“This time last year” has been a poignant theme in 2020. Usually we reminisce on something that is no longer available, accessible, acceptable for now. However, not all stories are melancholic. This time last year Budapest Central European Fashion Week was “building bridges” all over Hungarian capital with rising designers presenting at architectural landmarks to enthusiastic influencer crowds. This year, the Hungarian Fashion & Design Agency (#HFDA) is keeping those intercultural fashion industry bridges steady with the Budapest Fashion & Tech Summit.
The style and business maverick Anna Dello Russo presided over the opening of the online forum today. While most fashion weeks have been forced to accelerate their digitization by the pandemic, not many succeeded in buoying local industries against the tide of consumer lockdowns and supply chain disruptions. This is where Budapest becomes the kind of story we need right now. In addition to safeguarding its key seasonal programming, #HFDA had negotiated an emergency HUF10 billion forints (about 28 million euros or 33.5 million US dollars) recovery package from the Hungarian government. It is one of the few global examples were fashion industry has been recognized as “a priority sector” in post-COVID-related policymaking. Missing the opportunity to relish in this season’s streetstyle along the Danube embankments, I connected online with Zsófia Bata-Jakab, CEO of Hungarian Fashion & Design Agency.
Congratulations on a historic fashion funding deal! How did it come about?
First, we conducted a comprehensive study to assess the impact of the pandemic. Last year, around 3,000 domestic fashion companies generated over 80% of the sector’s revenue from export, providing employment for almost one hundred thousand people. Nearly 400 participants reported that the biggest challenge was a decline of 75% or more in consumer demand. Whereas their expenses had not changed significantly. We then began to work with the Ministry for Innovation and Technology to advocate capital-intensive support for an industry that clearly contributes to the development of the national economy and the creation of high value-added jobs. The package is now available as grants for the Hungarian designers, brands, and workers.
How has the Hungarian fashion industry been resilient in the face of COVID-19?
Earlier, Euler Hermes, a French credit insurance giant, projected that European sales of clothing and textile companies could fall by 19% this year. Hungarian brands are no exception. The International Textile Manufacturers Association called on its members to be more cooperative regarding wages, rent charges, and orders. We wanted to do more. Budapest Central European Fashion Week was held in October in an unusual way. The collections were digitally unveiled as videos on social media and a narrow buyer and media audience, especially those specifically interested in Hungarian products, attended invitation-only trunk shows and a pop-up store with all the social distancing guidelines in place. This season we partnered with Magyar Telekom as the main sponsor to facilitate the Connected Fashion theme.
Has the pandemic presented any positive opportunities for the fashion sector?
It has secured Budapest’s position as a fashion hub. In the spring, #HFDA hosted a tele-conference to address coordinated pandemic response with colleagues from Ljubljana Fashion Week in Slovenia, the Austrian Fashion Association, the Czech Fashion Council and the Ukrainian Fashion Week. Taking a lead in the crisis management process created an opportunity for Hungary to strengthen its decisive role in the Central European region. We also re-focused on our strategic relationships like the mentorship program with the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana. Three alumni of that training – Hungarian labels Abodi, Cukovy and Elysian – are available for purchase on NuORDER, the chamber’s digital retail partner. We will also be launching the Budapest Select webshop to emphasizes the uniqueness of Hungarian style and ensure visibility and e-commerce competitiveness of our best brands.
What makes Budapest a must-visit style destination for the post-pandemic fashion travelers?
Budapest was once known as Eastern Paris. The city is unmissable for history and architecture enthusiasts already. The Hungarian textile and clothing industry has a long list of wonderful designers who made great contributions to fashion history. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Klára Rotschild was known as the fashion queen behind the Iron Curtain. The Hungarian National Museum just held a retrospective of her amazing work. Avant-garde designer Tamás Király was world-known for his recycled, sustainable “clothing sculpture” creations as early as the 1980’s. There are many places around Budapest that feature in contemporary cinema and art. For example, the glass dome of Gresham Palace, an Art Nouveau masterpiece, continues to inspire exceptional pieces and collections among contemporary style visionaries. Budapest is an excellent ground for the flow of creative energies.