The fashion crowd came out in force for the second annual Fashion Tech Forum in New York, but there was more than talk of digital revolution in the air.
Tom Kartsotis, founder of Detroit-based Shinola, said the brand would introduce audio devices, then eyewear and jewelry, while Andrew Rosen, chief executive officer of Theory, railed against retail rents and Laurent Claquin, head of Kering Americas, touted his company’s green initiatives.
Kartsotis said Shinola would introduce audio devices by the end of next year and that the brand is also plotting entry into the eyewear and jewelry sectors, the latter of which he described as a “natural progression.”
“If [Shinola] can make a watch in Detroit, I think we can make just about anything,” he said. Shinola’s current assortment includes watches, bicycles, paper goods and leather.
The brand is mapping out plans to manufacture turntables and headphones and Bluetooth devices. And Kartsosis said audio represents a huge opportunity for Shinola, due to its “massive margins.” The brand has yet to build up its audio manufacturing capabilities and is in the process of finalizing its vendors and designs.
Shinola’s plans to introduce eyewear and jewelry products are less concrete, but a spokeswoman said “they are categories that are on the list for 2016-17…along with expanding current categories like leather. This fall we will introduce more stockkeeping units in our men’s leather offering and then for spring we will launch women’s leather.”
On the retail front, Theory’s Andrew Rosen talked about embracing change and took a moment to call out retail property owners for the difficulties some stores are having.
“The thing I’m concerned about in terms of bricks-and-mortar is that rents have gotten out of control,” Rosen said. “I don’t see how it’s possible to pay the rents and have a business with any financial success. Maybe digital and physical commerce will be at parity one day, but I’m very concerned about the economics based on what landlords are doing.”
Rosen said foreign companies are driving up retail rents. “They come here and don’t know the retail landscape and pay very big numbers,” he said. “We all knew the metrics of brick-and-mortar retail until digital disrupted them. Digital commerce is so new, it lacks the experience we need to make decisions. But I see them on a parallel track.”
Francesca Amfitheatrof, Tiffany & Co.’s design director admitted she was just getting her own bearings in the digital world. “I’m pretty green when it comes to having a social media footprint,” she said. “I’m only recently on Instagram, and I’m fairly proud of that, to tell you the truth.”
Still, the advantages of technology for a large corporation were not lost on Amfitheatrof. “It’s important for big companies to open up so you feel that there is an intimacy with the creative part of the company,” she said. “We have a very forward-thinking Web site where, if you’re shopping for an engagement ring, you can take a picture of your girlfriend’s hand and superimpose engagement rings. You can use that tool to really know what you want to buy, especially for such a large purchase in your life.”
Sustainability was also on the agenda with a roundtable on the subject led by Livia Firth, creative director of Eco-Age Ltd.
“Fashion relies heavily on human capital and natural resources,” Firth said. “People are starting to organize” referring to workers in Turkey, Cambodia, Bangladesh and India. “It’s a moral issue to make sure the people and raw materials are taken care of. Otherwise, your business model is going to be finite.”
Firth said Chopard switched up its supply chain to produce sustainable jewelry. Its fair mine gold certification supports training and social justice. It’s been applied to mines in Columbia and Bolivia, he said.
Laurent Claquin, head of Kering Americas, said the company developed a leather tanning process using no heavy metals.“Our chairman, François-Henri Pinault is convinced that there’s no other way than sustainability,” he said. “We publish our methodology online to encourage others to embrace sustainability.”
Additionally, Karen Harvey, ceo and founder of Karen Harvey Consulting Group and the forum, along with Maia Wojcik, head of fashion and curation at the forum, introduced INDX. The newly created brand-to-talent digital network is a talent-finding tool that allows businesses to communicate their unique culture and available opportunities.
The event concluded with the presentation of the Founders of the Future Award to David Carson, Andrew Deitchman, George Alan and Lex Kendall of The New Stand, a discovery platform focused on convenience and enhancing the daily routine. They received a $50,000 prize and a six-week mentorship experience.
The forum was held at Spring Studios in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood Thursday.