The Perils of Fashion’s ‘Fake-It-Til-You-Make-It’ Culture

January 31, 2019

In fashion, we seem to celebrate success above everything. And as an industry, we are well-known for loudly promoting our leaders, lauding designers and chief executives for our perception of their brilliance and their glamour. But while we continue to expect perfection at every turn, underneath the veneer of happiness and success are normal people with anxieties and insecurities just like the rest of us.

And although we have heard for years that in order to succeed in fashion you must “fake it ‘til you make it,” the obvious perils of that path, so tragically demonstrated by a troubling number of high profile burn outs and suicides, are awakening a long-needed conversation that is questioning what “success” means and how best to achieve it in the 21st century. Furthermore, just as generational shifts have necessitated different thinking in fashion as it relates to the Gen-Y and Z consumer, we must now also openly consider how to provide future leaders in this industry a more sustainable and authentic path forward in a world that is ever more connected and ever more critical.

It has been said that being a leader is the loneliest job. While this may seem a first-class problem, as a chief executive myself, I can identify with this sentiment. Like other high profile industries, leaders in fashion are pressured to always present the most positive and optimistic face, even when things are less than ideal. What’s more, we are expected to inspire the confidence of those around us at all times, no matter what we are facing on a given day in our personal or professional life. That’s a ton of stress and it’s not for everyone.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that many people are not comfortable with the pressures of leadership in the fashion industry, let alone today’s seeming requirement that we all broadcast confidence and perfection at every touchpoint — have you been on Instagram today?

During a recent talk I gave to a group of industry executives, we spoke about “Imposter Syndrome”, the sinking feeling that you are a fraud, and that people might find you out at any moment. This is a sentiment which afflicts nearly every leader in some form and I’m not ashamed to admit that I personally feel it all the time. In my experience, Imposter Syndrome can either be a healthy mechanism to encourage humility and constructive self-improvement, or it can disable and destroy you, particularly if you are actually faking it.

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Business of Fashion