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.

Fashion Tech: A Dichotomy or Beautiful Pairing? Two Amazing Experts Tell It Like It Is

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Last week I kicked off my series of posts dedicated to the amazing people I interviewed on my fashion/beauty tech podcast at the NRF Big Show.  This week I’m excited to share with you the fantastic discussion I had with tech genius and fashionista, Amanda Parkes; and entrepreneur, tech boss, founder of SWSI: Smart Women Smart Ideas, and producer of Fashion Geeks & Queen Boss, Heidi E Lehmann  (phew, lots of accomplishments, eh?).

We chatted about the beginnings of wearable tech, why women are at the forefront of the industry, and how fashion tech brands will win in this market.  One of my favorite discussions focused on the role of women in tech, and how fashion tech is actually a great way to bring young girls into the fields of engineering and technology.  This conversation reminded me of a post I wrote a few years back about how to get girls interested in STEM.  I suggested that we have an opportunity to attract girls with tech if we introduced them to it, not just through typical “boy” spaces, i.e., video games, but, rather, through the world of beauty (Want More Women in STEM? Start with Beauty).

Amanda told us a story about an article she read in a tech journal bashing wearable/fashion tech as something frivolous and unworthy of attention.  She was so incensed that she wrote an op-ed demonstrating how vital fashion is for the economy, and in no way a lesser form of tech endeavor.  After all, each of us wears something everyday, right?  We all benefit from or contribute to the world of fashion in more ways than we know.  So true!  For better or for worse, it’s been the business of fashion that has fueled and dramatically changed the economy over the centuries — think silk trade, textile manufacturing, cotton crops, to name a few.  Of course you can’t help but think that there’s a degree of sexism at play.  Well, if fashion tech is is seen as too “fem” then BRING IT ON!  Let’s get our girls excited about tech, whether that means creating cosmetics or their own clothing designs.

For full 25 minute conversation, have fun listening to the audio podcast.

https://soundcloud.com/kathleen-kiley/show-2-beautyskew-mixdown-1

And if you want to see it via our Periscope livestream, here ya go…please mind the background sound:

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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!

 

Beautiful Rebellion: When Media Breaks Down the Walls of Segregation

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The media, especially advertising, is often criticized for our warped expectations of beauty. There is no doubt about it: photoshopping, highly sexualized portraits and impossibly thin models, create unrealistic — even harmful — visions of the ideal. We just love to lambast the media, and I get it.

But then there are those instances when advertising becomes a source of progress. It challenges the status quo and pushes us to demand a better way. Even in the world of beauty.

Take the recent campaign by Shea Moisture, “Break the Walls.”  Shea Moisture is a line of skin and haircare products primarily for people of color. This ad, and the accompanying YouTube film, shed light on the segregation of “ethnic” beauty products to the a small portion of the beauty aisle.  As the spot points out, there the a beauty aisle for white people, and there is the ethnic aisle for everyone else.  The implication: white people are beautiful, others are, well, “ethnic,” i.e., not beautiful.  The hell with that!  The video dramatically shows the aisles blowing up as a metaphor for breaking our assumptions about what beauty is. It’s great!

As someone who grew up in the world of advertising, I see both sides.  I realize that we, in media, can present unrealistic worlds of exceedingly happy families, the glory of wealth and prestige, or flawless beauties.  But, I still believe that there are, and bear witness to, those times when advertising can raise our awareness to society’s ills a suggest a better way.  When I worked in the ad industry, believe me, all we wanted to create was something meaningful, no matter how idealistic our clients were. Given my years at DDB, I still can’t help but quote Bill Bernbach who said:

“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.”

For any of us who create media in some shape or form, let’s always strive to lift our world to a higher level.  And for those of us who merely engage with it (all of us, actually), let’s not just view it with a disdainful eye but fully embrace and applaud those advertisers and media makers who help lift it for us.

What’s Your Most Attractive Quality? It’s Deeper Than You Think

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Given the nature of my posts, I absorb myself in reading and writing about beauty.  While I’ve presented many theories on what makes something or someone beautiful, I don’t often share what I consider beautiful or what attracts me to someone or something.  I guess I feel you really can’t pin the answer down to one thing.

But just the other day I heard a definition of beauty that I never had before.  And I found it to be the best one yet.  What’s even better is I heard it in the most unlikely of places: during a manager training course!

Allow me to explain.  As my colleagues and I were getting valuable coaching tips, the trainer explained that we can better coach our teams if we let them come to their solutions on their own.  To do this, we need to guide our conversations using open questions, like “how do you imagine doing XYZ “or “what possibilities come to mind?”  By being curious we not only let them know we care about them, but we allow them to be creative and find a solution.  As the trainer summed it up: “Curiosity is our species’s most attractive trait.”

Bam! It hit me like a ton of bricks.

Sure we are visual creatures and we are attracted to the obvious signs of health (e.g., physical symmetry) and reproductive capabilities (e.g., large breasts).  But the invisible trait that draws us like a magnet, holds our attention and then captures our heart isn’t our pheromones, but our curiosity in others.

Our curiosity lets others know we are interested them and more importantly that we are concerned with them.  It gives them a sense of safety and security.  Who wouldn’t be attracted to that?!

According to a BBC Story, Why Are We So Curious?curiosity is one of the few childlike traits that we have held on to as a species.  While other species grow out of their childhood traits, e.g. lack of body hair, we actually retain some of ours.  In addition to being far less hairy than other species, we still hold on to our capacity to be curious.  Evolution made us the ultimate learning machines.   Our curiosity gives us the capacity to learn and progress, but ALSO attach to one another.

What’s even better about curiosity? It inevitably makes us happier people.  As a blog I happened upon, Experiencelife.com, states:

“In his book Stumbling on Happiness (Knopf, 2006), Harvard University psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, PhD, shows that, while we think we know what will make us happy in the future, we are actually less likely to find joy as a result of a planned pursuit than by simply stumbling upon it.  It follows that by cultivating curiosity and remaining open to new experiences, we increase our likelihood of encountering those surprising and satisfying activities.”  And in the end, happy people inevitably attract us more, right?

While I’m all for looking our best, don’t forget what will make us the most beautiful: our sense of curiosity.  And for all of you celebrating Valentine’s Day, remember be curious in your loved one. 🙂