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The next chapter of the AFC with Jaana Quaintance-James

"Our industry is not only complex and multifaceted but also a powerhouse of creativity and influence.”

by Sarah McLean

11 April 2024

2024 is a pivotal time for our industry. It brings many challenges to the forefront, but also the chance to turn these challenges into opportunities.

As the Australian Fashion Council transitions into its next phase under the leadership of our new CEO, Jaana Quaintance-James, we sat down with Jaana to delve into her remarkable career journey. With a combined decade of experience at prominent multi-brand retailers such as THE ICONIC and David Jones, Jaana brings a wealth of industry insight to her new role.

We discussed her vision for the AFC and her outlook on the future of our dynamic industry.

Could you share some insights into your background and the journey that led you to your current role as CEO of the AFC?

I’ve spent the last ten years of my career in-house in large format, multi-brand retailers, most recently as the Chief Sustainability and Sourcing Officer at Global Fashion Group - the European listed parent of THE ICONIC. Prior to this, I was Head of Sustainability at THE ICONIC and earlier, Ethical Sourcing Manager at David Jones, following a decade-long consulting career working with manufacturers in consumer goods supply chains.  

My journey has given me experience across the fashion industry and exposure to the commercial and sustainability challenges of our members. I have always held to the mantra of ‘progress, not perfection’, and I really do believe in the power of collective, actionable change. Through strong dialogue with members, strategic planning and strong governance we are going to deliver value for our industry and tackle some of our most challenging issues. 

What have been some of your most significant lessons learned?

In reflecting on my journey, I've encountered several significant lessons that have profoundly shaped my understanding of the fashion industry. Our industry is not only complex and multifaceted but also a powerhouse of creativity and influence. Understanding its intricacies has been pivotal in navigating its diverse landscape and leveraging its potential for positive impact.

I've learned that listening is paramount in fostering empathy and facilitating constructive collaboration among stakeholders. By actively engaging with diverse perspectives, I've been able to cultivate meaningful relationships and drive impactful change within the industry.

Furthermore, I've embraced the notion that change is constant, necessitating a mindset of continuous learning and adaptive innovation. This openness to progressive iterative change has enabled me to remain agile in the face of evolving trends and emerging challenges, ultimately contributing to my success and growth within the dynamic realm of fashion.

With your strong background in sustainability, will this remain a focus for the AFC?

Yes, sustainability is a huge issue for many businesses across our industry, however it’s not the only one. Under my tenure, the AFC will be focussed on dialogue with, and the delivery of value to, our members. I’ve been spending my first few weeks listening to our members and hearing what their priorities are and where they would like the AFC to focus.

There are a range of concerns that our industry is dealing with - the cost of living and of doing business, workforce shortages, regulation, technology and digital transformation, the state of local manufacturing and the members expect their peak body to support them in tackling all of these. 

What is in the pipeline for the AFC this year? 

We are preparing our strategic plans for FY25 and will be eager to share these in the coming months. If members would like to influence where we focus, now is the perfect time to reach out. 

In the meantime, we are working on the release of Social and Environmental Toolkits—a resource designed to empower our members to make positive changes within their businesses and the wider industry. The toolkits will provide practical guidance on assessing business impact, setting goals and publishing statements and will be launched at a member-only event in Sydney in May, thanks to the support from the City of Sydney.

And, with our partner Epson Australia, we are working on a local manufacturing report. This analysis will offer valuable, never before seen insights into the current state of Victoria’s textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) manufacturing sector, exposing its true value, highlighting barriers and opportunities for growth as well as recommendations on how to revitalise this sector with adding value and jobs. AFC members will be first to get the report and invited to the launch.  

Looking ahead five years, what achievements do you hope to be proud of?

Over the next five years, I see our industry really harnessing the power of technology. I hope the AFC has established interactive platforms for fostering dialogue among members and that we have facilitated collaboration to drive impactful change together.

By consistently developing and implementing programs that directly tackle member challenges, we will have expanded the representation of our industry within the AFC, garnered greater recognition for its significant economic contributions and, hopefully, half way through achieving the activities outlined in our pre-budget submission! 

Want to become an AFC member? Find out more here.

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