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Inaugural Fashion Tech Forum Hits Chelsea Piers: 10 Brilliant Takeaways

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The inaugural Fashion Tech Forum at Pier 59 Studios at Chelsea Piers on Wednesday involved the smart, tech-savvy likes of ELLE EIC Robbie Myers, Yahoo Fashion’s recently-appointed EIC Joe Zee, and the founder of Fashion Tech Forum, Karen Harvey. Needless to say, we learned a ton…without further ado, here are 10 poignant tidbits worth passing along. Take notes, chicsters!
BY JULIANNE ZIGOS

Fashion brands have yet to capitalize on social media.
In a panel titled “Unmasking the Digital Consumer: Using Innovations in Commerce to Engage, Sell & Market”, Healey Cypher of eBay Inc. posed the question to the audience, “How many of you work for a retail brand with social media presence?” Half the audience raised their hands. Next, “How many of you are using it effectively?” About three hands remained. Farryn Weiner, from Michael Kors’ digital communications, reassuringly offered that it takes time to uncover the right tools and measurements for effective social media. Luckily, the consumer wants to get involved and user-generated content has been proven to drive sales. That’s where companies like Pau Sabria’s Olapic comes in, offering brands the technology to see how their products are being used and display that information to other consumers as well.

There’s a new Buzzfeed of fashion.
With the first Fashion Tech Forum came the debut of the Founders of the Future Challenge. A judges panel, including Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso, Gap creative director Rebekka Bay, Box Group’s David Tisch, Coach executive chairman Lew Frankfort, and Neiman Marcus CMO Wanda Gierhart, voted on three finalists, ultimately naming Rank & Style the inaugural winners, awarding them $50,000 prize and a six-week mentorship experience. The brand aims to change consumer habits of browsing versus buying with data-driven top ten lists using an algorithm to interpret user reviews, editorial picks, and popularity to determine the best products in any given category allowing shoppers to spend less time researching and more time purchasing. Long live the listicle!

Millennial consumers have a mind of their own.
Consumer insight strategist and leading expert in decoding the desires of millennials, Jamie Gutfreund, chief marketing officer for The Intelligence Group, gave a particularly insightful presentation on understanding the mindset of the millennial consumer. She shared great tidbits like the fact that 50 percent of millennial shoppers browse without any intent to purchase. Why buy when you can pin? Also, two out of three would rather collaborate than accumulate. Zipcar and Airbnb are great examples of this concept put to profitable use.

The relationship between brands and consumers is shifting.
The millennial generation grows believing their thoughts and opinions are valuable and they can do or be anything they choose. Add that to the way they use social media putting everything they do, wear, buy, covet on display, tying them to purchases in a way that was never before possible. They no longer just buy, but invest. In turn, they’ve become “venture consumers” that want to be treated like company shareholders in terms of product knowledge and dialogue: they’re going to talk and expect brands to acknowledge that they are listening.

The best at being big, act small.
When Refinery29 EIC Christene Barbarich led a discussion between Gap execs Rebekka Bay and Seth Farbman, we found two wise advocates for “less talking, more doing.” They second the idea that they way people are communicating has changed and admit that big company structures often get in the way of getting things done. With this in mind, Gap is implementing innovative initiatives like “co-locating” or eliminating barriers, literally tearing down walls for a more communal workspace. They also rolled out their own internal social platform called Chatter. It not only allows for employees to create bonds across the company, but when an embarrassing labeling error made it to stores, damage control was swift because it quickly spread internally on Chatter, rather than externally to the public.

You can’t teach what hiring managers are looking for today.
Companies want to hire millennials for their innovation, creativity, and insight into the market that they represent. But there are some things that even the highest, most lauded educations can’t promise. According to Seth Farbman, Gap’s CMO, some of those qualities include curiosity, openness to collaboration, willingness to be inventive, and determination not to get sidetracked. Embody these characteristics and not only will you have a better chance at landing your dream job but obstacles, in general, won’t be obstacles.

The three S’s: Short, Sweet, Snackable.
And that’s exactly how we found Quynh Mai’s presentation “10 Things You Need to Know to Have an Effective Brand in the Digital Age”. We almost can’t believe she gave them all up! The founder of Moving Image & Content offered invaluable tidbits on communication and engagement with consumers like always-on marketing, humanizing your brand, allowing consumers to co-create with you, and for content to be seen, you must have a strong distribution plan. But most importantly, for content that most likely to be consumed, liked, and shared keep it short, sweet, and snackable—they’re sure to eat it up!

Rachel Comey might be the coolest cool-girl ever.
In the introduction to her interview with Rachel ComeyELLE fashion news director Anne Slowey credited Comey as being the first designer to do pajama pants, slouchy pants, and chunky heels before they all became a craze and to show the half tuck top that Slowey “sees everywhere now”. The editor gushed over Comey’s original vision, and for good reason! “She’s known for her idiosyncratic and uncoventional take on utilitarian styles but with a sort of witty femininity, she’s always working with experimental washes and exploratory silhouettes,” said Slowey. Comey is also a leader in fashion tech space when it comes to creatively connecting with her consumer and offering them the latest gadgets. We’re talking about her two-week-new Soho shop that forgoes the conventional cash register for a swipe straight from the dressing room system that’s sure to save time and impress shoppers. Slowey was also sure to point out Comey’s viral homepage featuring a live stream feed that has turned the mundane into must-see. The latest? A couple of cuddly kittens up for adoption that hopefully, thanks to Comey’s creative marketing, will soon find new homes. 

Learn something new everyday.
There are some serious advancements happening in fashion technology and we’re sure that Maddy Maxey, CTO and co-founder of Crated, is leading the way. Her concept is all about where design meets algorithm and she and her team are currently working on a new grid technology in fabric that will make it ideal for space exploration because remotely controlled electroshocks can help with astronaut issues like muscle dystrophy. Awesome, right? Maxey is one smart, stylish lady. Probably because she also lives by credos like “learn something new for 30 minutes every morning,” the call to action she left to her audience and our newly initiated summer challenge. 

Even techies have tech issues.
If only to say that it made us feel a little better about our enduring feud with the fax machine, we couldn’t help but relate to the occasional glitch in technology. Beside a minor mic malfunction and a surprising lack of charging stations—for a tech conference, that is—the first Fashion Tech Forum (of many, we hope!) and the Karen Harvey Founders of the Future Challenge was a huge success for all involved.

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