Fashion Reverie Exclusive Interview: Karen Harvey of Fashion Tech Forum

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Change is inevitable and change stimulates growth. However, with several well-known fashion brands in recent months closing shop and the constant shifts in management at top fashion brands, one has to wonder if all the reshuffling and the constant quest for new direction is impeding growth, causing a kind of fashion bewilderment and stagnation.

Oftentimes, fashion brands, in particular, are associated with the brilliant aesthetic approach of the people who founded the label. But if market demands and perpetual stimulation of the consumer shopping palette causes continued reorganization, where is the industry to go?

Enter Fashion Tech Forum. Realizing that the only constant in life is change and that the fashion industry is always primed for innovation and new perspectives, founder Karen Harvey felt the time was ripe for a forum that examined the synergy between technology and its effects on the fashion industry.

In 2014, Karen Harvey Consulting Group launched Fashion Tech Forum (FTF) to bring awareness to an ever-increasing war for talent, and the cultural shifts impacting both the fashion and technology sectors. FTF host an annual conference with 500+ top industry leaders, including CEOs, creative directors, designers, founders and investors in fashion, retail, media and technology. FTF curates intimate conversations with industry leaders to address, discuss and educate on the specific needs of a particular city, function or demographic.

Karen Harvey spoke with Fashion Reverie about the synergistic relationship of fashion and technology, as well as her goals for FTF and the new direction of fashion.

Image courtesy of wwd.com

Image courtesy of wwd.com

Fashion Reverie: How did the Fashion Tech Forum come about?

Karen Harvey: I think importantly we need to think about my original company Karen Harvey Consulting Group that sits at the center of the luxury fashion retail innovation space. As our core business has been bringing talent to some of our industry’s largest global brands and some of the most significant emerging companies, we sit with boards of directors and CEOs all over the world and they share what they are thinking about.

When you are fortunate enough to be privy to these types of conversations, of course, we realized that these powerbrokers were paralyzed about their concerns for the future. When you start to hear the same things from a variety of executives that could dramatically impact the future of fashion, this was a motivation for us to address these issues.

What also was simultaneously happening—and Karen Harvey Consultants was front and center—was organization issues, and how to think about structure for the future because so many of our companies were solvent. Naturally, you began to recognize that these asylums became barriers into the new world of digitalization.

Many of the new companies coming into the fashion digital world were emerging tech companies and we discovered that most of them didn’t really understand fashion. But, they understood online marketing, sustainability, social media, and any number of things. Because of our incubation division at Karen Harvey Marketing Group and as an affiliate member of the CFDA, we have always been sensitive to new and emerging designers. We have always had this open door policy for entrepreneurs to contact us. Coincidentally, as all these inquiries were coming in from the tech sector, I was really interested in what they were doing and the conversations they were having, even though I knew they probably couldn’t afford our services.

Fashion_Tech_Forum_Joe_Zee

Image courtesy of Fashion Tech Forum

I began to realize that there were real shifts in the fashion industry from the way that millenials shop and purchase product, and interact with brands using innovative technology, I felt we had to consider how the tech industry was going to grab some of our best talent. For example, Joe Zee—former creative director of Elle—is now at Yahoo. My background in training and development for companies like Nike and Benetton, primed me for doing live content and putting programs together that bring value to brands.

With my talented team I was able to bring this conversation to a very high level and that is how Fashion Tech Forum was borne.

Fashion Reverie: We are aware that there is a lot of synergy between technology and fashion, in your opinion what are some of the most innovative combinations of fashion and technology that’s driving the market right now?

Karen Harvey: We did out best to curate a group of speakers and panelists we had their fingers on the pulse of this synergistic melding of fashion and technology. I felt very strongly that the conversations around the invisible technology that is beginning to influence wearable clothing that does not require sewing or seaming was groundbreaking and incredibly exciting. On a product level this is very fashion forward.

Fashion Reverie: In one of the panel discussions at the recent Fashion Tech Forum Andrew Rosen expressed that the fashion industry is going through an adjustment period. Do you agree with him and would you care to elaborate on his perspective?

Karen Harvey: I was glad to have Andrew Rosen acknowledge that we are going through seismic shifts. At our core, we have to be aware how we communicate with today’s consumers. We know that brick and mortar shopping is not going away. It is about what the consumer wants and it always was about product and what the consumer wants. That will not change; however, what has changed is how we communicate with consumers.

Andrew Rosen was referring to adjusting to this new paradigm. And each brand has to think about this new shift to better position and market their product. This adjustment period, as he defines it, is being played out in retail sales, social media, technology and marketing, and quite frankly some brands are just not keeping up with the change. That is one of the reasons that we are starting to see some brands that had market value falter. And, unfortunately some of those brands are being eased out of the market. Fashion Tech Forum is positioning itself to look all these new paradigms.

Image courtesy of Lividini & Co.

Image courtesy of Fashion Tech Forum

Fashion Reverie: Recently, there have been articles in the press on the return of onshore manufacturing. In the current market where there is such a scramble for cheap labor, is onshore manufacturing sustainable?

Karen Harvey: I am not an expert in this area; however, I think there is a huge motivation in many cities in the US to revitalize their manufacturing history; to bring more affordable manufacturing to their cities. Just look at Shinola and think of the number of brands that are attempting and some successfully beginning to manufacture in the US. And some of those brands are solving and/or tackling labor issues, employing workers at a living wage while making their product affordable and accessible. Innovative technology is helping to forward this onshore movement.

Fashion Reverie: Do you feel that the celebrity culture is still driving the fashion industry or has its time past?

Karen Harvey: Well, I think there is a new celebrity. The way we have normally thought about celebrity is changing. The new celebrity is the social influencer. I don’t mean the framework in terms of following everything that a celebrity wears or following a celebrity’s every move or motivation. That framework does not have the same market value it once had. The difference now it is not about the perfect celebrity, it is about authenticity and a connection that is more related to the brand and how that celebrity reflects the brand whether it is a lifestyle brand or just a clothing or beauty product.

Image courtesy of Lividini & Co.

Image courtesy of Fashion Tech Forum

Fashion Reverie: How is social media currently having an influence in the market as opposed to fashion blogs and older social media outlets like Facebook of five years ago?

Karen Harvey: The millenials and generation X are not using Facebook the way previous users did in the past. That said; they are pivoting brilliantly. They have creating platforms for brands to communicate with their massive interface. They are creating content that will be incredibly powerful. The information that they are able to drive to consumers will have a tremendous impact on those brands that are apt to engage with it.

Fashion Reverie: That said: what is the market value of social media when it comes to moving product or selling clothes? 

Karen Harvey: It is about engagement in the brand. If a consumer is not engaged in the brand there will be a dip in sales. Engagement definitely leads to sales. Currently, there are marketing and digital content companies that are aggregating guest bloggers and all types of social media that are driving sales in the millions to brands due to engaging customers through social media. And there are algorithms that accurately measure this engagement as it relates to sales. Influence and engagement equal sales.

Image courtesy of Lividini & Co.

Image courtesy of Fashion Tech Forum

Fashion Reverie: What do you hope that people take away from Fashion and Tech Forum?

Karen Harvey: I want FTF to be a creative petri dish of ideas and solutions around the growing intersection of fashion and technology.

—William S. Gooch

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