It’s been a transformative year for the fashion and beauty industries: Direct-to-consumer brands moved further into traditional-brand territory, streetwear and luxury became increasingly intertwined, and wellness’s impact on beauty became apparent industrywide. At the same time, widespread movements toward authenticity, transparency, sustainability and diversity took shape, forcing strategic updates across departments, at brands across the board.
In our second annual Glossy 50 list, rolling out all week, we’re honoring the industry insiders responsible for driving these important shifts. Below are the honorees representing Mainstream Fashion’s Changemakers.
Fila’s popular sneaker in the ’90s, the Disruptor, made a comeback this year in the form a modernized version, the Disruptor 2. According to e-commerce aggregator Lyst, it was the second most-searched-for fashion item in 2018. Under the leadership of Mark Eggert, svp of footwear design, Fila updated the all-white classic with fresh materials, colors and details, fueling its momentum.
How has luxury’s adoption of the athletic industry affected Fila?
We’re a brand founded in Italy, so we’ve lived alongside some of the higher-end, higher-fashion Italian brands, and there’s no question it’s had an impact on our world in the past 18 months or so. We’ve had products in our archives that have played really well into the trends unfolding: big logos, chunky trainers. We’ve been speaking to a very different kind of consumer with those over the last several months.
Especially with the Disruptor shoe…
The thing with the trainers that are huge now is that dad has been wearing that shoe while flipping burgers for 20 years in the backyard, and now daughter is wearing that same shoe because it’s cool. It’s crossing a lot of demographics and mixing things up, which is very cool to see.
Do you think the luxury crossover will stick?
Probably fashion is going to swing another way at some point, but I don’t see how people are going to want to go too far away from the really compelling comfort stories that are being offered in athleticwear and footwear. Our Disruptor has a very distinct look, but when you put it on, you’re not like, “Oh, shit, I have to wear this.”
What are you most proud of this year?
The whole company was built to react quickly and be an efficient development machine, so we’ve been ready when particular trends hit the market. The market happens to have come to us, and we’ve been in a position to capitalize on it. We’re working on a 12-month timeline, but we’ve turned things in as little as three months.
What was the significance of Fila showing at Milan fashion week in September?
It was an incredible thing we were able to do — what it really did was firm our place in this fashion world. A lot of places took note of the looks we showed and the fact that we were there, and we’re looking to build on that success as we move forward. — Jill Manoff
Revolve, the multi-brand e-commerce retailer that filed for an IPO in early October, has mastered the art of influencer marketing, with chief brand officer Raissa Gerona leading the charge. The company, which was projected to hit $1 billion in sales in 2017, reported this year that influencers — which have been a focus for nine years, with a dedicated in-house team starting in 2014 — drive 70 percent of dollars spent on the site. Behind the company’s popularly extravagant influencer activations, Gerona said this year’s “huge moments” for the brand included the first #RevolveSummer event, held in Bermuda over three weeks in July and welcoming 60 influencers; and the Coachella-adjacent #RevolveFestival, featuring performances by musicians like Snoop Dogg and attended by 400 influencers clad in Revolve looks, and #HotelRevolve, hosting more than 70 VIPs. — Jill Manoff
For Kimberly Jenkins, the fashion industry’s race reparations are far from over. “There were so many people of color on the covers of September magazines,” she said. “But that’s not enough when there are few people of color in more important roles behind the scenes.” As a professor at the Parsons School of Design, Jenkins has taught a course called “Fashion and Race” for the past three years. The Texas native has made a career out of mining the rich anthropological overlap of fashion and race, revealing the ways in which what we wear overlaps with cultural conceptions of race. Her work is more relevant than ever as the fashion industry as a whole grapples with its own complicated racial history. She will soon be releasing a database of information and media on fashion and race, as well as curating her first exhibit on the subject at Parsons. — Danny Parisi
Chriselle Lim’s career may have started eight years ago within the confines of her YouTube channel, but she’s no longer confined to one box. The beauty influencer now runs her own production company, Cinc Studios, which helps brands create Instagram content for the younger generations, and most recently, she launched her first designer collection in collaboration with Nordstrom. “The influencer industry has become so much more than what I imagined. It’s allowed me to become an entrepreneur and start some amazing ventures of my own,” said Lim. She admitted that the influencer industry is saturated, but believes it still has room for more stars. Only those committed to building a point of view, or a brand, will win though, and those in it for the money, said Lim, are going to fizzle out. — Hilary Milnes
In May, TechStyle Fashion Group partnered with Rihanna on the launch of size-inclusive lingerie line Savage x Fenty. Taking place in 12 countries in one day, the brand kickoff was three years in the making and — according to TechStyle co-CEO and co-founder Don Ressler, who was a key driver of the Rihanna partnership — it marked a pinnacle moment for TechStyle, which also founded Fabletics, JustFab, Shoedazzle and Fabkids (all of which use a flexible membership model), and reports $750 million in annual revenue. “We’ve spent almost a decade building a platform capable of launching brands to immediate success,” he said.
How important is star power, when it comes to faces and partners of TechStyle brands?
People buy brands that believe what they believe, and alignment with the right partners can demonstrate those beliefs effectively. With Fabletics and Kate [Hudson], the brand immediately stood for living a healthy and balanced life, being active, following your passions, and not taking yourself too seriously. That said, a brand has to stand on its own to build valuable long-term relationships.
I’m taking it Rihanna was a no-brainer partner…
Rihanna is all about empowerment and diversity, and in the case of Savage X Fenty, inclusivity by democratizing sexy. She wanted to hire the best designers and launch a lingerie brand that was about making everyone feel great about their bodies and giving people access to high-quality fashion at a great value. It’s hard not to align yourself with those principles.
Will brands not offering diversity survive in the years ahead?
The future of brands is about reaching niche markets and satisfying those specific customers. So while diversity is part of our company’s core values and the only way we know how to build enduring global brands, it’s not essential to every brand. However, I can say with conviction that brands and companies that don’t aim to reflect the diversity of their customer base will have a very hard time surviving. — Jill Manoff
A trio of brands changed Nordstrom’s merchandising strategy for the modern customer: Topshop, Madewell and Reformation.
To Tricia Smith, Nordstrom’s evp and general merchandising manager of women’s, kids’ and designer apparel, seeking out brand partnerships with non-traditional brands, and those that don’t sell wholesale at other retailers, meant securing the next generation of customers who don’t default to department stores when they need to shop. Newness and differentiation, said Smith, are top priorities when stocking the floor.
As a result of this initiative, which began back in 2012, Nordstrom has nailed down partnerships with DTC brands that otherwise shy away from wholesale retail and kept its head above water as other department stores decline. It always comes down to product.
What’s changed about the Nordstrom customer?
Fifteen years ago, brands launched with the intent of being a wholesaler with retail partners. Today, it’s not nearly as predictable. So we have to find ways to stay ahead of that. Customers are constantly looking for newness, and they have a lot of options. So they define a good experience on their terms. We don’t think about optimizing one channel of business; it’s just about having a good site and a good store, wherever it is. Then we can differentiate our offer to bring in new relevant brands. We need to continue to challenge ourselves to do that.
So how has that, in turn, changed your job as a merchandiser?
We’ve always thought customer-first. But what’s changed is there’s more data available to understand [customers] and become more knowledgeable about how to serve them better. As a wholesale partner, the more we can share with brands about how much she’s shopping the website, or in-store, the more we can improve and evolve our partnership.
How will this approach keep Nordstrom relevant?
We’ve been working hard on our sizing strategy, and we’re starting to see some successes there. We’ve already been thinking, “How do we leverage our partnerships with brands to provide more of our customers’ favorite brands?” and that’s where sizing comes in. We’ve been on this journey for a while now, and there’s still a lot of work to do. But as we go forward, introducing new relevant brands and staying consistent with the sizing approach while we do that will be critical for today’s customer. — Hilary Milnes
Tracy Sun was heading up the merchandising division of Brooklyn Industries when she decided she wanted to explore how technology could radically change a fashion company’s business model. A year later, she launched Poshmark with CEO Manish Chandra, combining the dual-disruptive trends of e-commerce and resale to shake up the fashion industry. In the seven years since, Poshmark has amassed five million sellers and tens of millions of shoppers looking for resold apparel. Sun believes that the appetite for sustainable, affordable fashion has only grown since Poshmark’s launch in 2011. Most recently, Poshmark introduced the Posh Markets feature, which helped boost the company’s sales of luxury goods by 200 percent. “We’re continuing to scale in the U.S., but with platforms like ours, we see a massive opportunity internationally and are excited for what’s next,” said Sun. — Danny Parisi
Katie Watts believes the role of the merchandiser should be entrepreneurial.
Starting her career at Gap, Inc., Watts stepped over to the startup side when she joined Gilt Groupe in 2011. It was an exciting time exploring a new form of retail — the flash model — said Watts. But then Saks bought Gilt, and Watts’s role transitioned back to the traditional buyer’s.
“I’d compare Saks to a GE, if Gilt was Tesla,” she said.
Watts sought out her current role as divisional merchandising manager at Stitch Fix in order to be part of a smarter way of doing business.
What sold you on Stitch Fix?
I wanted to work somewhere that was focused on doing things in retail differently. I was impressed by the volume of Stitch Fix’s business; I was inspired by these digitally native brands and how they scale and do it profitably. I was also interested in the future of machine learning and data science and what that can do to retail, and doing it in a place that was still highly focused on fashion and the consumer, rather than algorithms for the sake of algorithms.
How has Stitch Fix’s model changed the way you work as a merchandiser?
First and foremost was understanding the model and the different way of working. We define success differently than traditional retail. Sales and sell-through were the primary indicators of success or failure traditionally, and at Stitch Fix, they are a guiding principle, but they’re not our north star. It allows us to drive the business in an interesting and dynamic way. We take the guessing out of it.
Do you ever worry about algorithms replacing your role?
As a merchant, I deeply believe that at its core, it’s an emotional business. Algorithms are just beginning to harness their power, so the future is not about eliminating merchants, but the merchants understanding algorithms enough so they can take control and improve them. Merchant leaders of the future: Build what you do best around the customer with the great power of algorithms behind you. — Hilary Milnes
Jackie Wilson’s company, American Fashion Network, works with retail clients to predict trends, analyze customer data, monitor product performance, and design and manufacture private-label collections. Working with partners like Amazon, Kohl’s and American Eagle, Wilson’s designs are meant to have mass appeal while fitting in cohesively with the retailers’ goals and aesthetics.
In the past year, her role has become increasingly critical. Consider her the wizard behind the curtain.
How has customer behavior changed, and how are retailers responding?
It’s changed tremendously. The way customers buy online changes the foot traffic pattern at retail, and retailers need to respond with speed and flexibility. Every retailer has had to change the way they buy. They used to to go long and deep into one item, and now they have to turn over inventory on a much quicker basis. You used to turn over inventory four times a year, and now it’s 10.
We’re able to feed them new and emerging trends faster, and because of our speed process, we can get them anything they want within eight to 10 weeks. It brings the customer back in.
Retailers are figuring out how to use customer data. How has the impacted private label?
By having that data and understanding that customer, retailers will be more focused in general and have less fat. It’s the difference between throwing 100 lines in the water, versus knowing exactly what a fish will bite on. You can be more efficient in store layout, marketing and price point, and you can focus on the customer you know is walking in the door and not worry about appealing to everyone.
How is Amazon impacting the space?
I like what I see happening. I like where retailers are going with experience and identity. I look at Amazon, and I love how they’re making shopping easier and efficient. But I don’t believe there is anything to be afraid of. There’s room for everyone. My prediction is everyone is going to become more efficient as a result from dealing with Amazon. — Hilary Milnes