasing and supporting the local fashion industry.

“Brisbane Fashion Month is about showcasing and supporting the local fashion industry. It hasn’t stopped, so for these brands not to have an outlet would have been a significant impact for their businesses. 

“That was a key driver for me all year – to keep the exposure going year on year for these brands and of course to maintain the consistency of BFM as an annual event.” 

Creating a digital runway 

The lineup this year is somewhat of a contrast to the usual events, which would ordinarily include large runways, workshops and pop-ups. This October’s BFM schedule none the less offers a full program with runways, panels and designer meet and greets, ranging in size from fewer than 20 people to the finale runway with over 100 guests. 

Laura says she and her team were constantly monitoring the COVID-19 event restrictions to see what was going to be possible and adjusting the event planning to ensure it was in line with government guidelines and would be safe for attendees. 

As the restrictions became clearer, the event began to take shape – albeit quite different from the usual run of events. 

“One of the innovations has been the digital runway show presented by Museum of Brisbane which  launched on our website on 1 October. This show wouldn’t have been something we would have done in a normal year, but I’m so glad we did,” Laura says. 

“In the past we wouldn’t have gone to the length to stage a highly produced digital runway. It’ll open that event up from what might have been about a 200 in-person capacity to several thousand who will tune into the show on our website over the month to view it for free.

“On top of that there will be a number of smaller runway events like the West Village runway, which will run over two sittings of 40 guests but will also be live-streamed, plus small workshops and panel events across the month in line with the COVID-safe venue capacities.

“We’re fortunate also to be able to stage our major runway the Resort Finale at Breakfast Creek Lifestyle Precinct on October 30 where we’ll have more than 100 guests in the room as it’s a beautiful big space in the Mercedes-Benz Brisbane showroom.”

In it together  

Despite the easing restrictions, Laura says the changing requirements and personal health stresses held by many has made planning the event challenging. 

“To help us create a safe event, I’ve called on extra event management staff to come on board this year,” she says. 

“We’ve formulated all of our COVID-safe event plans and we’re constantly reviewing the guidelines to ensure everything we’re doing is in line with them and has our attendees’ health front of mind. 

“It’s been  stressful at times, but focusing on the positives and that goal of showcasing the city’s fashion brands has kept us going.”

Surprisingly, getting sponsorship and selling tickets hasn’t been the biggest challenge, and Laura says the support for the festival going ahead has been overwhelming. 

“It’s felt like a team effort and everyone has looked at partnerships and sponsorships as, ‘OK we’re doing this together’. Our stakeholders understand that we’re doing the best we can and they’re well aware of the constraints. 

“That said, I truly believe this year’s festival will be our best one yet.” 

Setting the foundations moving forward

For many industries, COVID-19 health concerns and government restrictions have forced innovations or policies that were otherwise put on the backburner. For the events industry, embracing a digital-first approach has just been a matter of time. 

“We have live streamed runways in the past but this year it will be a lot more professional and more produced – dedicated livestream channels are something we’ll carry into the future to reach as many people as possible,” Laura says. 

“The whole industry is moving towards more digital content so we’ll definitely be keeping pace with that as well.”

And the in-person events? Laura says most sold out on launch. 

“The resort finale sold out in under an hour. People are really keen to get out and attend events,” she says. 

“There’s been a lot of enquiry around our capacity and safety and we’ve been keeping a front foot on comms around that – but we’re being really proactive about it and people know we have their safety in mind. 

“It’s great to see the support from the public and businesses.” 

Written By

Brisbane Business Hub

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