By  on January 18, 2011

Any chief executive officer worth his salt knows good ideas often come from people who don’t live and breathe the corporate culture.

With that in mind, WWD asked six innovative thinkers to pinpoint issues and opportunities into which fashion executives would be wise to tune. As has been proven time and again in business, a lot hinges on one’s perspective. Even the one- to two-year turnaround forecast for the economy is open to interpretation. Jump Associates’ founder and principal, Dev Patnaik, said, “If you are a business leader, you will think, Well, I’m not going to wait a year or two. They feel, I’m going to be the one who beats the nadir. And a two-year ramp-up is actually comforting for many folks. They feel it’s manageable.”

However fashion executives view the economy, they should be aware of consumers wanting to reclaim some sense of privacy, the redefining of what it means to be a man and a return to what’s real (as evidenced by the popularity of general store-type setups that are now popular). In addition, more consumers are using their smartphones to look up competitive pricing, to get fashion approval and to subscribe to sites such as Groupon, where being part of a collective benefits all subscribers. That said, brands will no longer be able to get away with addressing “the customer as if she is standing alone in front of them,” Patnaik said.

And, as Steve Jobs has proven repeatedly with his televised launches for new Apple products, consumers have a greater appreciation for being able to tell a good story, Patnaik said. That trend also will extend to publishing, he said.

More consumers will be sharing tales and seeking validation as they shop via smartphones and social media, said John Ross, ceo of Interpublic-owned Shopper Sciences. “Shopping can be such a lonely pursuit, and there is a lot of risk riding on choice — the risk of spending too much money, the risk of looking stupid,” he said.

Social media also is breeding social activism, “adding a whole other layer to the shopping conversation,” Ross said. “People are asking themselves if they are making responsible decisions. Is child labor being used? Are workers allowed to organize [in a union]? Are health and safety practices in place?”

Executives should be swift to realize that shoppers will only be able to access other consumers’ reviews, live video feeds of fashion shows, fashion advice and other information faster through devices like 4G phones. “4G is to your regular 3G phone like what broadband was to dial-up,” Ross said. The number of stores using iPads, Xbox-type technology and other tools that immerse people in the shopping experience should “skyrocket” in the months ahead, he said.

Rachel Botsman, co-author of “What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption,” expects mobile phone purchases and payments to see “explosive growth,” with Bump payments starting to become the norm. There also will be an upswing in smart products embedded with QR codes with platforms like Itizen and Sticky Bits that enable people to share notes, images and videos on designated items, she said.

Botsman also is banking on sharing, swapping, renting and lending to catch on with the masses. All of these things that apply to products, services and assets, including space, skills and time, “will become the darlings of the [venture capital] world and start to reach critical mass across sectors,” she said.

The way Botsman sees things, there will be an influx of “hyper-local marketplaces” for neighborhood sharing and aggregating local goods. In keeping with that homespun feel, people will start to realize their online reputation is “fast becoming as important as our credit history,” due partially to aggregators that show how well we behave — or misbehave — across communities starting to appear, she said.

The Aspen Institute’s Business and Society program recently partnered with leading companies including Levi Strauss & Co. to address how business schools might address sustainability in the classroom. Environmental sustainability is the number-one opportunity for the fashion industry and it is something of which consumers are becoming increasingly aware, said executive director Judith Samuelson.

Brands should consider the toll fast fashion is taking on the environment, whether that will eventually turn off consumers and “who pays the real costs of the waste and energy,” she said.

“Brands cannot hide behind a supply chain that is engaging in unseemly practices,” Samuelson said, noting the demand for greater transparency will only increase. “The next generation of consumers, who are emerging now from college, are eager to lead with their values, which include environmental sensibilities, consciousness about labor [practices] and employment standards,” she said.

As tuned into fashion as Trend Union’s Li Edelkoort is, she always eyes the industry with a sociological slant. Lightness — “in being until it becomes unbearable, in design to help the planet, in fluid fabric to be able to layer and drape and in mentality and mood; some optimism and energy is in order,” she said.

Even though people will love wearing all whites or all indigo, Edelkoort is expecting a shift to yellow and other bright colors. “These shades will empower our better mood.…I believe yellow will be the new pink and, together with gold, it will be the symbolic color of the 21st century — energy.”

A spirit of boldness will carry over to unusually strong statements in design, architecture and fashion — “to shock us out of our lethargy, to surprise the world with a new scenario for our culture,” predicted Edelkoort.

On another front, textiles for the home and the wardrobe will have a greater role to play, especially creative bedding and linen pajamas, as more consumers seek coziness, Edelkoort said. There is “a quest for happiness and enjoyment and a general sense of well-being through concentration and movement, slow cooking and fast walking,” she said.

Jane Thompson, author of “Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes,” said, “There is a market for anything that is well designed, well made and in beautiful colors.”

Last year, she curated an exhibition of Marimekko dresses and other products that her company, Design Research, used to sell in what used to be its landmark all-glass Harvard Square store headquarters in Boston. Scores of passersby stopped to check out the colorful show, and “we had to convince them that nothing was for sale,” Thompson said.Any chief executive officer worth his salt knows good ideas often come from people who don’t live and breathe the corporate culture.

With that in mind, WWD asked six innovative thinkers to pinpoint issues and opportunities into which fashion executives would be wise to tune. As has been proven time and again in business, a lot hinges on one’s perspective. Even the one- to two-year turnaround forecast for the economy is open to interpretation. Jump Associates’ founder and principal, Dev Patnaik, said, “If you are a business leader, you will think, Well, I’m not going to wait a year or two. They feel, I’m going to be the one who beats the nadir. And a two-year ramp-up is actually comforting for many folks. They feel it’s manageable.”

However fashion executives view the economy, they should be aware of consumers wanting to reclaim some sense of privacy, the redefining of what it means to be a man and a return to what’s real (as evidenced by the popularity of general store-type setups that are now popular). In addition, more consumers are using their smartphones to look up competitive pricing, to get fashion approval and to subscribe to sites such as Groupon, where being part of a collective benefits all subscribers. That said, brands will no longer be able to get away with addressing “the customer as if she is standing alone in front of them,” Patnaik said.

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