19 Jul Self-Starters: A Conversation with Dion Chang of Flux Trends
Flux identifies and analyses trends that affect the way we live and work in the 21st century. Founded in 2005, the company works to translate global trends to ensure relevance for South African businesses and publishes the Flux Trend Review, now in its sixth year.
Here Loren Phillips speaks with renowned trend analyst, founder and owner of Flux Trends, Dion Chang, for our Self-Starters series.
I’ve just come out of a branding workshop at the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship, so I’m thinking about branding now and I’m thinking about Dion Chang, the brand. You have managed to build a very successful personal brand. How have you done that?
It’s a bit of a double edged sword actually. The brand came about in the fashion persona phase. It’s a good question. How did I…I don’t know, it wasn’t a conscious effort. So you don’t go out thinking “I’ll build that brand”.
More of a series of events?
Ja, and literally just being very passionate about what you’re doing. If you look back at all the career trajectories that I’ve had, they’ve all been at the start of something, so it was the launch team of the Elle magazine, it was joining with Lucilla [Booyzen of SAFW] at the embryonic stage. It’s always been something that’s new, and out there.
Breaking new ground…
And I think what’s important about that was understanding the media landscape. Later in my career with Flux, I’ve learned to be a little bit more mercenary in terms of knowing where to, and I say this in a good way, manipulate the media. I only learned that after working 5 years at Fashion Week where I was the official spokesperson, so I did every single print, radio, TV interview. You’ve got to understand how to convey a message, and the spin off of that is building a brand, because people recognise you.
Even now, I’m at a very fortunate stage where I can pick and choose the interviews I do and what message that goes out there enhances the brand. I think if you’re going back and you’re starting out formulating the brand, just be so damn passionate about what you do and just throw yourself at it, those rewards seem to come as a consequence.
It’s all about communicating, that what it is, it’s an exercise in marketing.
It’s communicating, and I think it’s also having some kind of substance to do that. It can’t just be the media message. And I think I was also fortunate there in that I was also good at my job in magazines, so, the leverage or how the spotlight came on me from there was winning awards for editing and that kind of thing. And then also peer to peer, people respected the work that I did, so your other fashion editors. So I think it’s reputation in that industry and you only get that reputation if you excel in it, and you can only excel in it if you’re really really passionate about it, and that’s you’re driving force. Not the wealth or anything else. I think just start off with that total immersion in something you’re passionate about.
And is passion what started Flux?
Absolutely. I had no business model, and to this day I have people come up and say, “Gosh, you’re everywhere! You’re in magazines…but how do you make money? What do you do?” And I’m still asking that question myself. And you keep refining it and you learn, and it keeps getting better, and the systems change. It’s an ongoing learning process…
That’s quite interesting, your business model has been more of a process. It wasn’t set in stone from the outset, it’s something you just set out to achieve.
What is lucky about Flux being a trend company is that it allows for that organic change. If you couldn’t change midstream then you would not be true to what you do, because you’re learning about new trends all the time. If you have this rigid idea of how you run the business and a new trend comes through and you don’t try and walk the talk and adopt it, then what’s the point? And that’s what I think is the good and the scary part of it, is that it is an organic process.
That’s quite interesting, I mean I haven’t even hit my questions yet, but my first statement/question is “Trends in Flux” and that’s exactly what you’re speaking to. You’re coming across these new trends and you’re actually absorbing and assimilating them.
And you’re testing it. And what I’ve found as well is, especially with big corporates – which is the majority of my clients – is that they are not agile, they are not easy to change. Like if it’s a bank or something, you can’t change the tack and direction of it, it’s very difficult to advocate those things.
The one thing I’ve learned is “slowly slowly” because if you go back to your question about branding, I had a very strong fashion brand which needed to be tweaked from handbags and shoes into trends, and then from trends into business trends, and then getting onto a corporate radar. It’s interesting now, and I can feel it happening so I’m less hysterical about it. In the speaking engagement that I do I’m either the keynote speaker or I open conferences, and that’s the positioning 99% of the time, which is fantastic.
The problem is that I know that the next step is implementation and consulting to help implement those suggestions, and that hasn’t happened until now. Literally this year there have been nibbles of “can you do a workshop?” or whatever. My favourite new saying is “learn to be 20 minutes ahead of the curve, instead of 2 hours, because you scare the horses!”
So even if you know where you should be going, you have to pull back, you have to bide your time and say it’s not right now, but it will be. It’s teaching yourself that discipline to say “Wait! The environment is not ready”, even though you’re gagging to go forward.
I think you’re very good at this because you keep pre-empting my next question! You are already ahead of the curve! It’s not fair, Dion. Actually what I have written here is “Staying ahead of the curve, how do you do it?” I mean, is it a skill? Is it something you can learn? Could you teach someone how to do it?
It’s a bit of a yes and no answer. I think what you can advocate is to have a very healthy interest across the board. So, anyone who’s ever worked or is working for Flux has a very healthy and broad interest, you might not be a specialist, but you understand the significance of Edward Snowden, and what’s happening with the state of the economy, how these things interact. But I think what is maybe less of a skill that you can learn is the analysis of it, and to extract what you need to, either for a business or a client, or to say this is a global trend but how is it going to affect South Africa or the local market. I think that’s a more difficult skill and I think it’s quite intuitive.
Find out more about Dion and Flux Trends at fluxtrends.co.za