Finally Going East: Creating Ties Through Beauty and Culture

As I hinted in my last post, there were some changes going on with my website which was why I’ve been a bit delinquent about my posts.

Well, I’m happy to announce that I’m officially a member X UNIPX INFLUENCE Program!  In other words, I’m now acting as an influencer in the Chinese market leveraging UNIPX media platforms which focus on pop culture, lifestyle, media and entertainment.  Here is a recent article my friends at UNIPX published that effectively introduces me to the market as a strategist and lover of all things beauty (It’s super easy to translate into English :)).

While I’m going to represent one of many different points of view from the U.S. market, I realize I need to wrap my head around views of beauty in Chinese culture too.  As you can imagine this can be a life long pursuit, but even just peering in to this new world could be give some insight.

So the first thing I did was look into my past research.  To explain to my colleagues and clients how views of beauty differ across cultures, I compared how Americans vs French, Russian and Chinese natives interpret beauty.   Initially I jumped into social media and published research.  While it’s a few years old (I’m looking forward in my new role to motivate me to do update this), and I’ve had to generalize a bit, I believe some of these themes stand the test of time.   What intrigued me the most, and it surfaces in the article written about me linked above, is the true duality of inner and outer beauty in China.  While concepts of inner beauty are in “vogue” in Western culture, when we talk about beauty, let’s face it, we are really referring to our outer appearances.  From an outer beauty perspective, the Chinese tend to view a healthy body and skin, as well as white skin, and an sense of approachability as attractive.

As a woman wrote in social media (translated into English): “Actually health is beauty.  It’s better to get up early, do some exercise everyday and focus on the balance of whole body.”

At the same time, Chinese culture deems traits like confidence, intelligence and honorability as beautiful.  As another stated:

“Out long tradition emphasizes more the inner beauty of a woman.  Beauty is not only your appearance but also your charm, characteristics and nobility…..”

Of course this is only scratching the surface. But imagine if we started thinking about or appreciating beauty this way. I’m not saying that all the Chinese notions of beauty will be right for us here. In fact, maybe by sharing some of our more enlightened notions of beauty with them we can all grow. I’m looking forward to learning more about these differences, experiencing and adopting some of them myself.

Speaking of experiencing them, I tried to do just that.  While I couldn’t take the next flight to Beijing, I did the best I could and headed down to NYC’s famous Chinatown to explore the beauty world.  I went shopping with my friend, Kristi, at the neighborhood beauty shops, and indulged in some beauty treatments a few weeks later.  Not surprisingly, the shops offered way more beauty products from Korea and Japan than from China.   But that didn’t stop us from partaking. 🙂

In terms of beauty treatments, I went on a lark to a place that had a website offering manicure and blow outs on Canal St.  The manicure didn’t seem any different than one I would get at a typical salon uptown.  But the hair experience certainly was.   (Let me caveat by saying this is certainly not a comparison of all Chinatown salons since I only went to one. )  The first thing that happened was I was asked to sit on one the of the blow out chairs while a woman covered my collar in plastic.  She then gave me a 5 minute shoulder massage — which was awesome.  Here is where it gets really interesting: while I’m sitting there, she takes the shampoo, pours it on my head while another woman squeezes water out from a plastic bottle to be mixed with the shampoo.  The first woman washes and massages my scalp for another 5 minutes as I’m sitting right next to a gentleman getting his hair cut.  So I’m thinking, do they not have sinks?  What’s the deal?  They do! I know because after the 5 minute wet hair massage I’m led to the sinks where my hair is rinsed and rewashed and then conditioned.  Clearly a healthy, clean scalp and head of hair is a MUST!

Another interesting difference between “western” blowouts and and the ones I experienced myself or saw on others in the salon, is emphasis on smooth and straight (vs full volume).  I was not surprised at this look given the high preponderance of Japanese straightening products that have made their way around the globe, and especially in Asia.  Given the humidity and my general lifestyle the look lasted a day or so but experience was a blast.

No doubt beauty is more than skin deep.  But I’m not referring just to inner beauty.  Rather I speaking about how much beauty is a product and reflection of culture.  While there may universal truths about physical symmetry and health as markers of beauty, it’s so evident how our rituals around, beliefs of and issues with beauty tells us a world of information regarding our values, social politics, environment and the list goes.  This is one of the key goals of Beautyskew: to shed light on culture through the lens of beauty. More than that, as evidence of my new relationship with UNIPX media, beauty can be a vehicle to connect with and learn from others, even those from a totally different world.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this great new relationship, sharing what I know and learning from others too, maybe just maybe, helping to build some amazing bridges.

To get a taste of some of the Chinese-American beauty influencers on U.S. soil, check out Soothingsista and Francis Lola.

The Other Side to Media’s Unrealistic Depictions of Beauty

Apologies for the break in posts over the past few weeks.  I’ve been cooking up a whole new aspect to my blog!  Stay tuned for the upcoming changes.

Courtesy of Numero Magazine

I was flying back from Paris last week and picked up the August issue of Numero magazine in the airport.  Though my French is terrible, my eye sight isn’t, so I relished in the magazine’s beautiful imagery.  But nothing blew me away as much as the amazing spread by Sophia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello.  Of course the photography was gorgeous and the fashion beautiful.  What stopped me in my tracks, though, were the striking images of young and older women (see pic above).  Despite my heavy load, I knew I had to carry that magazine with me all the way home.  This photoshoot elated me.  And it confirmed what I’ve been believing for a while.  Let’s not fear and reject media outright for it’s shaming of men and women.  Instead, let’s find ways to uplift it.

As a young strategic planner at DDB in the 90’s, I couldn’t escape all of the famous quotes from legendary ad man and founder, Bill Bernbach.  As you’d expect I barely remember most of them but a few have stuck.  One that has influenced me throughout my career, and frankly kept me connected to the marketing and advertising business as long as I have, was this:

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

Today, media, especially social media, is often vilified for projecting unrealistic, negative, stereotypical imagery of people.  And it can lead to the vulgar sides of society: body shaming, poor self image and crazy standards.  As a mother of girl entering puberty, I’m acutely aware of this.  Plus, I often catch myself measuring my looks against these standards.

But can we recognize the opportunity the media affords us too?

For better or for worse, we are visual creatures.  We are drawn to imagery, especially images of people.  Moreover, we are fundamentally attracted to beauty — beautiful people, beautiful images, and beautiful things.  Of course we have different interpretations of beauty.  But the truth they appeal to us… greatly.   And because we’re that much more likely to focus on a picture or video than sit down and read an essay, or listen to a pundit speak, we are likely to let these new notions of beauty and self-expression penetrate.

We could just bemoan today’s media or we could use our tendency towards beauty, and the media that leverages, it to “uplift”society, rather than “vulgarize it.”

How?

First, let’s use the plethora of imagery to spark a conversation with our kids.  We can ask them how they feel about it and how to view it all with a realistic eye.  Through that conversation we may venture into much larger issues of body image, aging, and confidence.

Second, we can influence media to push for more inclusive imagery.   And it’s happening already!  Media is starting to hear us.  A recent article in Digiday references the numerous examples from beauty and fashion magazines that are now reflecting the many different forms of gender, ethnicity, body type and age.

Finally, because we know we are attracted to such imagery, the world of beauty and fashion can be a vehicle for even greater social change!  This same article gave us two great quotes, one from Jenny Bailly, Allure’s executive beauty editor, and the other from, Cat Quinn of Refinery29, which summarized this well:

“Beauty is a great vehicle for driving conversations about social change, because it’s accessible to everyone,” said Quinn, of Refinery29. It’s a topic that many argue lends itself easily to the bigger picture. “When we talk to Halima or [trans model] Andreja Pejic, or [boy beauty star] James Charles, or a young woman on a reservation in Montana about hair and makeup, we’re also having intimate conversations about where they’ve come from, what they believe in and how they interact with the world,” said Bailly.

Let’s not expect to shield our children entirely from the imagery around us, or even poo poo it.  Plus, we all know they find ways to see to it anyway.  Instead let’s embrace the imagery.  Let’s use it as a forum for discussion, and even encourage our friends and our kids to let media outlets know what they want to see projected.  After all, isn’t that the beauty of social media?  Everyone has a voice :).

The Evolutionary Proof of the Value of Beauty’s Pleasure

Let’s take pleasure in pleasure.  In case you’re feeling a bit hesitant about this, take a look at evolutionary theories to give you some extra ammo.

We’ve all learned the appeal and surprising evolutionary success of the peacock with it’s heavy but beautiful wings in middle school science class.  According to evolutionary theory, the strongest survive which explains why certain traits have lasted the test of time.   And this theory is also used to explain why the seemingly unfit species, like the peacock that can’t fly, still survives.  The theory is that the female assumes the peacock must be super strong in order to carry around his massive, gorgeous wings, and, thus, a superior mate.

Well, the recent book by Richard Prum, The Evolution of Beauty, challenges the notion that beautiful features in us, animals, MUST  surely be some health indicator.  Instead he says that certain species thrived in spite of being less fit because they inspired pleasure in others.  In an interview for the “Verge,” Prum refers to the Club-Winged Manakin that “actually evolved to become cooler but less fit.”  In order to attract its mate, the bird’s wings adapted to become more beautiful for the purposes of dance but actually less efficient in terms of flying — it’s main role!   In other words, the pleasurable beauty of the winged manakin attracted mates even if it meant the risk of less healthy offspring.  Prum asks if sexual pleasure in certain species is only to ensure reproduction, why do animals endure elaborate dance or singing rituals to attract the other.  Couldn’t one round of two-stepping or a few chords have done the trick?  Nope.  His explanation is that many species, including us, human beings, desire pleasure.  And we desire this not just to ensure survival of the next generation but because it has value in and of itself.

So how come it took so long for someone recognize this?  Plum’s explanation:

“I think evolutionary biology has a ‘pleasure problem’ going all the way back to the Victorians who were very unsettled to the idea that animals, including people, might be motivated by pleasure. It might be anxiety about the power of passion, and so we’ve been going on a long time ignoring subjective experience.”

Let’s face it, so many of us in our culture are downright uncomfortable with notions of pleasure.  So we either explain it way as something that leads productive or reproductive ends, or we ignore it all together.  I confess, I’m sometimes guilty of the former.  I rationalize pampering my skin or wearing fashionable clothes as way for me look more professional or give me the confidence I need to take on a big career challenge.  Why can’t I just enjoy the pleasure of beauty without tying it tie to something purposeful.  I loved how Prum answered a recent question posed by Dr. Prakashin in the New York Times article by James Gorman, “Challenging Mainstream’s  Though on Beauty’s Big Hand in Evolution:” “Why are birds beautiful?” “Birds are beautiful because they’re beautiful to themselves.”  Full stop.

For those of us who eschew pleasure all together, we may be pushing against our nature.  I’m not saying “natural” behaviors are good.  Some are downright horrible, like murder or child pornography.  And I’m not saying all pleasurable activities/things should be embraced, example opiates.   But if we are built to seek pleasure — within reason — shouldn’t we be more comfortable with it?  Even better, shouldn’t we embrace it?  There are so many wonderful pursuits of pleasure.  Enjoying art, wonderful food, beautiful scenery, gorgeous music, and the list goes on.  If it makes us happier, isn’t that a good thing?  Maybe if we just let ourselves appreciate pleasure more we wouldn’t be sublimating our natural desires, and potentially channeling them into not so great behaviors.  As we all know, curbing natural desires has a way of leading us to harmful pursuits.

If we have the capacity to create pleasure for ourselves and others, I think we should see it not only as our privilege, but also as our responsibility to foster it, welcome it, and share it.  Let’s seek out pleasure!

A Call for Eroticism

In this week’s edition of The New Yorker, I came across a quick story by Peter Schjeldahl, “The Roaring Stetties,”  about the artist Florine Stettheimer.  In anticipation of The Jewish Museum’s retrospective of her work, the story gives us a taste of this New York-based artist living during the end of 19th century and first half of the 20th .  Based on the story, Stettheimer seemed fascinating, bold and talented.  In 1915, Stettheimer painted the first full-length nude self-portrait by a woman.  No coincidence the image accompanying the article was a copy of this very painting.  It’s quite beautiful, tasteful and arresting.  Never would I hesitate to share this story and the image with my children.  In fact, I would be proud too!

But why is a painting of a nude woman any different than other images of naked woman we witness all too often in today’s culture on the internet?  Would I want to show these other images to my children?  My initial response is “no!”  But why? My question reminds me of a post a wrote a number of years back about the difference between erotic art and pornography.  Below is piece from that post:

What explains why pornography is considered base while erotic art is deemed beautiful? In both cases we lay our eyes upon the beautiful (or sometimes not so beautiful) human form.  According to Robert Scruton in Beauty, pornography objectifies the body whereas erotic art represents the embodied person — soul, personality, character….

What struck me about the argument is Scruton’s own words: “My body is not an object but a subject, just as I am…I am inextricably mingled with it, and what is done to my body is done to me.”

His thinking has implications way beyond pornography for me.  Essentially he’s elevating the role of our bodies.  They aren’t just flesh and bone, they are inseparable from ourselves, from our essences.

Keeping our kids shielded from pornography makes absolute sense.  Pornography demeans us and distances ourselves from our bodies.  And the reverse should be true as well.  We should not only deem erotic art differently from pornography, but actually encourage our kids to view it.  They will get a taste of talent and challenge themselves to understand the art in the context of its time.  But perhaps more importantly, they will hopefully embrace the human form and see it as something beautiful not some distant “piece” of who we are, or even worse, a source of shame.  Instead they will see it as inherently part of us, and as such, will  respect it, treat it well and love it that much more.  In a time and culture where we have so many conflicting feelings about our physical selves, let’s at least give our kids a sense of our bodies as sacred and worthy of self-care.  I truly believe such a stance towards our physical selves will make us healthier, happier and more respectful of others’ physicality as well.  Imagine that: we will not only be more loving and protective of our own bodies, but more accepting, caring and cherishing of others’ bodies too.  Could this help to stop body shaming and actual physical harming others?  Maybe.  I hope so.

I would love your reactions to this and I’m looking forward to the exhibit and may even some of you all there :).

 

Beauty in the Workplace: How We Can Embrace, Not Fear, A Multi-Generational Workforce

Within minutes of me publishing last week’s post, The Role of Ugliness and the Need to Address the Topic Head On, I received a very interesting plea by one of the readers.  He urged me to address another appearance-related issue, ageism.  And he was quite passionate about it.  Within a few days of my post, he reached out again asking why I hadn’t yet written about it.

While one might be taken aback by such pushiness, I was actually pleased.  Selfishly, I was happy that he thinks I have something to say.  But more than that, I’m glad he cared, and that he was a “he.”  In case you didn’t see his comment on the post last week, here it is:

Great commentary, Abigail. This is an ‘old’ argument. Have we made progress?; probably. Have we went far enough?; Certainly not. I think the broader discussion has to do with ‘age’ – what is the underlying difference between ‘beauty’ & ‘age’ if it means one class is being treated as an outcast? Many older workers are now feeling the same level of discrimination that woman of all ages have felt for many, many years. Of course, certainly for vastly different reasons in many respects. But what about woman over 50? Now they’re judged on their looks and their abilities. Talk about shaming! We need to start raising the noise on this issue; isn’t 50 the new 30? If so, let’s be more inclusive for all races, genders & ages.

Needless to say, I agree with him.  And as a woman in the corporate world, especially in a very young industry, i.e., tech, I can relate to the fear of being “too old” in the not so distant future.  I may be able to speak in front of large crowds and have the confidence to put myself “out there” in social media but tell my age to may colleagues?  Now, that’s a different story :).  In all seriousness, I experienced a bit of a mid-life crisis last year about this very issue.  Would I lose my allure?  And what happens then?  Will people not want to work with me anymore?  As vain as it sounds, I recognize that we all bring a full package to our social and professional lives.  And that package includes youthfulness, style, attractiveness, in addition to all the other very important traits like intellect, integrity, a work ethic, EQ, and the list goes on.  So I totally understand what this reader was getting at.  There was a recent story by Carly Ledbetter in the Huffington Post all about this: Men are Getting Now More Than Ever.  These Plastic Surgeons Explain Why.

This topic reminds me of a story I wrote a few years back about how American woman and men fear looking older.   This fear is not just associated with sexual appeal but with a sense of currency in the office.  Here’s what I wrote back then:

According to an article by American Health and Beauty(“More Male Patients Seeking Cosmetic Procedures”), men are increasingly seeking facelifts, male breast reduction, Botox treatments and liposuction.  The reason given?  Major competition in the job market from younger, more energetic youths.

What’s even more depressing is the rise of eating disorders among the silver-haired set.  A recent New York Times article (“An Older Generation Falls Prey to Eating Disorders”) states that more and more women over the age of 50 are suffering from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders.

So what do we?  We can be more diverse age-wise in our hiring practices.  And we can support older entrepreneurs who decided to pivot a bit later in their lives.   And I’m sure there are even more actions we can take.  In fact, comment on this story if you have some ideas!

But I actually think the changes need to come from within ourselves first.  If we are in fear of aging, we will inevitably project that onto others.  We all have to maintain ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually.  If we are to lose our sense of energy and positivity then we should expect people to not want to work or play with us.

I mentioned above that it was a man who reached out to me.  While I don’t want women or men to ever feel ashamed or unattractive, I’m actually somewhat pleased it was a man who commented.  For one thing, if both genders are experiencing this issue, the more likely the problem will be addressed.  In addition, I’m a big proponent of men taking special care of their physical health and appearance.  Unlike women who see doctors regularly from a young age and are used to tuning into their bodies, whether for procreation or disease-prevention reasons, men don’t really have a need to think about their bodies until later in life.  They may not understand or feel connected to their bodies in the same way women do.  But when we all make conscious effort to maintain our physical health, and, yes, our appearance, we understand our bodies better.    We are clued into them.  And frankly we respect them more.  If more men were to have a stronger “connection” with their bodies, I am convinced, they will not only be healthier for longer, but also be more aware of when they aren’t healthy.

No doubt I want to ensure that we give everyone a chance, no matter their religion, gender, appearance or age.  And we should fight against any discrimination that we face.  But I also think it’s up to all of us, individually, to ensure we feel healthy, happy and energetic.  Not only will we have that much more confidence, but we will undoubtedly inspire others to see how being older could even be better!

The Role of Ugliness and the Need to Address the Topic Head On

A couple of weeks back I posted my point of view on the recent film, Beauty and the Beast. Honestly, I didn’t think many would read it too closely, let alone comment on it.

Well, I was wrong.  And I’m thrilled!

What’s even better is the conflicting point of view that I sparked. Certainly not everyone agreed with my argument, and that was fine by me.  The sheer number of views and comments reinforces the opening point I made in that post: the movie and the subject of beauty, which is clearly part of the story, generate a lot of interest.  My question was why?

Many of the commentators on my post explained that the story line around inner beauty touches us all and the fact that the Belle character is even more nuanced elevates the story even more.  I buy that.  But I was more interested in why the subject of beauty in fairly tales still resonates.  Period.  A few years back I wrote a post about the animated movie, Brave, and how I appreciated that fact that she was not regarded as beautiful or ugly, but rather stubborn, athletic, loving, etc.  In other words, beauty didn’t enter the equation.

I concluded that the subject of beauty has a key role.  It isn’t something to ignore, but a topic we should raise and discuss.

And this means we should also encourage the topic of ugliness.  This is the other side of beauty.  Can someone look or be ugly?  I notice that I dissuade my children from describing things or other people as ugly. But in doing so am I am I shutting them down entirely.  Is that right?  Shouldn’t we invite the discourse?  Doesn’t Beauty and the Beast do just that?

Here’s a reason to talk about it.  I recently read a fascinating article by Mindy Weisberger of LiveScience, Beauty and the Beast: Why We are Fascinated By Human-Animal Mates?  As you can tell from the title, the story delves into the role of half-human half-animal characters in fairy tales.  Interestingly the half-animal characters are mostly male.  I won’t summarize the whole article but share one reason.  In the times of fairy tales, young girls, say around 14 years old, would often be betrothed to much older men.  To these girls, older men were obviously bigger, harrier, more muscular, perhaps even animal-like in their eyes. To assuage their fear of their future husbands, stories would often depict the princes as part animal.  And as we all know, everything turns out all right and we live happily ever after.  What an interesting explanation to share with our children!  And you can imagine the profound discussion that this explanation would lead to around women’s rights, equality, strong partnerships with romantic partners, and the list goes.  But without the freedom to pursue the topic of beauty and ugliness, we may never get to broach those issues.

We are innately interested and appreciate beautiful things and beautiful people.  And in an effort to shield girls and boys from placing too much emphasis on beauty, of course we shouldn’t elevate it to the only, or the primary source of conversation.  As an aside, there’s a book that just came out this week by Renee Engeln about our attention on beauty as a form of sickness, aptly named, Beauty Sick, How the Cultural Obsession with beauty and Appearance Hurts Girls and Women.  The analysis shows the ramifications of too much thought around beauty.  Obviously I don’t endorse that.  But I also believe that we shouldn’t ignore the subject all together or even downplay it.  Let’s embrace beauty, the uniqueness of it, and the bad and the good that come with it.

“Beauty and the Beast”: A Blow to Feminism or Something Powerful For Us All?

This week we are changing things up!  While the last number of posts have been about the future, i.e., upcoming fashion tech, this week I’m going to talk about something that’s been around for centuries: Fairly Tales.  Well, more specifically, Beauty and the Beast.

The reason?  You can’t ignore it.  Every time I open my news feed I see story after story about the movie.  Of course there’s lots to say about this version: there’s some hot actors in and controversies surrounding it, and box-office numbers are through the roof.  But it seems the focus on it is excessive.

Should I be surprised?  I mean how many versions of Beauty and the Beast, whether in film or written form, have there been?  A ton.  What gives?  Fairy Tales intrigue us because they are a reflection of fundamental human struggles, highs and lows, and desires etc.   But in this day and age why are we so enamored by a simple story about a beautiful woman and her ability to attract a prince?

Beauty, or the lack/loss of it, is so central to so many of these stories, because, well, it does matter to us.  But I can’t help but wonder if the blatant concern with outer beauty is something we want our kids to be listening to or watching in this day and age.  Haven’t we progressed beyond girls being noticed and valued for their beauty alone?

For those of you who follow Beautyskew, you know that I’m anything but adverse to our celebration of beauty.  But I am alarmed when we view beauty as our only asset.   I too have a daughter who is beautiful AND intelligent, gregarious, athletic, friendly, artistic, and the list goes on.  I try to celebrate all these traits.  So when a movie all about beauty gets so much attention I have to pause.

But, maybe this film is actually a gift.  Maybe the smack-you-in-the-face focus on beauty — it’s in the very title — will force a necessary debate.  No matter how successful we are at helping our daughters, sisters, girlfriends or mothers see their worth beyond their appearance, our culture still reflects how critical our looks are.  Often culture has a way of doing it in subtle ways, e.g., only cast young, svelte women for TV roles, churn out only singers that look pretty or put the spotlight only on female politicians’ attire.  When it’s subtle, it’s that much harder to recognize the issue, especially for kids.  On the flip side, the obvious title of the film and the role of beauty in the film can’t be ignored.  It’s there to enjoy, agree with or confront.  And that’s a good thing.

The fact remains:  we are judged by how we look.  I  suffered from this just last week when I was harshly judged by a particular audience for how I looked.  I’m not placing all the blame of my less-than-stellar success at bonding with the audience on my looks, but from what I heard, how I appeared was met with criticism and sexism.  This reaction tainted the whole presentation and had a ripple effect on others I work with.

I don’t like it, but it happens.  We can’t shield our kids, friends, relatives from that.  But we can help them come to terms with it.  If we deny the reality, we don’t help anyone.  We just leave our loved ones unprepared for others’ reactions.

The reason fairly tales still touch us is that they are so obvious.  They speak to the classic issues of beauty vs ugliness, evil vs goodness, strength vs weakness, without apologizing for it or masking it. Of course we are more subtle creatures and don’t need everything so blatant.   But sometimes you got to put the thinking out there so people are forced to respond.  We need to talk about the role of beauty in our lives, we must deal with issues of jealousy and fear.   We may not like that our outer appearances gets so much hype.  But they do.  Let’s address the issue, and learn how to love ourselves no matter how we appear to others or how others react to us.

 

Get a Glimpse into Future Fashion/Beauty Tech Trends From CES Veteran, Robin Raskin

Welcome back to our series of wearable tech podcasts. Apologies for the slight respite these past few weeks, I was braving it at SXSW. But now I’m back and super excited to share the brilliant insights from our extensive conversation with Robin Raskin, Founder and CEO, Living in Digital Times.

I asked her to tell us about the cool, new beauty and fashion tech that she experienced at CES (Computer Electronics Show), which occurred right before our gathering at the National Retail Federation Big Show. She immediately throws out two fun ones: hi-tech kegel exerciser and remote controlled underwear—wowza!  After a few laughs we dove into a number of high level observations, and they were fascinating.  Overall, everything is connected to the internet now; everything is talking to each other.  “It’s a turning point, explains Robin, “everything becomes collaborative, everything — everyone one — has to work together.”  Here’s how that’s making it’s way into fashion/beauty tech:
1. Renaissance of Retail: People are going back to stores, but they are going to have an experience — think virtual mirrors, ordering on one’s own, getting personalized products on the spot. Thanks to advances in AI we can better anticipate and appeal to people’s needs right there and then. Retailers are learning from the likes of Disney theme parks and Carnival Cruises in their approaches to personalized, customized and intelligent solutions.  As a result of all this new tech, stores will become more customer/front-end focused.  So much will be automated so that sales people can spend less time in the back and can now service customers with much more time and depth.
2. More creative & personalized designs: 3D printed garments; clothing and accessories with LED lights; better fitting shoes and clothing, and the list goes.  (Think back to our prior podcasts, and our conversations with Thesis Couture‘s hi-tech shoes, Thursdayfinest‘s 3D printed ties, scarves and hats as examples.)
3. Smart garments = the new wave: From the point of origin, to the manufacturing process to the wearer’s experience, garments will be trackable allowing for any glitches to be recognized and fixed anywhere along their lifecycle.  Of course this also heralds advances in health, as we can monitor everything from people’s exercise levels, to dental hygiene to future stroke potential.   A big shout out to my buddy, Heidi Lehmann (she was in our second podcast too) and her company Kenzen which develops smart clothing to monitor our health and track our physiology.  As Robin put it: “we won’t need parents nagging us anymore…our clothes and jewelry will do all of it instead, lol!”
4. Self-promotion of artists and fashion/jewelry designers  Thanks to technology artists won’t need to rely on stores, galleries or traditional media to promote them.  This means more access to potential buyers and less costly approaches to making us aware of their talents.

As a final treat, I asked Robin what she saw as the next new cool beauty or fashion tech trend.  She cited her favorite thus far which is a coat that gets warm during cold temperatures but then cools off as our bodies or the outside air temperatures rise.  So cool no? (no pun intended, LOL)

As all of our podcasts have shown, we have hit a new and exciting era in fashion and beauty.  No doubt we will have a bit to navigate through all of this, and we’ll have to determine what our limits are.  Do we want to exchange our personal data for the exciting benefits of smart garments? Are we ready to explore totally new categories, e.g., jewelry or tech devices?  Can we imagine wearing clothing or accessories that express our emotions?

My feeling?

Hell yes!  Bring it on.

Some of these advances will fade, some will morph and some will take the world by storm.  I can’t wait for it all!

To hear more brilliance from Robin, please click on the podcast below

And if you want to see us gab live, have a look at our periscope video for the podcast booth.  Please skip ahead to 52 minutes in.

https://www.periscope.tv/w/1vOxwgqqgLbxB

Data, Intimacy & Wearables: A New Take on “We are What We Wear” And How We Feel About It

The beautiful, scary, amazing and conflicting role of data is a conversation that has only gotten hotter over the years.  And now with our clothes and jewelry offering access to intelligence about us like never before, the conversation has gotten that much more dynamic.

Welcome to our fifth podcast about fashion-tech from the NRF Big Show event.  For this discussion, I was, again, accompanied by my friend and ESPN Exec, James Eshricht.  And, again, I had the fortune of hosting a few amazing guests who are shaking the business paradigm and bringing it to new, exciting places.

We kicked off this session with the brilliant and highly fashionable co-founder of Trendalytics, Karen Moon, and her colleague, Amos Chiou.  And then we had the privilege of hosting Julie Rodgers Vargas, director, Digital Solutions at Avery Dennison and Andy Hobsbawm, co-founder & CMO, EVRYTHNG (Yep there’s no vowels…I didn’t forget to spell check :)).

Trendalytics is the “moneyball for fashion,” according to Karen.  Thanks to the company’s sexy combination of data scientists, engineers and retail experts, Trendalytics can forecast fashion trends based, not on the age-old source of historical data, but on a slew of sources including user searches on Google, social buzz and e-com data.  This means they can truly be ahead of the curve.  I couldn’t agree more!  As you can imagine, I’m constantly surrounded by data.  And I love it.  But just because data is so valuable, doesn’t mean it’s not all created equal.  We have to take into account the source.  Historical data is much less foretelling, and, frankly less “human” than data from people’s own search behavior, conversations and activities.  The company is only 2 years old but working with a host of retailers.  Like so many of our guests, Karen and Amos spoke to the key value of understanding the end-user, i.e., the human element.

Speaking of data, James and I had a quick but captivating conversation with the folks of EVRYTHNG, a company that combines hardware, software and real time data in the form of our clothing. “Clothing is the ultimate wearbable”, they said.  (The reason for no vowels?  The company provides “only the essentials,” according to Andy.)  As you interact with these clothing items, “rules in the cloud trigger analytics” which then give you back something like, let you in to a VIP event with a special invitation, or gifts, and the list goes on.

While I’m a big fan of data, I was a bit weirded out by this notion.  After all our clothing is so intimate.  As the technology develops, how much of our intimate feelings, experiences, bodily function do we want to emit?   I couldn’t hold myself back, I had to push this with the EVRYTHNG folks.  Their answer?  You can choose what you want to share of yourself.  Of course, we all realize that this is a new world, and we’re still navigating it.  There is indeed a value exchange.  When we give data, we get something in return.  It’s only a matter of time when we figure out the comfortable boundaries of that exchange.  But there’s no question that the train has left the station and we have to figure out what that means for us.

In a sense we’ve always been using data to understand one another.  It may not have been in such large quantities or at such speeds.  And int he case of “wearables”, we have learned something about someone through their clothing for ages.  When someone wears something of high quality, with particular fabrics from distant origins, we are hit with a number of pieces of data.  We know that person cares about his/her appearance, is affluent, and has a sense of the aesthetic.   So are times really changing or are we just collecting, analyzing and sharing data in new ways?

Personally, I’m more excited than not about what’s to come and how we can make everything (or evrthng :)) — even our clothing and jewelry –be even greater sources of awe and inspiration for us.  And the more we understand this world, the better we can turn it into something valuable vs bizarre.

Please click on these two podcasts to hear more:

Interview with Trendalytics

Interview with Evrthng

And if you want to see us chat, have fun watching this Periscope version.  Please start at 25 minutes into the podcast.

Podcast #4: Fashion Tech Rock Stars Show Their Amazing Wares and Share What Inspires Them

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I’m really excited about bringing to you all our fourth podcast in our fashion-tech series of conversations from the NRF Big Show.  For this discussion I had the honor of co-hosting with my hilarious and highly accomplished friend and ESPN exec, James Eschricht.  We had a few amazing, brilliant and beautiful guests joining us in the fun, including Veronika Harbick, founder of Thursday Finest; Christina D’Avignon, founder and CEO of Ringly, and Betsy Fore, Founder and CEO of Wondermento.

This rapid-fire series of conversations were all about product, product, product.  Like the earlier conversations, there was a lot of talk about aesthetics being key to the experience.  In other words, if one of these fashion tech products doesn’t make me drool because it looks so damn good, it’s not worth it.  That’s why Veronica focuses on customization.  Thursday Finest is a 3D knitting company (check out the blue knit scarf worn by James in the Periscope video below — that’s one of their creations).  The company produces the whole garment, i.e., no need for self-assembly.  BUT you can choose the style and even order “granular” sizing (that’s a totally new term for me!).  One of their best items?  The knit tie.  Yep, it’s back, and for all you fashion-forward guys, knit ties are super IN.

Ringly, a smart jewelry accessories brand — namely rings and bracelets — creates all their items with semi-precious stones so every product is unique.  Again,  the good have to look special, not just act it.  As Christina, the CEO of Ringly, states: “So many of these types of products look gadgety and unisex, but that’s not the way men and women shop…I have to want to wear it even if it did nothing.”  Even Wondermento gets this!  The brand’s founder, Betsy, has created smart jewelry for pets.  She showed off one of the products that’s like a “Fitbit” for dogs called Wonderwoof — oh, and it’s one of Oprah’s faves, BTW.  This product let’s you track your dog and her exercise progress, and find other doggie friends.  She can even compete for top dog status!  My favorite line of our conversation: “I often get asked: ‘can I put this on my boyfriend?'”  LOL

What’s super clear about these products, as the guests noted themselves, is that they are really defining a new category.  They are, certainly, high-tech devices but also works of beauty.  Many of them sell in top-end department stores and there’ often a debate by the retailers about which section of the store to sell them in.  Should they been the jewelry section, tech section, watch section, you get it. How cool is it to be creating a whole new category, charting new courses, and having a ton of fun while doing it?!

But what eclipsed all the cool products, was Veronika’s uplifting and gracious story of gratitude.  As an immigrant from Russia to the U.S., she realizes how fortunate she is to be in the U.S., and in New York in particular.  She recognizes the value of hard work her but also appreciates the American spirit that buoys her.  Her words: “People are really rooting for you.”  While many of us complain about the U.S. being a country “divided,” let’s still remember this country is also a place where we can rise from being an immigrant to an amazing tech star, and do it with a spirit of encouragement and comradery around us.

Please click on the image to enjoy each of our three podcasts below.

Interview with Thursday Finest, Veronika Harbick

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Interview with Ringly’s, Christina D’Avignon

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Interview with Betsy Fore

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And if you want to get a glimpse of our amazing guests and their fantastic products, click on our periscope video starting from the beginning until minute 25 or so.  I have to confess the sound is very faint but you at least you can feast your eyes on some cool stuff!

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