Conferences addressing the dire need for massive shifts in the fashion industry are growing. One such series of conferences called The Lead “bridges the fashion & retail industry with the global Silicon Valley,” according to the company’s website. It focuses “on the sweet spot in the fashion, retail and technology markets where innovation is shifting behavior and creating new business opportunities.”


Rachel Karioki, founder of eco-friendly athleticwear line Court Bottoms and a Beyond the Label Tampa team member, attended The Lead Innovation Summit on July 9-10 in New York. As a passionate business owner with a background in foreign policy and international development, Rachel’s unique perspective sheds light on the current state of fashion and people’s desire to be part of the positive shift towards a healthier, more sustainable, and more ethical fashion industry.  Here are her top three takeaways from the event:


The first takeaway very much aligns with the saying, “Change is the only constant in life.” Panelists representing small and large brands, spoke about how consumer preferences and demands have dramatically shifted over the last decade. This has opened space for boutique, direct-to-consumer companies to reach large portions of the market and has served as a function for established brands to reassess how they connect with customers who aren’t necessarily spending time in brick-and-mortar stores. However, direct-to-consumer companies are getting comfortable in the current online model at their own risk. Speakers from across the fashion spectrum consistently highlighted the importance of leveraging technology in new and innovative ways such as text marketing or artificial intelligence to strengthen relationships with consumers.


Second, diversify! Specifically, develop brand interaction with customers. With direct-to-consumer companies coming on the scene and disrupting traditional models, many of the larger brands have heavily invested in their online presence and worked to create “experiences” within their physical locations. But as Neil Parikh, co-founder of Casper, stated, it doesn’t appear to be a one-size-fits-all solution. It turns out consumers want to interact with a brand in different and authentic ways. As time goes on, direct-to-consumer lines that once said they’d never invest in brick and mortar see profitable growth opportunity within the in-person experience space and as a result are adding partnerships, pop-ups, and/or their own storefronts to their business model.


The third takeaway is the important roles of consumers and designers when it comes to improving sustainability within the industry. Guest speakers including Amy Hall, Vice President of Consciousness at Elieen Fisher, and Kerry Cooper, president of Rothy’s, spoke about how important sustainability is to the mission of their companies but said it is not the primary reason customers buy their products. These brands, similar to Court Bottoms, have sustainability programmed into their company’s DNA and continue to pave the way for others. However, for brands that haven’t been as forward-leaning about sustainable practices, consumers are increasingly demanding that they pay attention. As one panelist put it, consumers are more educated about the industry than ever before and are choosing with their wallets to support transparency and sustainability.

Written by Taryn Hipwell


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