Accelerating the region’s fashion talent
Bong Guerrero, from Fashion Forward, talks about his journey to launching an events platform for regional designers.
June 17, 2014 11:22 by kippreport
by Sidra Tariq
From selling bespoke dresses to royalty and organising corporate events, to launching a platform for regional designers to get worldwide exposure, Bong Guerrero has had a lot on his plate for the past 24 years. The co-founder and CEO of the Dubai-based Middle East fashion event, Fashion Forward, which started last year, talks to us about his longstanding passion and how he tried to turn his aspiration into reality.
What is the story behind Fashion Forward?
Fashion Forward is a marriage of two realms that I have been involved with: fashion and events.
I have been living in Dubai for the last 24 years. Back in 1991, I started a fashion house that catered to royalty and wealthy ladies; we made bespoke dresses. I did that for approximately seven years and it was doing quite well in those days, when there was hardly a shopping mall or any of the top brands to be seen.
After that I ventured into event management and have been doing that for the last 15 years, churning out a good share of the city’s corporate events. Five years ago, I started a live marketing and event management agency, called Brag, along with my partner Ramzi Nakad (co-creator and chief operating office of Fashion Forward).
Creating a fashion platform has always been at the back of my mind. I remember attending another platform in the past: Dubai Fashion Week. It had a lot of shortcomings and I thought to myself that one day, given the opportunity, I would like to launch a platform and call it ‘forward,’ because fashion should always be avant-garde, never backwards (because what I saw seemed a bit backwards). That was approximately seven to eight years ago.
The abbreviation for forward is ‘fwd’, so I thought subliminally that could also suggest, Fashion Week of Dubai.
Why did you decide to keep a regional focus?
My team and I brainstormed what the pillars of Fashion Forward would be. We thought it was best to reflect the current status of the fashion industry. Dubai is a cosmopolitan city and a melting pot. You have Middle Eastern designers, Arab designers and a lot of different nationalities. So, we created the platform for anyone [who has] based his/her business in the region. Our objective was to champion these brands and designers as well as take a developmental angle to it. This is why we curate a lot of talks and panel discussions on everything under the umbrella of fashion.
The fact that we are in Dubai is quite a blessing too, because it is an international city. When we do something right here, we get the attention of the rest of the world. That is all we really need to do: do it right and everybody will come. I’m hoping that out of Fashion Forward, we will have brands that have been spun out of this region and eventually become global brands. But first, they need to be heroes in their own locales. They need to have a strong hold in the Middle East.
What are some of the main challenges you encountered in setting up the platform?
First, it was very important for me to get unanimous support from the top designers. Previous attempts [at fashion events] lacked that proper representation of who are the best regionally and that took a bit of convincing and lobbying, especially because a lot of the designers were skeptical of previous attempts. The fact that we are still an emerging market, the whole buying rhythm isn’t there yet. Even the best designers are not quite ready on an international standard.
It is always a challenge to make such platforms viable commercially, so we are always looking at collaborations with potential sponsors.
How did you raise capital?
Our main obstacle was that we couldn’t find the right funding. We thought that we would get the first big sponsor, but it doesn’t work that way. I had to first find seed money and that is when I shared my idea with a couple of potential partners and financial partners, and sold them the dream. I have shareholders.
What advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs and designers breaking into the fashion industry?
If they want to be entrepreneurial, they have to first really believe in what they are doing and love [it]. If you love what you do every day, then it becomes beyond work and everything translates and follows through. You’ve got to do your homework and assess the market or the industry you are trying to penetrate. See what unique selling points you are going to have and carve out your own positioning. You should have a business plan, your finances in place and have the longevity to weather the ups and downs of a business cycle.
I always say you have to start somewhere and the best way to start is to take one step forward.