December 10, 2020

Fashion, tech, and the power of ‘yes’

Consumer fashion choices have become inseparable from technology. Image-conscious shoppers want to interact, influence, and embody brands like never before; while the vast majority of consumers are using digital channels to inform their decisions before, during, or after purchases. 


With the pandemic now forcing fashion brands to pivot quickly away from physical stores and even advertising, e-commerce, automation, and personalisation have become the bedrock of the fashion world - and those with the infrastructure already in place are reaping the benefits. According to McKinsey, digital and analytics leaders in fashion account for 30 to 40 percent of total sales worldwide - a number that is fast growing. 


This autumn’s Black Tech Fest took these trends to task in a wide-reaching panel discussion between four changemakers from across the fashion world. Chaired by Susannah Clark, VP of Communications at Farfetch, the panellists shared their professional journeys into fashion and technology, exploring why technology has been such an area of huge potential for the fashion world, and their advice for young people looking to break into the game. 


Unconventional paths: a way into the fashion world


Beginning with a discussion of their individual journeys, the panelists were keen to highlight the often unconventional journeys each of them had taken into fashion and tech careers. The fashion landscape has changed dramatically in the past fifteen years, and many of today’s leaders in the industry started their careers in a very different world. 


“Looking back retrospectively, it seems that I’ve found opportune moments to say yes to things,” said Alexis Williams, Fashion Publisher at The Guardian. “I was working at the forefront of fashion and luxury at the Financial Times, a very well-respected publication, and I had a niche and I had made a name for myself.”


“When The Guardian approached me, I initially panicked but I realised that, at that moment in time, I was too young to be at a company for 12 years, and I said yes. It was absolutely the right time and shows that sometimes things come to you unexpectedly and you should grab those opportunities.” 


Vanessa Williams is the Menswear and Womenswear Design Director at ASOS. She joined the company thirteen years ago. 


“One of my biggest moments for saying ‘yes’ to something was joining ASOS,” Vanessa explained. 


“I was the third designer to join, and I now have a team of nearly 100 people, so it’s a massive change. At that point, 13 years ago, selling fashion online was something that people said couldn’t be done, and when they first approached me for the role I didn’t even know what digital retail was at that point because it wasn’t anything like high street retail or the bricks and mortar spaces I was used to.”


“When I said yes, my friends and work colleagues asked me why I was doing this, saying I wouldn’t have a job in three months, and it took a lot of bravery. I just felt the company was aligned to my values and I could really see myself working there.”


Connecting fashion with technology


Tech in fashion, then, has undergone an absolutely massive shift in terms of its market penetration and consumer reach. 


“Technology is a real enabler for the creators, curators, and customers of fashion,” said Sian Keane, Chief People Officer at Farfetch.” It provides an online connection point for all three on a global basis, and I think that’s really incredible.”


“It IS about connecting,” Vanessa said. “Tech’s embedded in everything we do, and it’s really evolved 13 years ago from a design point of view. Fashion is more interesting, more attainable, and less elitist, and anything that does that is a positive.”


“I would say that the industry is about trying to make those contacts, research and understand the build. Don’t feel too rigid - if something else comes up, be willing to pivot as you go along your journey because there might be things you actually find that you love even more.”


For Alexis, one of the key challenges in fashion publishing remains the technological experience. “Fashion magazines are printed, they’re tactile, they’re beautiful, and they engage people. How do we take that experience to a digital space? We have the data, we know what people like, but how do we manifest that onto devices? It’s a big challenge publishing still faces and is particularly important for fashion and culture.”


Catch up with the full session of ‘Fashion, Tech, and the Power of Yes’ and 20 other hours of content celebrating Black culture and tech breakthroughs here