Interviews

The Future of Fashion: An Interview with Steven Kolb, CEO, The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.

Steven Kolb, the CEO of TheCouncil of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.in this interview with Dan Hodges speaks about the dynamic and changing fashion industry and CFDA’s mission which is “to strengthen the impact of American fashion in the global economy.”

The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA) is a not-for-profit trade association, founded in 1962, whose membership consists of more than 500 of America’s foremost womenswear, menswear, jewelry and accessory designers. The Board Chairman is Diane von Furstenberg who first entered the fashion world in 1972 with a suitcase full of jersey dresses and was named the most powerful woman in fashion by Forbes Magazine. Michael Kors, Marcus Wainwright, Vera Wang and Mimi So all fashion leaders are the board members of the CFDA.

The American fashion industry under Steven Kolb’s leadership at the CFDA is an engine for growth in the U.S. and around the world. Boston Consulting Group estimated that the apparel and footwear segment alone generated a trillion dollars plus revenues in 2016 and employs sixty million plus people globally.

Steven is a very busy executive and we spoke about a wide range of topics after the conclusion of Men’s Fashion Week in New York.

 

Question: How has the role of Fashion Week changed since the 2016 BCG/CFGA report on Fashion Week?

“The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (https://cfda.com) and the Boston Consulting Group (https://www.bcg.com) report, The Future of Fashion Week, gave designers a license to experiment with marketing and shows allowing them to break from traditional formats and to experiment with new ideas.”Diane von Furstenberg, chairman of the CFDA, said “The responsibility of the CFDA is to provide information to help designers decide what is right for them, alleviate the pressure and give them the freedom to allocate their resources in a way that is best for them.”

 

Question: How are changes in technology and in consumer behavior impacting Fashion Week?

“Consumers are very active with online and direct to consumer shopping and this has caused traditional brick and mortar retailers to rethink their approach. Also, content is king with all brands directly communicating with customers via their own digital channels and in many cases bypassing traditional media.”

 

Question: The BCG/CFDA report discussed the role of “buy now, wear now” consumer behavior as a trend. How has that developed since the 2016?

“It’s still very relevant for some brands and not right for others. Brands more in control of their supply chain and distribution have greater success. Tommy Hilfiger is an example of a brand that has had amazing success.”

 

Question: How are designers staying on top of the rapidly changing consumer behaviors, trends and technologies?

“The CFDA provides professional education for designers on industry topics from doing business in China, on demand manufacturing, the plus size market and other topics that help them stay on top of trends.”

 

Question: What are the biggest challenges facing designers today?

“Consumers have their own front seat on their phones. Every brand has their own active social media sharing images and media right from their shows. Designers will invite top customers to show as well and there are countless digital media outlets covering fashion week. Designers are most challenged by the supply chain and changing distribution channels.”

 

How is the CFDA developing talent for the industry and working with Fashion Week?

“We have a number of programs that identify young talent. These programs offer business development and mentoring and include the Elaine Gold Launch Pad and the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund.”

 

Does the CFDA work with industries outside the fashion industry to co-develop ideas and stay on top of marketplace trends?

“We work with many industries outside of fashion. Many in partnerships. Cadillac is our partner on Retail Lab. We have worked with Google on diversity programming. Consumer products as well like LIFEWTR which supports emerging design talent. DHL co-authored a supply chain study with us and Accenture advises on retail trends. Those are just a few.”

 

How has the CFDA Fashion Award show changed over the last three years?

“It’s became more accessible to the public via our Facebook live broadcast. This year almost four million people watched the show. We added the Swarovski Award for Positive Change in 2017 with Kenneth Cole and Diane von Furstenberg being the first two recipients.”

 

What other U.S. cites apart from NYC have developed fashion weeks or have developed fashion week type events?

“New York remains the U.S. fashion capital, but you see active fashion communities in Los Angeles, Miami, St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville among others with each having a local perspective with their work. Much of it is not based around fashion weeks with LA being the most developed.” Melissa Shea, CEO & Founder of Fashion Mingle, a fashion tech start-up that connects thousands of fashion industry executives agrees. Shea see one of the most exciting trends in fashion happening on the doorstep of Silicon Valley. She observes that San Francisco is coming back strong with a focus on fashion tech and offer this advice, “If you want a job in the fashion industry that focuses on the future. Go west.”

Carole Shashona – Inspiration Comes from the World Around Me

Carole Shashona is an iconoclast. Her rebellious spirit and insatiable curiosity led her to explore the world in search of beauty and a higher purpose and meaning in life. She has been painted by Andy Warhol, dressed by Valentino and given the honor of Grand Master in Feng Shui after her time as a designer in Hong Kong. But this is all just part of her journey. Carole has truly lived an extraordinary life, by design.

She launched her jewelry line as a way to bring positive energy into her clients’ lives. Influenced by Shashona’s own spiritual journey, the label’s gold and sterling silver pieces feature revered motifs such as stars, the Evil Eye, and Buddha. We sat with Carole in Venice, Italy for this exclusive interview.

How do you define your role as founder surrounded by professional management? 

I have an incredible team that helps me handle all of the business and marketing and allows me to focus on being an artist and designer. Of course, I am involved in the overall brand, but I allow my team the autonomy to do what they do best. I believe if you know your people and allow them to do what they do best, you will have a strong team that will allow for continuous growth. You have to believe in your team and they will believe in you.

 

When did your journey into the world of design begin? 

I was raised around fashion royalty. My mother was in fashion and we were surrounded by icons like Oscar De La Renta and Valentino growing up. My grandmother taught me about precious stones at a young age and I eventually started designing my own jewelry for myself. It caught the attention of a lot of people.

What your plans for this year and next for your brand? 

My current collections are limited edition, limited production, artisan style, only making a few unique handcrafted pieces of each style per collection. As my team has grown and we are starting to expand internationally, I am now open to more partnerships and collaborations so that I can bring my jewelry to more markets and affect more people. It is an exciting time with so many opportunities. I am just looking for the right people that understand my brand. With the changes you see in Saint Laurent and Valentino adopting more of this rebel spirit that I have always loved, it makes me really optimistic for the future.

 

How is your customer evolving in her shopping behavior? 

In this digital age, I am able to have a much more global reach than when I started. I have people that find me from all over the world now. They are very savvy and know exactly what they want.

What role does marketing play in luxury/fashion? 

Marketing to me has always been about getting my message out to the right people. I want to make a difference in the world and create designs that are fashion forward, stylish and meaningful. I grew up around designers in luxury and love working with the finest materials and felt there was a real need for luxury designs in jewelry that were more than just a beautiful design. Being able to reach that audience that craves this kind of jewelry is powerful. It means that I am able to find people that want pieces that can be passed down from one generation to the next, providing those same blessings.

 

Question: If you go back to Cleopatra, the Greeks, and the Roman’s jewelry was always making a statement. What is the statement you are making? 

With a background not only as an artist but the first female American Grand Masters in Feng Shui, I have always integrated meaning into all of my pieces. I design jewelry as a compass for those that walk the road less traveled, using symbols of protection and empowerment that act as reminders that anything you want is possible in life, and to move forward without fear and live the life you want, by design.

Where do you get your inspiration? 

My inspiration comes from the world around me. I design based on the world I see through my eyes. I have had the opportunity to be painted by Andy Warhol and surrounded by artists most of my life, and find that I see life much in the same way. It can be through my global travels, everyday life or even a memory of my past. My canvas is my jewelry.

 

How do you stay in touch with the trends that going on in the marketplace? 

I have never been one to follow trends. I always tend to go my own way and create my own path. My jewelry is for those individuals that do the same.

 

What advice do you have or young designers? 

To follow your dream and believe in yourself. Be uniquely you.

Fashion Week Stores Tours in Cannes

Interview with leaders in Fashion.

The future of the brand will be tied into the identity of the consumer

Ana Andjelic, Chief Brand Officer, Rebecca Minkoff, believes that the future of the luxury brand is identity networks

Ana Andjelic describes herself as being “in favor of taking big and unorthodox risks.” The first of which, for her, was moving from Belgrade, Serbia, to New York City. With a master’s degree in Media Studies from the New School and a doctorate in Sociology from Columbia University, her next leap was from academics to digital media.

In an October 2015 interview, Andjelic described how her academic training has given her a broader perspective on solving problems, allowing her to approach them from multiple angles, including business, organization, revenue model, and consumer standpoints. She says getting a Ph.D. is “like a boot camp for thinking…you have to get up to speed in very structured problem-solving, and that is incredibly helpful when defining a problem, and approaching it from the right way, and finding a solution.”

Her first blog, “I [love] Marketing,” which she wrote from 2008 to 2014, was an outlet for her ideas, helped her write her dissertation “in record time,” and gave her networking and job opportunities in the marketing industry. Her opinion articles now appear on the online publishing platform Medium, as well as in LeanLuxe, Adweek, and Advertising Age, among others. Not one to shy away from being bold or controversial, in a presentation at Marc O’Polo’s 50th Anniversary event in 2017, she predicted that what the Internet did to media will happen to retail. She shares here some thoughts on connecting with consumers and the responsibilities of a chief brand officer.

What is the future of the brand?

“When you look at the history of the brand, it always revolved around the founder. It is not surprising that the future of the brand will be tied into the identity of the consumer. We need to be asking ourselves what is important to their lifestyle; we need to understand their passion. Defining a brand by the audience is not enough—our job is to understand the identity networks of the people who use our products. Think of a brand as a network of people with common interests and aspirations. Today, you cannot just talk about the brand, you need to get an organic conversation started. Take “Away” (https://www.awaytravel.com), which is a travel brand. They talk about everything related to travel, from packing your bags to what the weather will be in your destination city. Another brand that has connected with its audience is Goop, which has a unique brand experience. We ask ourselves what is the on the mind of the consumer.”

How is your job different from a chief marketing officer’s?

“The CMO and the CBO have different lines of accountability. The CMO owns the marketing funnel and the communication stack. They are doing marketing and are responsible for the return on investment of their expenditures. The CBO is concerned with the overall brand experience in the stores, the digital and mobile channels, and much more. I am concerned with the branding culture and the need to combine the brand culture with what consumers know about the brand and what they know about the brand culture. Anything to do with a customer’s journey across our many platforms is my focus.”

How is your current job different from working in an ad agency?

“An ad agency provides their best thinking and strategy to drive awareness and demand. They are very smart. The big difference is now in my role of CBO, I own the execution and am as only as good as my execution. I am responsible for making sure that all the media ideas mesh with the brand experience in the store. I own the results.”

A Conversation with Angela Ahrendts at Cannes Lions 2018

Angela Ahrendts, Senior Vice President of Retail at Apple Inc.

Born and educated in Indiana, Angela Ahrendts set off for New York City the day after graduating with a degree from Ball State University. She had originally been interested in design, but she gravitated to the business end of the industry and earned a degree in marketing and merchandising.

Positions at Donna Karan, Henri Bendel, and Liz Clairborne followed. A notable success in her role as vice president of merchandising and design at Liz Clairborne was turning Juicy Couture into an internationally recognized label.

In 2006 Ahrendts accepted the job of chief executive officer at Burberry. The British company was in need of reinvention, which Ahrendts addressed by, among other moves, reclaiming dozens of licenses that had contributed to an image slump for the iconic brand. Burberry’s value rose significantly during her tenure. In a 2013 profile in British Vogue, Ahrendts said of Burberry, “I feel like I spent my first few years here buying back the company—not the most pleasant or creative task. But we had to do it. If you can’t control everything, you can’t control anything, not really.”

Her purview at Apple includes strategy, real estate and development, and operations of both brick-and-mortar and online stores, contributing to Apple’s efforts to “create a seamless customer experience for over a billion visitors per year.”

A question and answer session was conducted with an Apple moderator.

Title:  Today at Apple: We Humanize Technology

Angela: At Apple, we humanize technology. So we looked back, took a lot of those different inputs, including our original genesis…

Moderator: So it’s not like Apple retail is struggling when you showed up? It was a booming business, but you decided to sort of reinvent it with a very human, face-to-face kind of idea.

Angela: Yes, but I also think it’s, if you think of the evolution of Apple, it’s kind of where it was naturally going anyway. So we kind of looked back, and then we all know the hardware evolution—the Mac, the iPhones, and the iPads, and the watch—but at the same time, there is a whole servicing business. I mean somewhere along the way we became—what do they say, a trillion photos or something are taken every year on our phones?—and so we became the best camera. But we also became this incredible app store, the largest, I think, on the planet. And Apple’s kind of a music company with iTunes, and Apple music, and streaming, etc. So it wasn’t just the hardware anymore, it was how does all of that come to life? And it was funny looking at it that way. That’s kind of when we came up with some … when you move from fashion to a tech company you can’t talk like a retailer, you can’t talk about fashion. You have to talk their language, and so we make hardware and software. So if I said, “Okay, then the stores are our biggest product for hardware,” and then what happened to the store is our software. And that’s kind of how we’re going to be into it. But how do you do that for all of the audiences Apple has, all of the channels that Apple plays in? So in retail everybody just thinks Apple.com rules the world, and anybody who’s a fan knows that, and that’s the quickest way to get product, so there are a lot of people on that. And then there’s still a lot of people, millions, who call the contact centers. So how do you connect that for educators, entrepreneurs, and students, for all those customers and take it from just being hardware to unlocking the software, the service, the experience in those stores, for all those customers across all those channels?

Angela: So that was the whole genesis…You know for Today at Apple I kind of took the story and drew a big heart in the center, and I said, that’s got to be … that’s what we’re trying to unlock. We’re just going to stretch, and take us from just being hardware to now being the largest product that Apple has. And basically anything Apple does we’ve got to turn it on at the same time, but we’re the human side of it.

Moderator: So out of curiosity how many people—and I know that there are folks in the audience from all over the world—have been to an Apple store? Most of you. How many of you have attended a Today at Apple session? So it’s amazing, the scale of this program. There are eighteen thousand sessions every single week around the world. So can you explain how you got there?

Angela: This took…this is year four. We just launched Today at Apple a year ago, so this took three years because it was unlocking the experience of the store, but we had to redesign the stores in order to accommodate Today at Apple. We put big 6K screens in 102 stores, and then we put smaller screens in all of the classic stores until we can get to those, etc. So, we had a crazy experience, which we kind of … The code name originally was “iOS Live,” and so we had to create the experience called Today at Apple. We had to, as fast as we possibly could, redesign the stores. And that’s when we kind of started calling them town squares and gathering places. That was kind of the vision, the concept, and that’s why, because it’s a town square, specifically outside, we wanted to bring trees and…place them in front of the big screen in the forum. But this is what the tour group is referring to when he says he can’t see the store, but it’s there, it’s underneath all of those stairs…and this is where—you can have three hundred people sit on the stairs and enjoy….

Angela: [referring to a slide] Don’t tell anybody about this. We haven’t opened yet. It doesn’t open for another month or so. This is Milan. This is a very unloved plaza in Milan, but the theater has—the theater was underground and had closed, and again this was an area that we felt we could really help the city and help beautify. So we actually put the store underground where the theater was, and we took the theater above ground, and the art piece is the huge queue that during the day is a fountain, but during the evening can act as a projection screen. So, it keeps the legacy of the theater alive, beautifies the town square, and okay there is an incredible Apple store on the beat if you need anything else.

Moderator: I think it is such a great example of what you are doing with all the stores now, because down under, you have the project that you have Today at Apple, you have the educational thing and then on top, the community all coming together as sort of a very open public space that is sort of shared between Apple and the city. It is really amazing. Excellent.

Angela: [referring to a slide] Where did you get these? This is the Champs-Elysees in Paris, and this is a whole building we are currently restoring. What you don’t see is inside will be the largest forum in Europe; five stories high with a huge diamond screen. So, hundreds of people, tourists, everyone, can come inside and enjoy Today at Apple. To me, this is an example…Apple doesn’t need another store in Paris. I mean, Apple employs thousands of people in Paris. It’s hundreds of points of sale, but there was nowhere to do Today at Apple. There was nowhere to showcase everything that Apple is today, and so this is for the city. This is for everyone to keep getting better at what they’re doing.

Anglea: [referring to a slide] This one’s coming at the end of the year. This is Carnegie Library in Washington, DC, that nobody had touched or renovated for years, and we were there looking at real estate and all these big new developments, etc., and we walked by this library that was built for education, that was built for the public. And I took a picture of it, and I sent it to Tim [Cook]. I said, “In my heart, this should be our home in Washington.” And so, it is huge. We picture busses—kids coming to camp and field trips—just pulling up here, and so we are doing a full historic renovation of Carnegie Library. It opens up at the end of the year, and it will be the largest classroom for teachers. It will be the largest classroom for every kid who wants to learn about the creative arts in DC. [applause]

Moderator: And again, I think it’s a perfect example of what you’re doing. So I have a couple more questions to wrap up, I think. One thing that strikes me about working with you for a couple of years is how deeply you care about the people you work with. I think that is a quality that doesn’t exist in all executives, and it’s very, very unique. I find it to be a very inspiring quality. I know your people, every time you randomly walk into one of those stores around the world it’s like,”Oh my gosh, there is Angela!” It’s amazing what an impact you have with that sort of positivity, so has that always been a leadership style of yours? Is that naturally just who you are? Where does that come from?

Angela: You know what? We’re all humans, right? I’m a middle child from a tiny town in Indiana, and we’re all humans. And, as I said before, we all want the same thing, and it takes a village to do anything that any of us are trying to do. I guess the difference is I never see the teams as a cost. I see them as the greatest brand ambassadors, the greatest enablers to doing everything we want to do, and if they’re happy…I’ve always said too, and I’ve told them this. We say that their job is to enrich lives, and I’ve told them that my job is enrich their lives as much as they do the customers that they serve. And so, I want to unlock their creative thinking, and so we launched, literally a couple months ago, that same crowdsourcing platform from before. They loved it. They wouldn’t get off of it, so we expanded that. It’s called Loop, and so they have their own internal social platform now. They can complain, tell us what’s wrong, there are teams of Ph.D.s looking at all the data that they’re sending us. You know, “How can we be better? How can this be better?” And all kinds of ideas, and they can like each others’ ideas, and we can see where they are all voting, and we can lean into that. But, by the same token, if we want to unlock their creativity and we want them to be lifelong learners, we ask them to attend all the Today at Apple sessions in their stores, and critique them so they get better. We also, a couple years ago, announced a tuition reimbursement program. They can go out every year as long as they are employed by Apple, and they get the same five thousand dollar tuition allowance that every employee at Apple gets to continue to learn and to grow whatever their passion is.

Angela: Mobility—we move four hundred people a year to Cupertino because they’re smart, they’re educated. And so I think they feel mobile; they feel energized. And I always tell them, whether you like it or not, it’s a Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, WeWork world and we’ve got to keep pace, and they’ve got to move—and so they’re happy, and customers are telling us they’re happy. Our retention rates have never been higher. Our NPS scores have never been higher, and they have never felt so creatively empowered. They’ve never felt so connected.

Moderator: That’s what I was going to say. And, I think they’re doing something really important right now. There does seem to be a bit of a creativity crisis in the world right now. We actually just saw a stat that in the US, last year, the top ten grossing movies of last year were all sequels. Think about that, what that means for original creative thinking. I think one of the things that your team does so well is help teach. It doesn’t come naturally to everybody right? And so helping to teach inspires that creativity.

Angela: And in an entertaining way.

Moderator: Yeah.

Angela: …because an average kid today doesn’t want to be taught right? And that’s kind of why we always had the town square because that’s like subliminal learning right?

Moderator: Yes. Is there anything else you want everybody out there to know about retail stores or Today at Apple?

Angela: I think the most important thing for all of us right now, and I’ve mentioned it a little but before, is we’re measuring, right? We’re measuring are we enriching lives, and I think because Today at Apple, it’s not just—you know, it’s taken years. It’s cost a lot of money, and so we do believe that it has the ability to have a very, very big impact, and we want to measure that. And we feel incredibly responsible for that and the roles that these stores play in the community and the number of people they employ, the millions of people who come in. And so the impact that each one of those alone can make, and then how we continue to scale that human impact, how do we continue to scale that digitally? How do we continue to… And this is just what we can do. You know, everybody can do their own part, everybody can do their own thing. But we talk a lot inside that there’s a whole team of people who are so brilliant. Apple’s taken a leadership position when it comes to environmental responsibility, and we’ve said in retail that we have a human responsibility.

Angela: I often tease and I say… Sometimes they think I’m nuts, and I say, “I think it’s important that the largest tech company in the world invest, make the largest investment in humans in the world.” Right? And again, it all goes back to that road sign. It all goes back to Steve Jobs. He knew it was never just about technology. It had to be about more in order to impact humanity, and I think it is important that we keep that legacy alive.

Moderator: You know one of the things that Tim Cook always says to us, to the world actually, is one of our objectives at Apple is to leave to world better than we found it, and what you’re doing with us is certainly—you are doing your part. So thank you very, very much.

Angela: Thank you.

An Interview with Rebecca Minkoff at Cannes Lions 2018

Rebecca Minkoff, the cofounder (with her bother Uri) and CEO of Rebecca Minkoff, recalls in this interview with Dan Hodges the lean early years of her company, shares her most recent efforts to reach customers, and lets us in on where the brand is headed next.

Rebecca Minkoff moved to New York City as an ambitious eighteen-year-old aspiring designer. Just a few years later, her modified T-shirt using the “I Love NY” logo was an immediate hit when Jenna Elfman wore it for an appearance on The Tonight Show. From 2005 to 2009, Rebecca designed handbags with a “downtown romantic” look—the first of which became known as the Morning After Bag, or M.A.B.

In 2009 the company introduced its first ready-to-wear collection, featuring “playful and subtly edgy” handbags, accessories, footwear, and apparel for young women. While staying true to the “downtown, rock’n’roll roots” of its inception, the brand is now distributed worldwide in over nine hundred stores, with four domestic brick-and-mortar stores and nine international locations.

Rebecca is one of the rare company founders who does not have to do everything herself.  She is able to identify talent and to delegate to others and keep her focus on the big picture, which in her case means engaging with customers in ever-evolving ways.

Rebecca Minkoff—the brand and the individual—has long been known for its media savvy approach to customers. As an early adopter of social media to interact with her clientele, Rebecca was once told that she was “dirtying” the brand with her unorthodox (at the time) methods. Now, these are the tools more and more companies are using to incorporate social values and connect with consumers on multiple levels. In its stores, Rebecca Minkoff uses interactive digital displays to provide an extraordinary shopping experience. For example, fitting rooms allow customers to request a different size of a garment, while an app facilitates purchases directly from the fitting room. Below, Rebecca shares some of the newest ways she is reaching out to expand that connection.

At her first visit to Cannes Lions, Rebecca’s presentation topic is modern brand building, and she will no doubt divulge more of the insights that allow her to connect so effectively with her core customer.

Question: How do you define your role as founder surrounded by professional management?

“I cofounded Rebecca Minkoff (https://www.rebeccaminkoff.com) thirteen years ago with my brother Uri. The first five years we were doing business on our own. At year five, we hired a management professional, which made all the difference in the world. I was making three hundred dollars a week salary at the time, and my brother and I were just getting by. Hiring a true expert really changed everything.”

Question: What are your plans for this year and next for your brand?

“Our plans for next year include expanding our European business and Asia business, especially our footprint in China. We are opening up new stores and we are manufacturing in China and Europe to keep up with the huge demand for our product. We decided to hire a partner in both China and in Europe. We will be handling the design, and they’ll be handling the manufacturing. We think that’s the best way to go forward.

Question: How is your customer evolving in her shopping behavior?

“We designed our platform for mobile-first experience, but beyond that, we support the voice of women. We have created fireside chats that provide something meaningful for women. The fireside chats are yielding good results.”

Question: What role does marketing play in fashion?

“We provide customization in a couple ways. The Rebecca Minkoff website features ‘RM Superwomen,’ portraits shot by Sakara Life Creative Director Lianna Tarantin. We’re including everyone from leaders of The Women’s March to influencers to artists and organizers. We’re trying to capture today’s new and emerging era of feminist activism to inspire and empower our customers.”