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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Monica Phromsavanh: From refugee to serial entrepreneur. Hear her story on our first-ever-podcast!

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A few weeks back I announced my panel and podcasts at the National Retail Federation‘s Big Show (“Getting Up Close and Personal with the Hottest, Coolest Ladies in Fashion Tech).  I was so fortunate to meet with some of the brightest, loveliest and most interesting women in the world of fashion tech and wearable technology.  Over the course of the next weeks I will be sharing their stories via the podcasts that we taped.

During our podcasts, we discussed a slew of topics like these women’s journeys, their points of view on the convergence of beauty and fashion with technology, and the challenges and opportunities they face as women in the technology.

In light of President Trump’s deplorable immigration ban, I have to kick this series off with the amazing story of Monica Phromsavanh, Founder of Modabox and formerly from Burberry, and Limelight Shops, to name a few.  She overcame tremendous odds to become the amazing entrepreneur that she is.  Her journey starts as a refugee in Argentina, working in a sweatshop.  

My favorite quote of her’s: “Technology is a great tool but at the end of the day we’re still human and we still want human connection.”

See what she’s referring to in this snap shot of our conversation.

No question the conversation with Monica could have gone on for hours.  Chatting about the beauty of, implications of, and challenges with the interplay of fashion and technology is and was fascinating.  But let’s also recognize what Monica, and others like her, gift us.  Perspective, new ideas, tenacity, grit, gratitude…to name a few.  Can you imagine if we let this administration ban more brilliant, game-changing people like Monica from entering and flourishing in this country?

You can hear the whole conversation, plus interesting dialogue with my co-host Valerie De La Rosa of Conde Nast Entertainment, and my other special guest, Jackie Trebilcock, Founder NY Fashion Tech Lab, via our podcast below!

https://soundcloud.com/kathleen-kiley/show-1-beautyskew-mixdown

Looking forward to your feedback!

 

A Legal Approach to Beauty


My mother (and undoubtedly the biggest fan of my blog) alerted me to a book review in last weekend’s New York Times.  The subject of the review, The Beauty Bias: The Injustices of Appearance in Life and Law, by Deborah L. Rhode, investigates the legal issues surrounding appearance and the behaviors we all indulge in, e.g., diets, tight shoes and cosmetics, to maintain or perfect it.
I really look forward to reading the book whenever I get off my butt and head over to the nearest Borders.  It’s great that there is a voice for appearance discrimination. But midway through the review, the journalist references the perils we women subject ourselves to for beauty, like ruined backs from high heels or thinner wallets thanks to expensive wrinkle creams.  When I read this, I got a little annoyed.  Like most decisions in our lives, the desire to pursue that which enhances our beauty isn’t simple.  Women don’t beautify just because they are enslaved by cultural norms or men’s expectations.  For example, high heels may be in style or amplify our sexuality.  But I wear them because they make me feel powerful, strong and confident.  I enjoy how they look on and how they add a bit of zip to the typical black outfit I wear to work.  As Debra Gimlin states in Body Works, women negotiate the rules and expectations of beauty to create a meaningful solution for themselves.
After my initial reaction to the review, though, I was really inspired by Rhode’s efforts to focus on these issues simply because she’s taking the role of looks seriously.  So many women choose to stay away from this topic because it seems too girly.  But, as the sheer number of beauty blogs, magazines, TV shows and products indicates, beauty is serious business. It means a lot to people and, whether we like it now, it profoundly affects them – positively and negatively.  Kudos to Rhode for tackling the topic and making people seriously take notice of it.

source: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2292/2368503630_1af0ea6985_t.jpg

Introduction: Why Beauty? Why now?

It was my 38th birthday yesterday and I gave myself that day (or a day or two afterward as unforeseen events  do happen, like my daughter coming down with an ear infection) to start this blog.  Why my birthday?  Well, it’s obviously a key date on my calendar but actually I chose the date because of the significance of getting one year older as a woman in America.  For most of us, one year older  means more accomplishments under our belts, another adventure taken, a bunch of failures and successes.  But it also signifies getting closer to losing a sacred part of all of us: our beauty. Of course one could argue that beauty doesn’t diminish with age but rather alters, even improves with it.  But lets face it, we live in a culture where youth is held on to for as long as possible.
And yet, this year, I don’t feel that sense of dread.  For one thing, I can’t help but believe that our perspective on beauty has and will continue to evolve as our roles in society change.  After all, for the first time ever American women outnumber men in the workforce.  That should say something!   But the reason I feel so differently this birthday is that I’ve spent the last year or so digging into the complexity, the fun, the mystery, the scariness, and the role of beauty in American women’s lives.  In this process I have developed a deep fascination with and a profound respect for the pursuit of beauty.  In reality, though, this journey began as an young girl (as it does with all of us) when I experienced the joy of dressing up, or felt the complex emotions that come with the reactions of others — either positive or negative — to my appearance, or when I would hear the message that looks are much less important than brains.  And like any other woman, this journey with beauty will never end.  But now, thanks to what I do for a living and my recent concentrated effort in understanding the role of beauty, I feel that I will face this journey with more insight and excitement.
I’ve been fortunate enough to look back into the history of beauty in our country, examine our relationship to it versus that of other cultures, and view beauty through the lens of American values.  I’ve had the privilege to talk at length with women around the country about their definition of beauty and get perspectives from experts as well.  And because this topic is so complex and multi-faceted, I continue to investigate the role, definitions and expressions of beauty with different people, through different means and with a new set of eyes everyday.
Please join me on my blog as I share what I’ve learned and continue to learn throughout this journey.  And I encourage all of you to share your thoughts, musings and observations as well!  Since it’s still my birthday (in a way), I will finish the evening with my family and dig into the study of beauty in my next post.