Exclusive interview with Zsófia Bata-Jakab, CEO of the Hungarian Fashion & Design Agency

Zsófia Bata-Jakab, CEO of the Hungarian Fashion & Design Agency, talks about how the agency supports Hungarian brands and designers.

1. How innovative is the Hungarian fashion industry compared to the rest of the world?

The fashion industry is characterized by a fragmented structure both in Europe and Hungary due to the number of micro, small, and medium-sized companies and sole proprietorships. The Hungarian textile and clothing sector is capable of developing, with its products playing an increasingly important role in the technological changes required for sustainable growth. With our fashion industry conference, the Budapest Fashion & Tech Summit, which deals with the topics of fashion, technology, and sustainability, we want to further strengthen our central role in the region. 

The majority of Hungarian designers support the thesis that 21st-century business models in the fashion industry must also take into account ethical, aesthetic and innovative aspects that can optimize sustainability, digitalization and the shortening of the supply chain in the future. In the age of telecommunications and digitalization, designers have every chance to build a global brand in Hungary today, and we are confident that Budapest will become an increasingly attractive place for the new generation of creative brands. In the 20th century, Europe was the fashion center of the world, and in the 21st century, Hungary has a good chance of becoming the hub for fashion technology startups.

2. What needs to change in order to have more Hungarian designers among the best in the world? How can HFDA help them?

The Hungarian Fashion & Design Agency was established specifically with the aim of providing coordinated support to players in the fashion and design industry and to open as many doors as possible for Hungarian designers, both domestically and internationally, and by doing so, simultaneously strengthening the country’s image. Additionally, our most important tasks include increasing exports, strengthening and developing domestic manufacturing, and developing the country’s creative and professional knowledge, which is enriched with our own traditional background. 

We’re providing support in four areas: education, manufacturing, trade, and stability, that is, helping designers maintain domestic and international stability. In order to make an even more intense impression on potential customers, the Agency is emphasizing the uniqueness of Hungarian brands via the Budapest Select umbrella brand. Thanks to its uniform appearance, interested visitors can easily and purposefully visit the stands showcasing Hungarian brands at foreign events. We are proud that the international industry has now recognized the potential of Hungarian products, which in turn, contributes to Hungary’s international reputation.

3. What was the reason for setting up a separate agency for fashion and design?

One of our key goals is to support the introduction of creative industries into the country’s image, to develop them into tourist attractions that will contribute to the generation of domestic tourism revenue in the long run. The fashion and design industry has growing economic and tourist potential worldwide as tourist habits have changed and these industries are able to serve the needs of the increasingly popular adventure tourism.

In Hungary, there are almost 12,000 enterprises that fall under the category of a creative industry; these companies employ 90,000-100,000 people and derive 81 percent of their income from exports. So, the area is worth developing. The Hungarian Fashion & Design Agency was established as a subsidiary of the Hungarian Tourism Agency in 2018 to provide efficient, structured and coordinated industry support to all of Hungary’s actors in fashion and design so that they may achieve the recognition and success worthy of its traditions and for Hungary to become the regional center for this industry. In the course of our work, we cooperate with domestic and international professional organizations, educational institutions, and state and market participants to achieve this common goal.

4. How does the agency support Hungarian brands and/or designers? What programs does it implement to do this?

We organize our events and programs based on the aforementioned strategic pillars. The Agency strives to build long-term professional relations with domestic and international educational actors and organizations. Therefore, our focus in the area of educational development is on strengthening the entrepreneurial approach. We want to provide a perspective for young people studying and working in fashion and design and to foster the emergence of innovative and digital solutions in all segments of the industry. It is based on this purpose, for example, that we launched our mentoring programs, including the HFDA CNMI mentoring program, the Fashion Development mentoring program, design START and design SPEED, and the Young Talents Program. 

Our goal is to increase the export capacity of factories to ensure they can meet an even higher number of foreign orders and so that they are able to employ more people to support the fulfillment of these orders. As a result of the strengthening of the sector, in the future, more and more domestic designers will have the opportunity to manufacture in Hungary. This goal is also served by our incubation program called design LAB, our HFDA Spot online interface and the Manufacturer Mentoring Program. By implementing domestic events and participating in international events, we want to involve Hungarian brands in the professional industry circuit, and by doing so, create an opportunity for them to present their talent and showcase Hungary’s creative side. There are many excellent opportunities to facilitate this, such as the Budapest Central European Fashion Week, which is held twice a year, and Milan Fashion Week, which we regularly participate in, or, in the area of design, the Maison & Objet interior design fair. For more information on our programs, please visit www.hfda.com.

5. How can brands and/or designers participate in the agency program? 

We provide opportunities for industry players to participate in our programs and events through open tenders. A professional jury, whose members are among the best experts and authorities in the sector, handles the selection process. It is worthwhile to pay attention to HFDA’s official website, as that’s where we upload the latest proposals and opportunities first; however, those interested can also receive our latest news by subscribing to HFDA’s newsletter.

6. What are the benefits for brands and/or designers who work with you?

The Hungarian Fashion & Design Agency, as a coordinating center, facilitates information exchange, knowledge sharing, and the exploration and implementation of cooperative opportunities between different actors. In addition, we consider it important to continuously expand our professional partnerships, thanks to which Hungarian players in the fashion and design industry gain access to a wide knowledge base and professional network with which they can promote their entry into the international market. 

We carry out coordinated marketing communication activities in Hungary as well as in international markets; with the help of unified communication, industry players are able to receive more attention. However, HFDA also places great emphasis on ensuring a positive impact is made on the country’s image and its attractiveness in the eyes of tourists through various events in cooperation with the cultural and tourist sectors, which also contributes to the long-term success of the fashion and design sector.

7. What do you feel is the greatest achievement of the agency?

It would be difficult to highlight just one achievement, as there have already been many moments in the life of the agency that can be counted as a huge success. It always fills me with pride to see that after months of planning, we have created a successful program or event. The greatest recognition is to see Hungarian brands embark on their path to international success. Our participation in Milan Fashion Week is also especially memorable, as three Hungarian brands have won the Buyer’s Award, which is one of the biggest recognitions in the industry. In addition, of course, our Budapest Central European Fashion Week is also a special event; it has taken place four times since the establishment of the Agency and has attracted approximately 6,000 people per season, resulting in more than 120 appearances in the domestic and international press. The event provides intense visibility to approximately 40 domestic and international fashion designers per season. On the side of design, I would like to highlight the Maison & Objet home furnishings fair, where, at our latest appearance, Hungarian designers were featured in the same place as trend-dictating brands.

8. What are the agency’s future plans? 

In 2021, we will continue with the programs we have already started, and special attention will also be given to support the development of vocational training. Most students studying clothing and textiles do not have enough information on what positions they can apply for and fill in companies operating in the domestic creative sector. By setting up a competitive career model, the Hungarian Fashion & Design Agency aims to provide guidance to students to support them in easily assessing the opportunities available to them in an industry that is considered to have a shortage of professionals. A tool for this is HFDA’s prestige-raising campaign, which provides students a better perspective on a career in fashion and design. The nationwide campaign aims to raise awareness of the beauty of working in this creative industry so that in the long run, the proportion of students and workers in fashion and design can increase. This is one of the ways we want to restore the prestige of the sector and ensure a steady supply of workers for it.

9. What challenges has the fashion industry had to face during the COVID epidemic?

The current pandemic is rewriting the economy as a whole, including creative industries. Industry forecasts suggest that these events will have a significant impact on the organization of supply chains: In the regional fashion sector, the Far East will be pushed back, as players will focus on keeping their processes in their own country or neighboring countries. In 2018, McKinsey & Company already drew attention to this: Reorganizing production from Asia, or organizing production closer to your customers, was an emerging trend starting in the fashion industry even before the coronavirus epidemic. Thanks to this, transport processes have also shortened, resulting in a reduction in the ecological footprint of the fashion industry, at the regional level as well.

All of the above provides an opportunity for the fashion industry to move forward in a far more sustainable direction and for sustainable business models to become more widespread. Although the coronavirus pandemic has caused a number of adverse economic consequences in the sector, it has also provided an opportunity to rethink the way the fashion industry operates. In order for sector players to follow these trends, they need to develop their businesses. It is this development process that has been supported by a HUF 10 billion grant based on the comprehensive research done by HFDA. Based on the results of the survey, the Agency has communicated the needs of the sector to economic policymakers in the form of a proposal package, which resulted in a number of policy discussions. The tender was announced by the Ministry of Innovation and Technology.

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button