By Katharine Dorny Program Coordinator, Global Fashion Management
In the Fall of 2019, Global Fashion Management at FIT officially marked the beginning of our partnership with CENTRO in Mexico City by welcoming fourteen students, along with two of their professors, from the inaugural CENTRO cohort to the New York Seminar in September. In CENTRO’s joining of GFM, a fourth semester has been added to the GFM curriculum and our FIT cohort will travel to Mexico City for an international seminar during their final semester in spring 2022.
CENTRO was founded in Mexico City in 2004 as an institution for film, television, and digital media. Since then they have expanded to include a variety of design disciplines, art, and business at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Most recently, they will be launching Mexico’s first postgraduate program in Food Design and Innovation, starting in January of 2021. CENTRO’s main philosophy as an institution revolves around, as they say, furthering the “professionalization of creativity.” With a focus on research, innovation, and working with industry partners, CENTRO’s pedagogical concept mirrors that of FIT. Student work has been internationally recognized through institutions such as MOMA, the Venice Film Festival, Wanted Design NYC, and the D&AD Student Awards in London. Domestically, they participate in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Mx, Design Week Mx, and Abierto Mexicano de Diseño.
In identifying CENTRO’s faculty, co-founder and CENTRO President Gina Diez Barroso de Franklin said, “We think it’s very important to teach by example.” Faculty for the Global Fashion Management program at CENTRO come from industry. They represent business owners, founders, CEOs, creative directors, and consultants, and are experts from careers in branding, manufacturing, public relations, management, and design. In addition, the faculty includes researchers and PhDs, helping students navigate research projects with critical thinking and innovation. Guest speakers are prominently featured in the curriculum and students have learned from executives representing companies such as Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Nike, Kate Spade, and Fabletics.
CENTRO’s campus, designed by Enrique Norten, is the only campus in Mexico with LEED Platinum certification. The unconventional and intriguing design of the campus- with its green roofs, recycled materials, eccentric crisscrossing lines, and expansive windows- is a natural incubator for inspiring design students. Sustainability is a key tenet of the GFM curriculum at CENTRO, as it is at FIT.
GFM students find each international seminar provides an entirely unique experience as we travel across countries and continents, and the Mexico City Seminar will be no different. The Mexico City Seminar will offer students an opportunity to understand the apparel industry from the perspective of Mexican and Latin American culture, in a country where contemporary design, modern manufacturing and legacy converge. Topics will include heritage as a tool to build new opportunities, local versus global production, new developments and innovation in the creative industries, and inspiration from other forward-thinking fields in the country such as the food industry where there’s an important alignment with weaving materials and natural dyes. Classroom lectures will focus on trade and tariffs, the impact and operation of grey economies, and innovations in sustainability, as well as opportunities to engage with experts from across the university to understand the value that is created through a transdisciplinary approach to fashion.
Site visits will include some of the country’s most relevant manufacturing and craftsmanship sites, such as traditional textile making in Oxaca and Puebla, denim production in Torreón, or footwear and leather good manufacturing in León and Guadalajara. Likewise, non-fashion related site visits will help students better understand Mexico’s cultural production.
We are looking forward to FIT’s first Mexico City Seminar in the spring of 2022.
CC Salonga, GFM class of 2020, joined the program from a career as a U.S. Navy officer where she specialized in logistics and inventory management for the Defense Department. She entered GFM with an interest in retail operations and will continue her studies in the fall at Iowa State University’s doctoral program in the department of Apparel, Merchandising & Design. But in the meantime, CC is back in Washington, dedicating her military expertise to the country’s most crucial work of the moment. The GFM program takes great pride in her academic and professional accomplishments and wish her success in this critical phase of her career.
When I learned that supply chain consultants were needed to support the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) efforts towards COVID-19, I reached out. Within a few days I found myself at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Headquarters (FEMA HQ) operations center where I assisted with tracking supply requisitions for the Strategic National Stockpile. HHS and FEMA coordinate efforts with local emergency response officials to provide supplies and address medical needs.
The team I worked with specializes in disaster relief and tracks requirements and incoming and outgoing inventory on commodities such as ventilators, test kits, pharmaceuticals, and Federal Medical Systems which are deployable 250- and 50-bed sets with bathroom and shower capabilities. We pulled information from multiple supply chains and different tracking systems to include reviewing thousands of emails requesting support for the states, tribes and territories. We also tracked deliveries to designated sites — primarily convention centers, but also school gyms, warehouses, hospitals, and national guard sites.
As pharmaceuticals requirements gained momentum, I was moved to an HHS mission support building in Frederick, MD where there is a warehouse that holds some national stockpile stores for pharmaceuticals, devices and supplies designated for disaster and health emergencies. There, I helped the staff with inventory and administrative efforts to get caches ready for deployment.
The needs of HHS continue to change, and I am now in a third location, the HHS operations center close to FEMA HQ. I still support resource allocation efforts but also have the ability to observe videoconferences involving multiple groups within the government and the military. I have an even greater appreciation for the monumental and collective efforts of private industry and the government. Having spent some time in the military, I have found it rewarding to continue serving in times of need.
By Michael Battista Industry Coordinator to the Global Fashion Management Program
The apparel and fashion industry is complex and multifarious. With variables steeped in aesthetic and material culture that both affect and lie at the mercy of increasingly unpredictable and unstable economic and political forces, there are many learning opportunities to be had. In the case of our international seminars, we are on a journey–both in the pedagogical and literal sense–where students are confronted with connections that extend between and beyond the artistic, commercial, cultural, industrial, and political. These connections are not always obvious in the moment or on the road. Sometimes lucidity is attained after-the-fact, when the components and context of the whole experience is reflected upon.
Following the program’s recent Paris Seminar, such an opportunity presented itself in our pilot seminar in Florence, where we traveled to further enhance our understanding of luxury fashion, and to explore Italy’s connection to this sector. Since the Renaissance, Florence has been a renowned center for expertise in artisanal craftsmanship and the transformation of raw materials into high quality leather goods and textiles. This reputation endures to this day, with Italy serving as the number one source of France’s textile and leather imports. Of course, France has its own high quality fabric mills and leather tanneries, and certain cities have historically enjoyed reputations as epicenters of industry specialty: lace in Calais, linen in Normandy, and silk in Lyon. However, Made in France is expensive, even for those doing the making. While certain French luxury brands consistently earn annual profits between ten and over thirty billion dollars, for brands with tighter margins, the priority is product differentiation, quality, and skillfulness in production. The object of this affection is Made in Italy.
Our itinerary in Florence was developed and made possible with the expertise of the dynamic Pascal Gautrand, a textile specialist and developer of specialty trade shows Maison D’Exception and Made in France, and Founder of Made in Town, an online magazine, digital and consulting platform, and “manifesto to local fabrication.”
It was towards the end of our journey, on a visit to a specialty yarn producer nestled at the foot of the Tuscan hills, that we realized our own pilgrimage through luxury boutiques, ateliers, and production houses across France and Italy had been mirroring the journey of a value and supply chain. Back in Paris, at Chanel’s headquarters in the haute couture salon on Rue Cambon, students received an overview of the company’s fashion strategy and value chain from its tenet of client services to the craftsmanship in its famed métiers. After the lecture, we dispersed through the ready-to-wear boutique for a full merchandising experience and mise-en-scène of the flagship.
A few days later, we traveled to Normandy to visit luxury manufacturer Les Ateliers Grandis. Here, we saw what it means to be Made in France. The artisans worked meticulously at a methodical pace, constructing high-end garments for notable brands. Among them, we saw the making of jackets of a certain unmistakable tweed variety.
Onwards, in Florence, after many other exclusive executive lectures and site visits, by bus we ascended the meandering roads of the Tuscan countryside to tour the knitwear manufacturing facility of Il Borgo Cashmere, a small family-owned company established in 1949. Here, expertise and specialized machinery is leveraged to execute complex and unique orders of high-end luxury knitwear and home products for brands such as Chanel, Gucci and Loro Piana. Textured evidence of an iconic brand revealed itself on the production floor in a glimpse of a scarf emblazoned with an interlocking logo in a relief of cashmere thread. Afterwards, in a final step towards the source of the supply chain we had been following, we returned to Florence to visit a material supplier of Il Borgo Cashmere.
We descended from the Tuscan hillside to the historical archives and spinning mill of Lineapiù Italia, a creator of rare and exceptionally fine yarns since 1975. “Creator” is the most apt word to encapsulate the distinctness of their offering: technical expertise in manufacturing, research and development of innovative materials; and a resource for designers of high-end knitwear.
We were welcomed into the company’s Museum by archivist Chiara Petruccelli, a luxury native and textile savant formerly with the archives of Gucci, and credentialed in conservation at the University of Florence. True to form in Italian hospitality, with sweeping hand gestures she pointed out details of historical and technical significance as we were guided through the textile and swatch library, a designer garment collection, and a “stitch room” for design research. Amongst so many intriguing textures and surfaces, the curiosity of our group was irrepressible. No question went unanswered, and thankfully, “no touching” was not part of the lingua franca here. Afterwards, we were lead on a short walk through the company’s campus to tour the spinning facility where specialty fibers such as mohair, alpaca, and cashmere, among others, are transformed into yarns destined for the production of storied luxury brands such as Armani, Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and many others.
In the production of truly luxurious knitwear, all yarns are not created equal. Simply touting a composition of a noble fiber–such as cashmere, for example–is not enough. Further steps must be made to distinguish the basic and banal from the exceptional. While Lineapiù certainly uses premium raw materials, it excels in market competitiveness with its scientific method, artistic approach and penchant for whimsy.
Laurels are not rested on here. Innovation and development are tirelessly pursued. The entire research, development, and manufacturing process–including combing, carding, twisting, dyeing, and finishing–is carried out in its own laboratory and mills.
Yarn is designed and created in three categories of collections that coincide with the two primary seasons of the fashion calendar. In addition to three ready-to-knit lines, it offers clients bespoke production services to create exclusive yarns. Yarns are engineered from the inside out, composed from a selection of natural, manufactured, and synthetic fibers that are precisely blended and constructed to express the tactile, aesthetic or technical qualities desired. Yarn structure can have a traditional twist or a more complex design: employing certain fibers as scaffolding for encasement, or as a lattice for a garden of embellishment. A multitude of variations achieve the desired hand, strength, weight, texture, sheen, breathability, color intensity, and capacity to retain heat, among other features. From the ultra-soft and lightweight, to luminous and striated surfaces that intimate their inspirations. The results are as artful and original as they are scientific. Whether they are “mélanges inspired by mushrooms, lichens, the earth and leaves ruffled by impetuous winter’s winds” (as their fall-winter 2019/2020 season of its Knit Art collection is described) or made with filaments of carbon fiber that shield its wearer from electromagnetic radiation (the yarn named Relax, released in 1990).
What was demonstrably clear from our visit is that Lineapiù Italia is an enterprise with an innovative spirit in full command of its capabilities. Unfortunately for us, of all the components of luxury surrounding us, time was not one of them. Transfixed as we were by this immersion into specialty yarn production, we required prodding to depart and board our bus. We had a schedule to keep, after all, and our lives in New York to return to.
We study this industry from the vantage point of our offices and classrooms, with troves of data, articles, resources in databases, and lectures by executives and intellectuals. Yet, to physically arrive at this point in the process, to the source of luxury, in a facility at the foot of the Tuscan hills, to run our hands through strands of alpaca and cashmere fibers in hues of hot pink and cream destined for the type of garment that might be on display in a Parisian boutique, fully rendered the intricacies of supply and value chains into a tangible experience that was both grand and granular. Whatever your expertise or experience is, if you’re going to study an industry as complex as apparel, you can expect to be confronted with limitless opportunities to discover connections and learn something new. To get out of the classroom and into the world to experience these connections through our own hands and eyes, we could at least now be 100% certain of the quality and specialized skill that is Made in France and Made in Italy.
By Pamela Ellsworth Chair, Global Fashion Management
GFM Seminar: April, 2018
This year’s Paris seminar was devoted to an understanding of the professional organizations established to support France’s legendary fashion industry. In addition, the multicultural team assignment was created to provide a deeper analysis of the design inspiration of current couture members. Fascinated as we tend to be by the Paris collections for their creative beauty and extravagance, as well as for their excess and occasional insanity, it’s easy to forget that they thrive and contribute to France’s economy based on the strength of powerful state-run organizations.
David Zajtmann, Creative Brands Strategist at Institut Français de la Mode, and author of Understanding the Role of Professional Organisations in Supporting the Creative Industries writes, “the presentations of collections in Paris remain important events for the global fashion industry thanks to a long-term strategy of strong professional representation, regulation and integration of national and international key industry players carried out by the Fédération over time.” Mr. Zajtmann presented to GFM on the first day of the seminar, laying an essential foundation for the following several days of immersion into the structure of the organization and the creators that uphold its reputation.
By the end of the seminar, our knowledge of the Parisian fashion system – the introduction of the couturier in 1858; the creation of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in 1911; the rise of ready-to-wear in the 1960s; and the establishment of the Fédération de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode in 1973 – helped us to understand the methodology and evolution of what is still the world’s most well-developed fashion system. In his article, Mr. Zajtmann discusses the French government’s supporting role in establishing a list of authorized couturiers every year, and, until 1979, even financing the purchase of French fabrics to be used in the shows, in addition to making it possible for fashion companies to host fashion shows at the Louvre until 1986.
This historical insight and much more – as we heard from a broad range of speakers at the IFM’s YSL Amphitheatre as well as at site visits – provided essential background in making comparisons and contrasts to the company structures and organizations we would visit when we continued on to Florence and Prato, Italy at the close of the Paris seminar.
Our brief seminar in Florence and Prato was organized to introduce GFM graduate students to a textile and fashion system that was culturally, historically, and organizationally different from the Paris system of haute couture we had just experienced during our 10-day seminar at Institut Française de la Mode.
We organized our two-and-a-half-day Italy seminar with the guidance of Pascal Gautrand – a founder of Made in Town and a consultant for Première Vision – a French colleague who studied at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, and has worked closely with Italian companies in recent years. In his introduction to our students, he described the unique history of Tuscany as the inspiration for the region’s ability to manufacture luxury goods since the Middle Ages, and how Italian companies are reinventing their heritage to survive in today’s highly competitive business climate.
We began our seminar with a private meeting in the conference room of Pitti Immagine, with Raffaello Napoleone, the CEO. This organization is devoted to promoting the Italian fashion industry, and is perhaps the most important trade show for menswear in the world. Mr. Napoleone began with an overview of the American Marshall Plan’s impact on the Italian fashion industry following World War II, continuing with statistics on the large volume of Italian women’s fashion purchased by American department stores post war, and describing the struggle to compete in the 1970s based on the small size of individual companies and lack of organization, resulting in the industry’s move to Milan. Mr. Napoleone has reinvented Pitti Immagine from a conventional trade show to one that reaches beyond fashion to a cultural strategy, by offering a research division, art, architecture, food, wine, and fragrance. He commented that because fashion can change easily and be communicated quickly, the trade show must reinvent itself season after season.
As one of the most high-profile business executives in the Italian and European fashion industry, we knew that Mr. Napoleone didn’t have a great deal of time to spend with us, but none of that seemed to matter as he answered every question around the table (and there were many), even leaving time to make recommendations for the best spots for lunch in Florence. Happily, we could think of no place farther from New York City, and no one more generous or knowledgeable in relating the details of the Italian fashion industry.
Our next stop was Scuola del Cuoio, a leather school founded by Franciscan friars after World War II, located near the banks of the Arno River, which has been the location of the leather tanneries since the 13th century. The portion of the building that we visited was donated by the Medici family during the Renaissance, with the photo below showing one of the frescos from that time.
From Scuola del Cuoio, we visited the Palazzo Pitti’s Fashion and Costume Museum, a shrine to some of the most extraordinary costumes and contemporary garments in the world. The Museo della Moda was founded in 1983, and contains haute couture Italian design, cinema, and opera costumes, and a rather astonishing display of the funeral clothes of Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici and his wife, Eleonor of Toledo. (Their bodies were disinterred, and the bones and textiles were examined.)
By bus, we headed out of Florence to Fiesole and the Stafano Ricci atelier. Mr. Ricci explained the brand heritage, and his staff toured us through the small custom shirt and belt factory. You won’t see any photos because we were sworn to secrecy, but the small-scale atelier of beautiful quality Italian cotton shirts was unlike any productions facility we would find most anywhere in the world.
We continued north to Il Borgo San Lorenzo to visit Il Borgo Cashmere, a family-owned company since 1949 where research and experimentation is based on ancient craft techniques. Here, the company knits luxury garments and home products for Loro Piana, Bergdorf Goodman, and other high-end retailers and major fashion houses. In this small town, the company’s artisans train local crafts people to hand knit some categories of product out of their homes, which means that the company devotes considerable resources to time management and quality control, while still encouraging a spirit of creativity. The European Union finances a good part of this training. We were struck by this community dynamic, but had to keep in mind that its origin lies in the guilds of the Middle Ages, a system common throughout Europe.
From Il Borgo, we moved on to Capalle and Lineapiu Italia, an extraordinary company that designs and produces specialty yarns for designer fabrics. The company also serves as a repository for the research and protection of Italian sartorial art, housing more than 33,000 archived products, and providing trend direction. They worked extensively with Armani, for example, to develop new ideas and technologies for knits. Hermes and Chanel are also customers. The company runs two mills where they spin mohair, alpaca, cotton, and wool, and they took great pride is walking us through the combing, carding, and sliver phases, preparing the yarn for the knit machines.
As we visited these small-scale, high-quality businesses, I was reminded of political economist Francis Fukuyama’s description of Italian companies in his book Trust, where he draws parallels between a culture’s characteristics and its prosperity. He argues that because of the nature of social capital in Italy, family bonds tend to be much stronger than those between the individual and the state, and where “private sector firms tend to be relatively small and family controlled, while large-scale enterprises need the support of the state to be viable.” Fukuyama is careful to distinguish Italy’s highly productive “Terza Italia” (third Italy, which includes Tuscany) from the impoverished southern portion of the country. He suggests that the networks of small businesses – such as those we visited – represent “an entirely new paradigm of industrial production, one that can be exported to other countries. Social capital and culture give us considerable insight into the reasons for this miniature economic renaissance.”
The vulnerability of the small enterprises that we visited – their locations remote from a large, experienced work force, and dependent upon a rapidly-changing and quixotic luxury consumer – stood in sharp contrast to the depth of creative and manufacturing talent and commitment that we witnessed in every business. In describing the manufacture of the competitive products from the Terza Italia, including textiles and apparel, Fukuyama writes, “This confirms that there is no necessary connection between small-scale industry and technological backwardness. Italy is the world’s third-largest producer of industrial robots, and yet a third of that industry’s output is produced by enterprises with fewer than fifty employees.” Since this book was written, the point about robots is no longer a fact, but Fukuyama does make a strong case for the advantage of sophisticated, small-scale, highly skilled enterprises, based on their ability to adapt to changing consumer markets. Especially for those of us from the U.S. who have been made weary by the magnitude and monopolies of our retailers, we’re rallying to the side of Italy’s artisanal luxury designers and manufacturers to prosper.
Our final stop was a guided tour of the Prato Textile Museum, which occupies a building and location that had been the site of textile manufacture since the Middle Ages. Prato’s textile history has enjoyed enormous success and has more recently suffered great defeat under global competition, but as often as they’ve reinvented themselves, their identity remains closely tied to the textile industry.
Since the focus of our study in Italy was creativity, makers, and manufacturers, our dinner location was no exception. In Fabbrica – the name of the restaurant, which also means Factory – is a silver workshop dating back to 1902. Above the factory on the second floor, we enjoyed dinner by candelabra manufactured on site, where the wait staff worked as artisans just hours prior to our arrival. (The chef, fortunately, was a specialist in food rather than precious metals.)
On Saturday morning, our last day in Florence, we met at the Polimoda campus where Luca Marchetti, Professor and Researcher at the Ecole Superior de Mode at the University of Quebec in Montreal, delivered a lecture to GFM and Polimoda students. Professor Marchetti, who is from Italy and where he also studied, spoke about the socio-historical roots of Italian culture, making comparisons to France along the way. He defined Italy as a country with a “chaotic urban context” and one without a major social revolution, based on what he referred to as unstable and ephemeral power, as compared to France’s more orderly and defined regimes.
We felt that this brief visit to Tuscany could be the start of a much deeper exploration, comparing two of the world’s most important cultural centers. In Paris, we studied the structure and well-developed organization of haute couture and prêt-à-porter – a legacy with well-established roots in the luxury manufacturing and export of 17th century France under Louis XIV. Italy’s small and widely scattered companies, on the other hand, reflecting its history of warring city-states until the 19th century, still struggle. But the dominance of China, Italy’s languishing export numbers, and the trend for ever faster fashion are not what we were thinking about as we witnessed the beauty, creativity, and superior quality of the products we had the privilege to see during our final two seminar days, as well as the humility and generosity of company hosts and artisans. We all agreed that the world would be a much poorer place without Italian and French fashion and the people that create it.
By Michael Battista Industry Coordinator to the Global Fashion Management Program
As a complement to the recent Hong Kong Seminar and its focus on apparel production and the Asian markets, GFM continued onward to Japan for an optional two-day segment of executive lectures and site visits. Here, the scope of our attention expanded to include merchandising techniques at Isetan Department Store, the ethos of home goods and lifestyle brand Muji, a presentation by renowned textile designer Reiko Sudo of the innovative textile corporation Nuno, and a visit to the headquarters of Toyota [cue the abrupt screech of a record stopping]. You may be wondering what a car manufacturer has to do with Global Fashion Management. The answer is actually, quite a lot.
Toyota is one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. Before these Japanese cars dominated the planet’s roads, it was a family business known as Toyoda Loom Works. Established in 1907, it became an innovator and inventor of a number of textile looms and cotton spinning machines, improving on the speed, quality, and efficiency of mechanical textile production, and ultimately developing the technology towards automation. The company headquarters in Nagoya, Japan hosts a museum dedicated to exhibiting this history and its pivotal transition to car manufacturing on its original founding site.
The significance of Toyota’s contribution to the apparel industry transcends its historical role in loom development and textile production. The company pioneered a highly efficient and agile manufacturing methodology, known as the Toyota Production System, that serves as the foundation for the Fast Fashion models leveraged by H&M and Inditex (the retail group behind Zara), the second and third most valuable apparel companies in the world. Additionally, Toyota’s principals of flexibility, waste reduction, and efficiency are the foundation of the Eton System, used in Esquel’s vertical production plant in Guangdong. During our China seminar, students observed this flexible material handling system, which is designed to eliminate manual handling and transportation, resulting in an increase in production.
While GFM Students explore the fundamentals of agile, efficient, responsive, and risk minimizing production models like the Toyota Production System in the program’s Production Management and Supply Chain course, there’s nothing quite like seeing the application of a methodology with your own eyes. The site visit to the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, and then later to Toyota Motor Corporation’s Tsutsumi Assembly Plant, offered an additional opportunity for the concepts covered in the classroom to spring to life.
The museum’s textile machinery pavilion is a hangar-sized space of over 11,000 square feet filled with nearly 100 pieces of equipment from its archive—many of which are functional—that showcases the evolution of cotton spinning and textile looms from the industrial revolution of the 18th century to today. Docents lead us through the exhibition, charting the historical progression of these production processes and stopping to demonstrate the machinery along the way. As we proceeded, we witnessed the evolution of technology, speed, and complexity, from wooden machines powered by hand to those forged by steel and guided by computer.
Compared to the more contemporary and dizzyingly fast machines used by factories today, the earlier wooden looms from the beginning of the 20th century have parts that move at speeds more amenable for the human eye to process. For those of us on the tour without a technical background in textiles, it was an opportunity to better see and understand the mechanical process of a loom shuttle moving yarn back and forth between the vertical warp threads to create fabric. It was truly an ahamoment for many of us, with the cadence of clicking heard from students and looms alike.
Additional wings of the museum are dedicated to the company’s transition from Toyoda Loom Works to the Toyota that we know today. The most salient changes resulted from the generational shift in management from father to son, and a culturally astute rebranding that altered the company’s name to allude to “good fortune” in the written Japanese language.
By bus, we continued our site visit to the Toyota Motor Corporation Assembly Plant in nearby Toyota City. We ascended to a network of catwalks perched above the production lines. From here, we bore witness to a focused and coordinated effort of man and machine. There was a great deal of activity. Workers were staged across various points of the production lines, diligently and swiftly transforming frames of steel into cars by methodically adding its components. Small robotic carts tugged bins filled with parts to their respective stations. There was a symphony of coded tones and musical notes to indicate production status, delays or errors. This is where we could see and hear the Toyota Production System’s deployment of two of its core philosophical principles:
Just-in-Time: where the supply follows the demand, this is defined by Toyota as “making only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed.” Each car we saw on the production line, represented a sale and customer order for that specific model.
Jidoka: a Japanese word at the intersection of automation and human intelligence has come to embody a quality control methodology to prevent defects throughout the workflow. Assembly workers stop the production line if a problem arises or is detected before the car moves forward to the next step in the manufacturing process.
Toyota’s growth and capture of the global market share is due to its development and refinement of these core principals (among others), which have enabled it to maximize efficiency and minimize waste (waste, in this case, being defined as overproduction).
The history of this company’s success across generations and industries illustrates the value of internationalism and open trade. Both generations of Toyoda leadership were informed and inspired by site visits abroad, building their respective global empires on the foundation of their impressions of best practices and innovations, and ultimately improving on them. Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the company’s first incarnation, visited the global textile centers of his day, touring fabric mills in the northeastern U.S. and Manchester, England. His son, Kiichiro Toyoda, who transformed the company into an automobile manufacturer in 1937, went to see the Ford operation in Detroit at the onset of its development of the Assembly Line Method, a transformative innovation in manufacturing at the time.
For a grand finale, we witnessed the mechanical ballet of the welding machines fortifying the frames of cars-to-be, rhythmically moving to the beat of their own programming. Many large mechanical arms swiftly and articulately moved in concert across the body of a single car. They stretched, contracted, and rotated around each other, sending bursts of orange sparks into the air. At this point on the catwalk, we stood entranced by the performance, which would end within a minute’s time, only to be repeated on the next car frame in line. The speed and scale of the elegant process was both impressive and humbling. Many jaws had fallen ajar at the sight of it all. As we stood there above the manufacturing line, I could do nothing but appreciate that after nearly 80 years from the company’s inception, we were witnessing the fulfillment of a vision of automation, efficiency, and synergy of human and machine. And so I wondered, what potential advancements might lie on the horizon of the apparel industry’s future, and what visions have yet to come?
It should come as no surprise to our alums that the watchword of this year’s Paris Seminar was – drum roll please – creativity. In discussing fashion, and especially French fashion, we would be remiss if we didn’t touch upon the creative process, and I imagine that this subject was a main focus of the seminars of years past. What was different this year, however, was the way in which this all-important subject was approached and – shall we say – deconstructed.
The centerpiece of this year’s Paris seminar was a film project, in which students from Paris, Hong Kong, and New York collaborated in the development, filming, editing, and presentation of a short documentary on the creative process of four Paris-based designers: Garance Broca, Jérôme Dreyfuss, Anne Valérie Hash, and Gustavo Lins.
This exercise was preceded by the screening of the documentary film Dreamers, which was shown at the 2012 Venice Biennale, and follows the creative process and personal story of 11 film directors and screenwriters, including Michel Gondry, Akiva Goldsman, James Gray, and Guillermo Ariaga. Director Noëlle Deschamps was kind enough to present her film and to assist as one of several filmmaking coaches throughout the seminar.
Our viewing of the film set the stage for what was to follow, as we broke up into our first meetings and started to explore our own creative styles and individual aesthetic proclivities in the context of our groups. To help us get to know each other, IFM GFM Director Véronique Schilling was prescient enough to organize a “five senses workshop” through faculty member and aesthetic specialist Jayne Curé. As a part of this workshop, we were asked to clear our heads and make a list of things or experiences that were important to us in the context of the five senses, freely associating between sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. We then shared our individual aesthetic impressions among our groups to determine common themes. Everyone in my group, for example, touched upon the theme of the sky in one way or another, and so images of the sky became an important element of our short film.
Meanwhile, as we got to know each other and discussed potential angles and editorial points of view, each designer was kind enough to speak to the entire class about their work as well as their creative process and personal journey. In this way, students were able to get a sense of each designer’s unique character, which would later be on display in our short films.
First up was Jérôme Dreyfuss, of the eponymous handbag collection. Jérôme let his instantly lovable personality and sense of humor shine through. To set the stage, he recounted how he decided at age 12 that he would be a fashion designer after watching an interview of French chanteur Serge Gainsbourg, who said that he became a musician in order to seduce women. I guess Jérôme began to think about strategy at a young age: realizing that he couldn’t sing, he decided then and there that becoming a fashion designer might be the next best way to appeal to the fairer sex. Despite such humor and good cheer, it was clear that Jérôme is motivated by a sincere desire to help people. He is inspired by real women, and their real, everyday needs. One of the short films showed how Jérôme – who rides his scooter across Paris to work every day – is perpetually on the verge of an accident because he is constantly turning around to watch women as they pass. He is interested in what they wear and how they conduct themselves, but most importantly he wants to know how they carry their lives around Paris in their handbags. He is constantly tinkering with his designs, so as to make them more intuitive, more practical, and more useful to real women. This concern shines through in the finished product – Jérôme’s bags are light, versatile, beautifully made, practical, and above all, effortlessly elegant.
Second in the lineup was Garance Broca – designer of the knitwear brand Monsieur Lacenaire – who was accompanied by co-owner, brand manager, and husband, Benoist Husson. Monsieur Lacenaire is an extremely playful, humorous, and creative menswear line, whose designs are restricted only by the technical limits of the knitwear medium itself. Garance is so passionate about her craft that she studied and learned Italian so that she could communicate with the knitwear artisans and technicians in Italy, where much of her line is produced. Such seriousness and dedication has served her well. Throughout her presentation, she shared prototypes, stitch patterns, and yarn samples in different fibers and gauges so that we got a real sense of the complex art of knitwear design. Garance also has a playful side, however. The theme of her presentation was the process of ‘creative ping pong,’ whereby she is able to build and expand upon her ideas by constantly bouncing them off her husband and business partner Benoist. One of our documentary films thus focused on the dialectic between Garance and Benoist, both as a way to illustrate Garance’s creative process as well as show the playful characteristics of Monsieur Lacenaire himself.
Our third designer – Brazilian native Gustavo Lins – represented an interesting contrast to the careful planning required by the knitwear collections of Monsieur Lacenaire. Formally trained as an architect and bringing an undeniable structuralism to his craft, Gustavo Lins has worked for years in high fashion and has come to embody the spirit of a true couturier. He doesn’t read fashion magazines or follow the latest trends when thinking about his next collection. He goes straight to the mannequin and begins to drape and physically construct his garments, at times allowing his initial intentions to be influenced by the spontaneous emergence of an unexpected drape or silhouette. Gustavo turned out to be a touchingly open and sincere person. While he was busily constructing a beautiful garment before our eyes, he candidly and unselfconsciously shared details and memories from his personal life, thus allowing us insight to the person he has become today. Many in the audience were visibly touched by his openness. The filmmakers dedicated to Gustavo were able to tap into and expand upon this theme in their films, showing how Gustavo had emerged from personal and professional tragedy to become the fearless individual he is – a person who is capable of uniting people through his force of character.
Finally, Anne Valérie Hash gave a highly original presentation which was a fitting conclusion to our foray into the personal creative process. A classically trained dressmaker and couturier, native Parisienne Anne Valérie gave a lecture on the themes of construction and deconstruction, in which she disassembled a pair of men’s trousers in order to reconstruct a dress. Deconstruction – whether it be of a garment, of a motivation, or of a memory – is an important part of her creative process. Anne Valérie’s previous collections have included items of personal significance gifted to her by friends – Alber Elbaz’ sky blue pajamas, for example, or Tilda Swinton’s much loved Vivienne Westwood t-shirt. Such items are taken apart in order to build something new, personal, and original. In this way, beloved possessions are given new life. As a part of her presentation, each of us were asked to think about what we would most like to deconstruct – whether it be a garment, a memory, a photograph, or a book – and what we would hope to learn as a result. This exercise helped us to understand our deep motivations, much as Anne Valérie herself was able to gain insight to her own creative process in an interview captured on film by our students. As a Jewish women, she was recounting the Jewish tradition of the cutting of garments to signify mourning over the death of a loved one. As she was saying this, she realized that this tradition was reflected in her own work. Cutting – and deconstruction – is for Anne Valérie a way to pay homage to the events – both sorrowful and joyful – in each of our lives.
When Noëlle Deschamps was describing the inspiration for her film Dreamers, she recounted how her goal – to document the creative process of her favorite filmmakers – was initially met with skepticism and bemusement. How can you make a film about creation itself? Her detractors worried that it was simply too esoteric and abstract a subject to be successfully portrayed on film. She ploughed ahead however – she had faith in her vision – and eventually all of the pieces fell into place and she was able to make her dream come to life.
On second thought, is this really an accurate description of what happened? To say that the pieces simply fell into place does the creative process a disservice by making it appear effortless. In point of fact, Ms. Deschamps must have fought very hard for her film. Through hard work, willpower, and the courage of her conviction, she was able to overcome the objections of her detractors.
Each of us has an innate creative ability, and the 2017 Paris Seminar was very successful in demonstrating the process of creation. Despite this, the most important thing that I learned from Ms. Deschamps – and from each of the designers who shared their lives with us – was that creativity is not enough, in and of itself. It takes courage, tenacity, and discipline to bring your dreams to fruition. For me, this seminar was more than anything a manifestation of the human spirit and a glorious celebration of our artistic differences. Like our four disparate designers, each of us is formed by our own unique experiences, and each of us is therefore inimitable. Perhaps it is not exactly topical, but in reflecting on this experience, I am reminded of a passage which struck me when I first read it, and which has stayed with me ever since. In describing his theory of evolution in The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin said: “there is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” Let us therefore always celebrate our differences – these “endless forms most beautiful” – and the indomitable spirit which make us who we are – each of us unique, each of us irreplaceable.
Below, “It’s Playtime” is the short video my group created to showcase the creative perspective and process of Parisian knitwear brand Monsieur Lacenaire. Among the eight different team videos created, this was the final jury selection for “Best Director.”
By Michael Battista Industry Coordinator to the Global Fashion Management Program
Hong Kong is a city that bustles with over 7 million people. Skyscrapers that are achieved with bamboo scaffolding rise from the mountainous terrain of a bay overlooking the South China Sea. Container ships filled with goods destined for the world’s ports dot the horizon. This sets the scene for the third and final seminar of the Global Fashion Management program, held in collaboration with the Institute of Textiles and Clothing of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Hong Kong is a hub for retail: filled with boutiques, shopping malls, and specialized districts. Street markets with literal names like “Jade Market” and “Sneaker Street” are destinations in and of themselves. It’s a place where luxury brands have – until recently – enjoyed great success. There are more Louis Vuitton and Prada stores in Hong Kong than in Paris and Milan. When immersed in the modernity of this city, it’s hard to imagine its humble beginnings as a small fishing village.
The seminar began with the positioning of Hong Kong as a gateway to Asia. According to visiting lecturer Pauline Hsia, American, European, and British brands come to Hong Kong to test their success with the Asian market before expanding further into the continent. Dana Craig, SVP of Supply Chain – Asia at Tory Burch informed us that the brand’s highest volume of sales, worldwide is at their Hong Kong airport location. Notwithstanding this success, Mr. Craig points out that building brand awareness remains a challenge to expansion in Asia.
While success can prove elusive to foreign brands, a strategy of testing and brand building is exhibited in the efforts of Canadian brand Lululemon. The Business of Fashion reports:“The company has stores in Hong Kong but currently only operates showrooms in Shanghai and Beijing, and sells online in China via Tmall [an e-commerce platform]. ‘We start with our showroom model, where our team can build brand awareness, test product, create authentic relationships and learn what is important to a community before we open a permanent store,’ says [SVP, Asia Pacific at Lululemon,] Ken Lee.”
The region now known as Hong Kong has been the gateway to China for centuries. The Portuguese maintained trading outposts there in the 1500s; and the Dutch and French would follow suit. By the early 1800’s, the British East India Company had a growing presence to feed Europe’s appetite for Chinese silk, porcelain, and tea. By 1839 it would become the epicenter of the Opium Wars – a humiliating history for both the victor and defeated – spanning two decades and ending with the cessation of Hong Kong to the British Crown.
Though the sovereignty of Hong Kong has since returned to China, it continues its tradition as the commercial gateway to the world’s most populous country. The opportunity for growth in connecting the East and West is not one-sided. While western brands have their sights on expansion into Asia, Chinese brands also seek expansion beyond the Great Wall. This seminar’s case study brand, Hidy NG, sought a complete brand audit, and a defined strategy for growth and westward expansion. Students worked in teams to articulate a brand identity, craft a distribution plan, and develop product lifecycle recommendations. The culminating presentations demonstrated rigor, analysis, and professionalism comparable to a boutique consultancy.
By the time the students travel to Hong Kong, they are nearing the completion of the program. They have spent the last year-and-a-half cultivating business acumen through the curriculum; and have expanded their world view through their work with diverse colleagues from around the globe. As a result, they’re able to offer insights with clarity, precision, and confidence. So when the students presented their recommendations for the case study brand, Hidy NG was listening.
By Bob Greene, MS Leadership and Team Development Coach and Consultant
Students in the Graduate Fashion Management (GFM) program are developing as leaders who can innovate successfully in the ever-changing global fashion industry. Today’s and tomorrow’s leaders need to be successful not only when problems are routine or primarily technical, but in uncharted territory, where learning and creativity are essential. Ronald Heifetz and his colleagues talk about the need for leadership that can successfully meet “adaptive challenges” in addition to more “technical problems.” In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, they write that “[i]n an increasingly flat, globalized third-millenium world, where innovation occurs so quickly, just having the best product at any moment in time is not a sustainable plan.” (p.21) Companies and leaders are being challenged to shift how they have operated in the past and embrace a new emphasis on relationship-building and engaging with complexity and change.
Amy Edmondson suggests that “teaming” embodies the mindset and skills required for the global marketplace. In contrast to previous perspectives that saw teams as static and long-lasting, Edmondson emphasizes today’s workforce may participate on numerous teams that change their membership over time for different projects. Edmondson talks about teaming as a verb, and that people must learn team skills that they can carry from team to team, project to project. And, of course, many of these projects will be adaptive challenges rather than routine, technical, problems, so it’s vital that learning is a central quality of effective teaming. Edmondson, as well as Heifetz and his colleagues, say that leaders must focus on bringing out the best in others, rather than simply rely on command-and-control.
GFM students have a remarkable opportunity to learn and practice teaming skills as they work on three different case study teams and take on real-world challenges that don’t have easy answers and require creativity. During my workshop early in the New York City seminar, I encourage GFM students to pay attention to how they are teaming and what they are learning from the process. Ideas and tools for effective teaming that I introduce include:
The importance of intentionally getting to know who is on the team;
Developing clear and shared expectations upfront;
Recognizing the challenges of working cross-culturally and how easy it is to act on assumptions that may not be correct;
Various approaches to preventing and resolving common team issues; and
The essential role of team self-assessment to promote learning that can be carried forward to each new team experience.
Hopefully, GFM students will bring the skills and tools they use with their three case study teams to their workplaces—building on diverse perspectives and powering innovation.
Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: how organizations learn, innovate, and compete in the knowledge economy (1st ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; and Edmondson, A. C. (2012, April). “Teamwork on the Fly” Harvard Business Review.
Heifetz, R. A., Linsky, M., & Grashow, A. (2009). The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (1st ed.). Harvard Business Press.
Learn more about Bob Greene’s coaching and consulting work and follow his blog, “With This in Mind” at www.BGCoach.net.
By Bob Greene, MS Leadership and Team Development Coach and Consultant
I’ve had the pleasure for the past several years of facilitating a workshop on building teams for the Graduate Fashion Management (GFM) program during the New York seminar hosted by Fashion Institute of Technology. Students and faculty from schools based in New York, Paris, and Hong Kong meet with industry experts and work on real-life cases to more fully understand the modern global fashion industry.
GFM students also have the opportunity to participate in cross-cultural teams, a vital part of the program. It’s commonplace to talk about the global nature of modern industry, but it’s rare that students can learn about it by interacting in meaningful ways with counterparts from (at least) three continents.
Much of what GFM students will do in their careers requires being able to cope with complexity and ambiguity, identify creative solutions, and constantly innovate. This is the kind of work that teams of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and skills should be well-suited to take on. Scott Page writes in The Difference that “[s]cholars from a variety of disciplines have studied how people and groups make breakthroughs. The common answer: diverse perspectives.” (p.24) Yet as important as diverse teams may be, in my experience, a great many people have little practice working in effective, well-run, teams. In fact, many have had poor team experiences and dread each time they are assigned to a team.
I believe part of the problem is how we typically think about teams. It’s not enough to put a group of people together, call them a team, and expect that they will be effective. In this common scenario, team members fall back on the way they have always done things, whether that has worked well or not. And individuals typically make assumptions about other team members, a tendency that can be heightened in diverse, cross-cultural teams. There is research that indicates that diverse teams can be more effective than teams in which everyone is from the same background, yet diverse teams can also run into significant difficulties that hold them back.
GFM students have a chance to experiment with doing teams differently! As part of the year-and-a-half GFM learning laboratory, students participate in three different case study teams, each one including colleagues from across the globe. Early in the first session in New York, I have the opportunity to explore with them qualities of effective teams and tools they can put to use immediately in their case study teams. In addition, we consider potential cultural assumptions related to working in teams. Each GFM case study team then becomes an opportunity to experiment with doing teams well—moving past previous team experiences to gain the advantages of working in global teams.
By Brooke Blashill (Class of 2015) Senior Vice President, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, and Director of The Boutique @ Ogilvy
For brands to be successful in the future, they need to align value with “values.” That was the resounding sentiment at last month’s major trend conferences: Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the preeminent global forum for sustainable fashion, and WGSN Futures, the London event predicting retail trends in 2030.
While there was talk of artificial intelligence, multi-generational workforces and the impact of the sharing economy, it was a new shift in the sustainability dialogue that dominated conference discussions. Once seen as a supply chain issue, the topic of ethics and responsibility spanned product design, retail strategies and buying approaches.
Spurred by the next generation of high-powered, conscious consumers, retailers are addressing the business functions where quick and impactful changes can be made – such as marketing – while other parts of the business play catch-up.
Nike, for instance, said that sustainability is an innovation challenge that begins with its design team – tasking designers to make a product with the least environmental impact, setting the goal to cut their carbon footprint by half while doubling production.
Other brands, such as Selfridges and H&M, are changing the way they communicate with their customers about environmental issues by putting sustainability messages at the forefront of dedicated campaigns, in-store experiences and digital content. In years past, these types of stories would only appear around Earth Day or timed to the launch of special collections.
According to Nielsen, 2.5 billion “aspirational” consumers are becoming increasingly interested in, and making decisions based on, the environmental and social impacts of their purchases. This move isn’t about altruism – it’s driven by the consumer desire to make choices that represent who they are and what they believe in.
For retailers, that means authentically realigning a brand with the values and beliefs of their customers by being transparent and helping shoppers make smarter and more informed purchase decisions. For some brands, this could be as simple as communicating existing eco-efforts that have been taking place behind the scenes, or collaborating with credible partners to bring broader awareness to these issues and help redefine the industry conversation.
“Good design is sustainable design.” Imran Amed, Founder and CEO of The Business of Fashion, made this statement in Copenhagen when debating media’s role in evolving the sustainable fashion dialogue. Media and marketers have a responsibility to unite this conversation using their creativity to “make sustainability sexy,” says Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times.
So how does one use these creative powers of persuasion for good? I had the opportunity to talk with a variety of industry leaders during these two trend conferences, and here are some examples of how brands are applying these important principles across areas such as retail strategy, advertising and digital:
Retail Strategy – Selfridges has demonstrated that eco and luxury can live in harmony through its award-winning campaign, “Project Ocean,” creatively integrating messages about ocean protection into the store experience from the window displays to the food hall. The department store has also hired its first Director of Sustainability and taken a new approach to buying, ensuring brands meet standards on ethical trade, while championing new brands with a sustainable focus through its “Bright Young Things” project.
Advertising – The trend in repair wear, or mending an item so it can last longer, is now spanning luxury retailers to mass market brands. WGSN says this concept, which they call “Brand Immortality,” is what big industry players, including Barbour and Brooks Brothers, have been doing for years in the form of added-value services. Now, the difference is that brands are making this a central part of external marketing campaigns and gaining customer loyalty as a result. For example, Patagonia took out an ad in the New York Times during Black Friday with the headline, “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” following up with a “Better than New” cross-country road trip to fix customers’ old coats. Nudie Jeans, the indie denim label, has opened 20 stores globally that include a repair shop offering free mending and alterations for all their jeans.
Digital – Transparency has become the new buzz word, and Zady, the online eco-retailer, sets the example for the industry with its business model. Named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative retail companies in the world, Zady’s editorial approach to e-commerce and social media allows customers to see what country their clothes were made in and who makes them. Costs transparency is also gaining popularity among consumers, and is likely to become a new industry standard. Brands including Everlane and The Reformation have dedicated platforms on their e-commerce sites to list production and sourcing costs. Similarly, new luxury menswear company Boga publishes details about the materials and textile houses it uses under The Know section of its website.
The common thread between these companies is that they made the concept of a socially responsible purchase decision part of a desirable lifestyle through consistent brand stories that both inspire and educate. While some of these initiatives are not completely new, retail experts at both conferences predicted these approaches will be the business standard in the next three to five years. As the trend in mindfulness and conscious consumption becomes more mainstream, the most successful brands will be those that lead by example and authentically reflect the values of their customers.
Brooke Blashill is a Senior Vice President at Ogilvy, the award-winning global marketing agency, and a recipient of PR Week’s esteemed 40 under 40 award. Blashill founded and leads The Boutique, an international retail division dedicated to helping clients develop creative and effective communications strategies with a focus on campaign development, product launches, brand experiences, designer collaborations and influencer engagement. Core areas of expertise include luxury, apparel, accessories and home. http://www.ogilvy.com/. Twitter @brookeblashill
On February 17, Global Fashion Management students attended a fundraising event for Cardozo School of Law’s newly launched Fashion, Arts, Media and Entertainment Law Center (FAME) which was created to train law students for jobs in New York City’s creative industries. Cardozo’s collaboration with Global Fashion Management to provide legal council to GFM’s “clients” for the capstone course is part of this curriculum.
John Idol, CEO Michael Kors, and Lee Sporn, General Counsel of Michael Kors, discussed the evening’s topic, “The Intersection of Luxury and Law” through a series of questions from moderator Leslie Fagan, Senior Partner at Paul Weiss. Mr. Idol pointed out that at Kors, knowing the law is very much part of doing business, and protecting the brand, and employees, is under constant review. The relationship between a CEO and general counsel was described as “complex,” where business expansion and innovation were inevitably balanced by legal obligations.
When asked about how the company deals with counterfeit products, both executives agreed that no brand can be completely protected because it’s simply too easy for a violation to occur, especially through online sales. Mr. Idol also commented on the unending challenge to protect the brand in every country in which you do business, and where legal protection is subject to broad interpretation.
Regarding intellectual property in design, Mr. Sporn believes that the law provides enough protection, although many in this country and around the world may not agree. Mr. Idol said, if you have to ask ‘where is the true innovation,’ it could be a difficult case to prove, adding that less law often results in pressure to always do better as a designer.
On the question of licensing, Mr. Idol said that while owning your own business is for him, preferred, it’s also necessary to work with those with expertise in, for example, fragrance and eyewear. He stressed the importance of a stable working relationship, and one that you have confidence will work from the start.
John Idol and Lee Sporn, who have worked together for twenty-five years, were clearly in tune on the demands of balancing the functions of a CEO and general counsel in managing a wildly successful public and global company. In addition to his position as general counsel (which at Kors, includes a considerable list of additional responsibilities) Mr. Sporn teaches Cardozo’s fashion law practicum course with Global Fashion Management.
Edwin Keh’s lectures are always among the most anticipated of the Hong Kong seminar. As the CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textile and Apparel, he works with business leaders and academic researchers to develop technology for Hong Kong’s competitive and creative apparel industries. Edwin is also a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he teaches the Global Supply Chain Management in China course, with Marshall Fisher, author of The New Science of Retailing: How Analytics are Transforming the Supply Chain and Improving Performance.
He knows a lot about sourcing and logistics. Until 2010, Edwin was chief operating officer and senior vice president of Wal-Mart Global Procurement, and prior to that, held executive positions for Payless Shoesource International, Donna Karan International, Country Road, and Abercrombie & Fitch. He remains active in charities and advises social enterprises.
Edwin’s lecture is profoundly optimistic, but not maudlin; pragmatic, but not rigid. He makes cutting-edge technological trends such as waterless industry, energy efficiency, a new generation of green materials and recycling technologies, self-cleaning treatment, and plant-structure fabric seem within reach, without minimizing the challenge of ambitious research and development. Political, scientific, and sociological facts inform his worldview, as he discusses the importance of Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 and its impact on trade.
This observation is followed by questioning China’s ability to continue to create value from manufacturing, and points to the Kuznet curve economic hypothesis that suggests that a society will no longer tolerate the downside of manufacturing—such as pollution—as it reaches maturity. As China quickly approaches this turning point, the country is just as rapidly entering an era of innovation.
Those of us fortunate enough to hear from China experts on a regular basis, have become familiar with the results of economic shifts that accompany large-scale immigration to urban areas. As Edwin points out, these shifts include higher energy consumption, breakdown of family structure, demand for a higher level of education, and a longer life span—and all heavily influence consumer demand, product creation, and the supply chain. Edwin asks, “Where does the American company end and the Chinese company begin?” He points out that personalities and talents are absorbed from one, two, or more cultures, and product production and adaptability will quickly follow. In turn, the supply chain itself must be reengineered because the one we’re using is unsustainable.
“Good Baby” illustrates Edwin’s example of a hugely successful Chinese company and a radical departure from the stereotypical low-wage labor factory. This company’s core capabilities lie in research and development, with eight development centers throughout the world. Operations and production are localized, making it possible to cater to cultural and lifestyle demand for strollers, children’s car seats and furniture. Timbuk2 is another example. This designer and producer of messenger bags is based in San Francisco. With quality production in Guangdong province, Vietnam, and Indonesia, the focus on sourcing all materials within proximity to the factory is central to the company philosophy of lowering energy consumption in transit, and the importance of promoting a transparent supply chain.
The world’s supply chains for apparel and beyond, could do much worse than to adopt Edwin Keh’s vision of the future.
Within all aspects of Global Fashion Management education—from lecture event to panel discussion to informal conversation—the focus often turns to the demand and purchasing power of the Chinese consumer. According to the Sourcing Journal, China-based consumers’ online spending for American brands in 2015, is seven times higher than in 2014. But while Chinese consumers are aware of American brands, they’re often not available in China. Jingming Li, U.S. President of Alipay, China’s third-party payment platform, writes that growth will be exponential as logistics and localized payment options improve for cross-border purchasing.
Our intensive seminar in Hong Kong provides GFM students the perfect venue to hear the very latest on e-commerce, digital commerce, and social networks from those who know it best—local experts, colleagues, and consumers—and to gain insight on how the future might unfold.
Anson Bailey, Principal, Business Development for KPMG in Hong Kong, has spent a good portion of his career in China, and has the consumer-technology expertise to deliver a fresh perspective on the contemporary Chinese consumer. Anson says, “Asia will be the story going forward,” and he backs up this claim with a few trends:
Peer to peer, mobile and cognitive technologies will continue to strengthen, especially as new digital consumers in third and fourth tier cities in Mainland China turn to e-commerce.
Among consumers in first and second tier cities, 2008 marked a turning point when buying incentive shifted from status seeking to self-reward and purchasing from a more individualist incentive. Heightened by an educated knowledge of country-of-origin when buying luxury, Chinese consumers have less concern for price, and focus more on accessibility.
Among Chinese consumers surveyed by KPMG, 45% buy online. Among the 54% that make up the middle to upper class, this group has the greatest influence on consumer purchases.
Anson went on to describe the evolving innovation of Chinese tech companies in creating disruptive technologies, consumer convergence, more adaptable mobile devices (such as OnePlus), and aggressive accelerator programs such as AIA. Regardless of how much we may read about the connected Chinese consumer, there’s nothing quite like being on site, and among the experts, to get a first-hand perspective.
Didier may not be a household name, but in the international fashion industry, he’s a legend. It’s been GFM’s great fortune to hear him speak about the history of the industry and his unique place at the center of it, when he opens the Paris seminar every year.
Co-founder of Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, colleague to Givenchy, chairman of Thierry Mugler, and Chairman of the Fédération Français de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, and of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Corture, Didier has also served as Director of Studies and Dean of Professional Staff at Institut Français de la Mode since 1985.
His History of International Fashion – recently translated into English – is the ultimate authority on the history of haute couture, leading to the origin of ready-to-wear and manufacturing, and finally to the internationalization of the industry as we know it today. Didier hasn’t written a history of fashion, and his lecture to GFM students doesn’t follow that narrative. Instead, he discusses designers as instigators of society-changing concepts; for example, Chanel’s disruption of structured garments through the introduction of new fabrics and silhouettes; the Christian Dior business model and the start of licensing in the U.S.; and YSL’s brilliant creation of ready-to-wear collections inspired by couture. Didier has the remarkable ability to rise above the often-repeated stories of glamour and indulgence (although he’s familiar with those as well) to describe businesses devoted to beauty and high fashion but starved for cash, and opportunistic governments that use the apparel industry as economic protection. There are very few in the apparel industry – anywhere in the world – who have the comprehensive knowledge and experience of Didier, and even fewer who have the generosity to share it.
“This book . . . aspires to be the story of the creation, the evolution, and the implosion of the fashion trade and to offer perspectives on a profession that, like any other social body, defines itself by its origins as by its current economic context.” – Didier Grumbach
During each New York, Paris, and Hong Kong seminar, Global Fashion Management students meet to work in intercultural teams to analyze a business with the goal of recommending strategy in finance, marketing, or retail, for large companies or entrepreneurs. This process would be challenging enough if you were familiar with your teammates, their expertise, and their negotiating techniques. But GFM students seldom have this advantage. In the first seminar, they work across cultures with those they’ve never met to come to consensus, relying on their colleagues’ skills in merchandising, product development, finance, retail, design, marketing, or any number of specialties required to operate successful companies.
These skills were tested at the Paris seminar in April, when Hermès came to Institut Français de la Mode to present the history of their extraordinary brand and the challenges they face. As demand increases for their products and the experience it offers around the world, the company came to GFM to seek advice on how they might deliver the highest standard of customer service on a level that’s consistent with the expertise required to develop the products themselves.
Lead by Guillaume de Seynes, Hermès International Executive Vice-President; Corinne Feneon, Hermès International Group Retail Activities Director; and Thibault Hesse, Hermès International Customer Experience Manager, students received a thorough history of the family and the brand, leading to questions such as, “what does luxury mean to a contemporary – and younger – consumer?” “How does a digital strategy fit into the future of an historic and revered luxury brand?” And, “how do you identify and create a profile for a new consumer, and deliver the highest standard of customer service?”
Prior to arriving in Paris, and in their respective countries, students conducted primary interviews, collected data from database and digital sources, and most importantly, experienced the Hermès store experience themselves in cities throughout the world, to better understand the brand values and culture. As students collected data, they communicated among themselves in advance of meeting at the beginning of April, comparing notes and setting expectations for their first meeting in Paris.
The seminar’s lectures added depth to several topics within the case study, and a final coaching session helped to sharpen the focus to the recommendations. In the final debriefing session at the close of presentations, Hermès executives praised the teams for their insights and perspectives that were sometimes surprising and sometimes verified their assumptions, but ultimately made a valuable connection between the retail experience and the expectations of a digitally-engaged and global consumer.
From FIT students’ point of view, the following quotes:
“Working with one of the most iconic luxury brands such as Hermès provided an enriching perspective on French industry dynamics.”
“Fascinating study on luxury with an international group. Always interesting to observe the initiative to make changes, yet the blindness to acknowledge what truly exists.”
“It was a ‘one time in my life’ experience to give a presentation in front of executives from Hermès.”
“Overall, it was a great learning experience working with people who understand and value luxury and customer service in different ways.”
“Experience and practice are needed to understand and deal with these cultural differences.”
“Having access to the thoughts and strategies of top executives from Dior, Chanel and especially Hermes helped inform the concepts our group put forth to assist in moving the luxury customer experience into the digital world. It was impressive to hear how important the customers are to these brands, and they all approach their interactions with consumers in unique ways.”
“True luxury is only meaningful when rooted in authentic tradition,” says Toledano, reflecting on his knowledge of the luxury industry at the Paris Seminar for Global Fashion Management students.
A recent New York Times article describes Dior’s management under Chief Executive Sidney Toledano as among the best training grounds for luxury executives. On April 8th, when Mr. Toledano addressed Global Fashion Management students from FIT, Hong Kong Polytechnic Institute, and Institut Français de la Mode on their Paris campus, his remarks were less about his management style than a reflection of his depth of knowledge of the luxury industry in general, and Dior in particular. Mr. Toledano channeled Christian Dior through his quote, “true luxury is only meaningful when rooted in authentic tradition,” before he went on to describe Dior’s evolution of designers and iconic garments and accessories, noting the importance of a thorough understanding of the brand DNA among creators.
Mr. Toledano began his presentation by describing the company’s licensing business after World War II and the effort to finally bring it under control. He commented on the early career of Bernard Arnault, and Yves Saint Laurent – Christian Dior’s assistant – all leading up to the extraordinary success of the company today. Commenting on the skill of the design and production teams, he said, “The Dior atelier is unique in Paris and at the height of complexity,” as Global Fashion Management students who have had the privilege to visit, will no doubt agree. Questions from students followed, asking about Dior’s digital commerce strategy, expanding into emerging markets, and the creative decisions behind the iconic brand.
“Even when there are no more secrets, fashion remains a mystery.“ – Christian Dior
GFM students took a break from lectures at the SUNY Global Center in Manhattan during the recent New York seminar to spend a day exploring the rapidly evolving and consistently inventive retail environments of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
These neighborhoods –transformed from their origin as industrial, manufacturing centers, and home to thousands of immigrants who moved to the area from Manhattan’s lower east side in the early 20th century – were rezoned for development along the East River in 2005. The zoning ordinance allowed for light manufacturing, making it possible to continue apparel production. The new “creative economy” has provided Williamsburg and Greenpoint with an energy that is beginning to attract mainstream Manhattan retailers. But the neighborhoods’ small retailers are keeping their edge as local customers have given them permission to indulge in “slow” fashion and reward them for their courage. Two of our favorites are In God We Trust andKai D. Utility.
Shana Tabor, In God We Trust: Shana’s Greenpoint store serves as her jewelry and garment production studio, as well as the retail store for In God We Trust; her other retail locations are in Williamsburg and Soho. Shana’s collections are reminiscent of her New England heritage, infused with attitude and style, sung to Veruca Salt and Joan Jett, and made in Brooklyn (and Manhattan). Trained as a jewelry designer, Shana believes in the importance of detail and the integrity of quality.
. . .
Kai D., Kai D. Utility: As a disciple of the less-is-more philosophy, Kai D.’s shop is a panorama of rich organic neutrals dyed into high-quality natural fibers; woven in historic Italian mills; sung to Bob Dylan, Brother Yusef, and Billie Holiday; and cut and constructed in Manhattan. A gifted designer, his ideology, “refined for the modern artisan and built to last,” is visible in every garment. Kai D’s working knowledge of tailoring and fit, and the construction details which set his garments apart from the accepted standard, are alone worth the trip. For Kai D., this is personal.
By Elka Gruenberg (Class of 2016), Northeast Account Executive, Simone Perele
If you were walking down East 55th Street one afternoon in early October, you may have happened across dozens of giddy adults pouring out onto the street; visibly elated, exhausted, chattering non-stop in half a dozen languages, and making a beeline for celebratory drinks. What you would have seen would have been students from FIT’s GFM Program – with their colleagues from IFM and HKPU – emerging from the New York Seminar after delivering case study presentations.
To be fair… we were warned…. multiple times…by all of our professors, advisors, and older students…“Be prepared not to sleep” and “You’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked before.”
Yet we eagerly dove into the seminar, enthusiastically meeting our new colleagues and forming our case study teams. What followed was ten days of unremitting learning. Nights were spent continuously working and re-working angles of the case study.
Our days, however, were spent being lectured by some of the retail industry’s most influential and accomplished players.
I won’t lie; it felt a bit like a commercial…
Metro Card. $2.50.
Morning double latte. $4.50…
Asking advice from Anna Bakst, who launched Michael Kors Footwear and Accessories and built it into a multi-billion dollar business…Priceless.
While I’m sure she could have easily picked twice as many speakers, Pamela Ellsworth, Chair of GFM, assembled a group of experts who covered the entire span of the retail horizon.
Kevin Ryan – founder of Gilt Groupe – walked us through how he launched the luxury flash sale site. He challenged us to ask, “Why will people use this product,” at every point in product development. He also reminded us that while ideas are great, “The idea is only moderately important. Execution is everything.”
We learned how securing private equity is like dating; how manufacturers are positioned to become direct conduits to retail; and in this day and age every company is a tech company.
All of the speakers pushed us to expand our understanding of the retail experience.
Today’s consumer is more global, more tech savvy, more environmentally conscious and more demanding than ever before. To keep up, we need to be constantly aware of what is happening around the world. Luckily, all I have to do to keep up is Skype with any of my case study teammates in Paris, Casablanca, Geneva, or Hong Kong.