This week brought news both encouraging and disheartening for women trying to break into the big business of retail. Better to have the bad news, first: Britain has fallen to 26th place in the Global Gender Gap Report rankings, the lowest score for equality since 2008. In more uplifting news, Management Today Magazine have named their top entrepreneur of the year – and she’s a she. Victoria Beckham, whose global fashion empire has seen a £30m turnover and sales growth of 2,900% in 2014, was praised for her “finely tuned business acumen” and lack of inhibition in an industry that, once, would have turned their nose up at the feminine half of brand Beckham. When it comes to the fashionable tech industry, a new gen of female CEOs are well on their way to emulating this high-profile success. With one eye to the growing wearable tech sector and one eye to e-tail, there’s never been a better time to be a woman at the top.
Our global summit on Wearables and Retail Innovation, ‘Interconnected’, comes to New York on November 18-19 – and, with it, a whole host of powerful female speakers who have either founded their own businesses, or head up teams at some of the most exciting fashion retail companies around. Ready to represent the wearables sector – currently experiencing an unprecedented growth – are speakers such as Francesca Rosella. Founding wearable tech company CuteCircuit in 2004 with partner Ryan Genz, Rosella’s designs show on schedule at New York Fashion Week and count Katy Perry amongst their fans. Proving that this wearables malarkey is as much about intellectual prowess as business acumen is Sabine Seymour, founder and CEO of consulting firm Moondial. With a doctorate and several publications on intelligent clothing under her (electronic) belt, Seymour’s academics have informed her working life: giving brands creative direction in the new, sometimes scary environment of truly networked retail.
Labels that have entered the wearable fold more recently include the socially driven Wearable Experiments, and electronic jewellery start-up Kovert Designs. It seems that behind every wearables company, there’s a great woman: Billie Whitehouse (Wearable Experiments) and Kate Unsworth (Kovert) are just some of the inspirational young CEOs on the scene that will be joining Francesca Rosella and Sabine Seymour at our NY summit.
On the retail side, Victoria Beckham has more company than ever at the upper rungs of the fashion industry-as-global business. Just look at Tory Burch – the designer, entrepreneur and self-professed “information gatherer” has built a global apparel and accessories brand in just nine years. The Tory Burch foundation has been fighting for female empowerment since 2009, supporting women entrepreneurs and their families through small business loans, mentoring and education. Burch has even applied her golden touch to the wearable-tech industry: her good-looking accessories collab with fitness tracker FitBit was launched earlier this year.
The lesson for young women starting out in design and retail? In the end, just like the wearable accessories that will have the most success, tech can only empower if it is truly functional.
Reported by Claire Healy
On November 18-19, New York will play host to our global summit on Wearables and Retail Innovation, ‘Interconnected’. Featuring 100 speakers, mentors and movers and shakers, the event is well positioned to take the pulse of the fashion world now. Indeed, as 2014’s horizon comes into view, with it has come a tangible sea change: a whole new wave of wearable devices that are actually pretty wearable.
Apart from talks from key players in the wearables world, the summit also marks an opportunity for start-ups everywhere to get involved. Our startup competition aims to find this year’s most beautiful wearable, full stop. But what, when it comes to fashion X tech, should the criteria for beauty be? “Custom alloys engineered for beauty and durability” – that’s the Apple Watch’s take. “Effective, simple and durable” – that’s from the founder of Kovert Designs, Kate Unsworth (you can catch her in NYC, too).
When it comes to wearable fashion, then, it would appear that sleek function is what makes for beauty. But surely such an attitude doesn’t poach its preference for the practical from the fashion world. Silvia Fendi probably sums it up best when describing her ‘Baguette’ bag: “The Baguette really started this kind of new life for the accessory. It was treated like a fashion item, like a garment more than a bag.” In other words, the best-selling accessory of the decade’s bright color-ways, varied textures, small interior and single strap make it one of the least “functional” on the market. Is it about time we valued wearables by the same, aesthetically pleasing criteria?
The key, here, is integration. Fashion items so technologically advanced, so to speak, that the technology itself starts to disappear. Speaking sense on the point of aesthetics is the man who, in an uncanny move, dubbed himself with a URL-ready name since before the Internet was a thing: Will.i.am. As announced at the Wired conference last week, he’s enlisted architect Zaha Hadid to design variations on his smart cuff, Puls. The Hadid-designed Puls transforms the original sleek cuff, instead adding neofuturistic curves and bold elongation. Pushing the boundaries of the “sleekness and light” that is fast becoming the “aesthetic” of the incoming generation of wearables, it’s a welcome reminder to us all that what constitutes “beauty” in fashion isn’t interchangeable with what’s expected of its function. It is multiple perspective points, not the Apple-led monopoly, that really makes the wearables scene exciting. That’s also why, as our official competition will hope to demonstrate during Decoded Fashion NY, there’s no time like the present to bring the next wearable gamechanger to the industry’s attention.
Reported by Claire Healy