Steve Ayles wants the fashion festival to have broader appeal. Gabriel Oliveira.

Ayles gives fashion fest a sporting chance

Wednesday, 21 August, 2019 - 15:40

Creating a more inclusive fashion festival and controlling costs have been the two priorities for the new boss of the Fashion Council WA

Fashion Council WA chief executive Steve Ayles has always been confident this year’s Perth Fashion Festival would go forward, despite concerns about the event’s financial position.

“In my mind, and I’ve only been involved (five) months now, it was never not going ahead, it was just how it was going ahead and in what form,” Mr Ayles told Business News.

The former commercial director of the Australian Open tennis tournament took up his Fashion Council role in March.

Mr Ayles’ appointment was made as the council took over the running of the festival after the private business previously responsible hit financial trouble.

Mr Ayles said the focus this year had been on consolidation.

“We want to make fashion accessible to everyone,” he said.

“There has been criticism that the fashion festival has become a bit exclusive, it shouldn’t be.

“Fashion is not exclusive, and we need to bring that broad appeal back.”

Model Ava Copping at the media launch of the Perth Fashion Festival last week. Photo: Supplied

More than 50 student designers will appear at the festival this year in addition to higher-profile names.

“We need to get back to that,” Mr Ayles said.

“Get the young designers, the young TAFE, university and college students to come support these events, and actually feel a part of these events because they can relate to what’s going on.”

One big efficiency planned is shortening the length of the festival, with six shows to be held over three days rather than seven or eight shows over six days.

The main runway for the festival will move back to Perth CBD, after two years in the Town of Victoria Park.

The main shows will take place at Yagan Square, while there will be smaller activations at more locations, including Wesley Quarter, 140 William and Forrest Chase.

“The city is where it should be, it’ll help make the city more vibrant,” Mr Ayles said

“Hopefully we’re doing more than ever before to support the retailers.

“The retail environment is challenging, and as the peak industry body for fashion, we need to be part of the solution.”

The council has retained AMP Capital as a major sponsor, with Raine Square and the Quay Hotel also recently coming on board.

It follows Telstra exiting earlier this year after a five-year partnership with the festival, while the Town of Victoria Park also pulled its funding.

The festival will start on September 5.

Beyond that, Mr Ayles has big plans for the council’s other major event – the Swim & Resort series.

He wants that event to have broader appeal for consumers and add a trade element.

“We believe the opportunity is using Perth and Western Australia as a host venue to have a trade show of all swim and resort buyers,” Mr Ayles said.

“Where better in the Southern Hemisphere than Perth?”

But these ambitions require thought and a comprehensive plan, he said.

Reflecting on his work in the tennis sector, Mr Ayles said it took about five years to build the Australian Open’s brand as the grand slam of the Asia Pacific.

The Asian market was what drove most sponsorship interest in that event, he said.