The second annual Fashion Tech Forum is just around the corner, so we got the scoop on this year’s conference from its CEO and founder, Karen Harvey. The savvy businesswoman filled us in on this year’s main topics, what sets her forum apart from other industry panels, and what to expect from the June 11th event, which will be held at Pier 36. This year’s panelists include Livia Firth, Andrew Rosen, Emily Weiss, and Goop’s CEO Lisa Gersh. Plus! Apply for the Founders of the Future Challenge now through May 11th!
BY ALMENDRA PEREZ
Tell us about last year’s inaugural event.
We were extremely pleased with last year’s Fashion Tech Forum! We had more than 500 participants, which included notable industry CEOs and investors of tech companies and startups, such as Lew Frankfort [chairman and former CEO of Coach], Michael Preysman, founder of Everlane, and Sophia Amoruso from Nasty Gal. The feedback from the marketplace and the press was extremely positive. They lauded our high-level content, fashion framework, and compelling conversations led by our panelists and speakers.
Compared to last year, what changes have been made to the Forum?
This year, we decided there were five key pillars that we know are on the minds of CEOs, CMOs, and investors looking at these companies. We’re going deeper into the specific aspects that both tech and fashion companies are challenged by and focusing on right now. This includes personalization, the future of retail, sustainability, wearable technology, and the critical need for powerful company cultures to attract and retain talent. In addition, we’ve added the White Space Gallery, which will allow participants to see the intersection between fashion and technology come to life in a 72,000 square foot space at Pier 36.
How have you seen the tech sector and traditional fashion brands connect through this conference?
As we move into our second year, we recognize that the companies and brands in attendance last year gained a great deal of value and insight from each panelist or presenter. When you have the right people sharing many of the same challenges in the same room and you create an environment where they can share their own best practices, great value is attained. We come from a fashion [context], and many other conferences come more from the tech sector. Fashion brands felt more comfortable as they were exploring startups and discovering new information from tech industry experts.
What makes FTF different from other forums like Decoded Fashion, or the WWD Digital Forum?
Our premise is that talent is the driving force between these two worlds. We believe that robust, sustainable collaborations and companies will only result from the intersection of fashion and technology if the right talent is in place. Talent is what makes a difference in terms of vision and execution. It’s about further helping the next generation, and really understanding who can actually be the great leader for the next fashion tech company. We curate our conference based on our select group of participants—fashion, retail, investors and tech companies—that we know should be connecting and integrating for future innovation and initiatives.
ELLE has signed on to sponsor the Founders of the Future challenge for the second year in a row. How did that partnership come to fruition?
We’ve had a long standing relationship with Hearst Publishing and we were particularly inspired by Robbie Myers’ and ELLE’s commitment to elevating the profiles of women in technology. I think Robbie is so passionate about empowering women, particularly women who work. When she and I sat down and spoke, I was inspired by how we were exactly on the same page with the understanding that the tech sector was becoming more important.
Do you have any advice for the contenders in this year’s Founders of the Future Challenge?
Solving problems and creating new products or ways of doing business are very important. However, true innovation and the ability to execute is key. Your application and your ability to tell your story and describe your product or concept well is crucial. Be very focused on articulating your team’s qualifications for scaling the business and have a business plan that is well thought through and can truly be executed.
What’s your take on wearable tech? Why do you think it’s important?
The wearable technology category is of great interest to both the fashion and tech sectors, from a utilitarian, design, and innovation point of view. We hope to provide a real understanding for how designers and engineers could be working together to create innovative, functional products, and help both sectors understand how fashion and wearables really need to be thought about.
What have you learned about fashion and tech through the creation of FTF?
I’ve learned that we’re always learning. Fashion has always been about innovation and change; however, the integration of technology creates a new context for how we have to think about change. Mostly, I’ve learned that our original thesis about the need to develop talent that can lead and build companies that are truly a hybrid of fashion, retail, and technology is the most important challenge that both sectors face in considering how to build the companies of the future.