This year, the fashion industry came face-to-face with the reality that continuing with the status quo is no longer feasible. For the sake of the planet, people, and profit, substantial changes need to occur. Now the most influential fashion magazine is also, slowly, coming to the same conclusion as the rest of the industry; changes need to happen to be sustainable. Fashion magazines like Vogue — which currently has 26 international editions — have seen advertisers pull money and readers grow increasingly critical of content over the past couple of years. Designers and brand owners are starting to make their own rules in fashion, without the help of print publications and their big-name editors. And if being abandoned by once-loyal brands wasn't enough, notorious editors like Anna Wintour are being taken down a peg by their employees who have accused her of fostering an unhealthy work environment. If someone were to question Vogue’s sustainability as a leading fashion source ten years ago, they would have been laughed at, but now, it's not such an unreasonable question to be asking.
The "Fashion Bible" faces a fork in the road: rework the magazine for the future or stay with what has worked in the past.
Right now, Vogue finds itself just going straight between the two different paths. The website and monthly magazines contain more thoughtful articles about politics, science, and human rights than in years past. But, Vogue also has in-depth celebrity interviews and holiday shopping guides — two things that seem to be at odds with articles about equality and thoughtful consumption. By not choosing one direction for the magazine, Vogue has managed to upset a wide variety of readers. When the publication writes about politics, readers who came to read distracting, mindless fashion content are unhappy. When Vogue promotes celebrities, more serious readers accuse the magazine of being superficial and out-of-touch. Picking, and sticking to, a defined path will help the publication find an audience that will stay loyal — something that Vogue readers and advertisers have not been as of late.
Much like the fashion industry it reports on, Vogue has a sustainability issue.
There are fewer and fewer reasons for the fashion magazine to still exist, especially in its current form. Vogue is no longer the "original influencer" as it has been called in the past. Consumers don't rely on the publication and its editors to tell them what to wear, and brands don't need the magazine to get the attention of potential customers. As a result, brands are pulling ad money and consumers are canceling their subscriptions, resulting in a double-punch to Vogue's revenue. The loss of revenue isn't slowing down Vogue's content production, though. Prior to the pandemic, the magazine was still printing and shipping monthly magazines to thousands of newsstands, houses, and medical office waiting rooms. Vogue was undertaking this costly task while also pouring money into their online persona via a website, YouTube channel, and social media accounts. The dedication to print and digital has certainly helped Vogue reach a lot of eyes, but it has also made achieving profitability more difficult.
The key to the longevity of Vogue may be the same as the key to longevity for fashion brands.
If Vogue wants to be profitable for the long-term, it must follow the same principles that the brands it reports on are following. This means switching from a model that puts consumption and perfection first, to a business model rooted in environmental and social good. Ultimately the future of a brand will be determined by how much consumers like it. The third-party financial support system — marketers for Vogue and wholesale retailers for brands — are going away. Now magazines have to depend on readership subscriptions and one-off purchases, and brands have to depend on direct-to-consumer sales, to be profitable. That means meeting consumer needs instead of just pleasing other fashion industry insiders. Since consumers care about environmental sustainability, diversity, and human rights, the companies selling to them have to care about those subjects as well.
Vogue has secured its place as the almighty decider of what happens in fashion. Working for the publication is perceived as attaining an envious job — a job a million girls would kill for. And while the publication's elite status may have been a good thing 10-20 years ago, those working in fashion today have no interest in putting in long hours for little pay just to say they work for Vogue. The magazine obviously has a multitude of issues, but they can all be traced back to its persistent reputation. The people working in and reading about fashion don't care about exclusivity anymore, and Vogue is an exclusive magazine. It's the magazine that only allows the "important" celebrities to grace its cover. It's the magazine that only features the best brands — all to the detriment of a diverse and inclusive fashion industry. As a result of not being able to meet the expectations of Vogue, designers, writers, photographs, models, and more are creating their own paths. New magazines are popping up, and they don't have to worry about making substantial changes to survive for another decade. Vogue does.