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What was the one thing that industry leaders at the HBS 11th Annual Retail & Luxury Goods Conference agreed would be the next big trend in fashion? Technology. “Weareable

tech--I don’t know what that is yet, and whoever cracks that first will be around a long time,” said Ryan Cotton, a Managing Director at Bain capital, a leading global private investment firm.

The Descience team attended the HBS conference hosted by the HBS Retail & Luxury Goods Club this past weekend, Feb 21-22. We were looking to infuse ourselves into the mindset of leaders in the fashion world, so we can best understand how to forge collaborations between designers and scientists.

What “technology” means, and how it can be incorporated into fashion, is a black box for many in the fashion world. Ryan Cotton, Heather Kaminetsky (Vice President of Marketing of The Americas, NET-A-PORTER), and Chloe Thompson (Director of Corporate Strategy, Cole Haan) unanimously agreed that they had no idea what the future of wearable tech would look like, and that they are keeping their eyes on entrepreneurs in this area.

A major theme of the conference was how brands can maintain authenticity, and connect to their customers with genuine emotions. Founders of leading brands including Derek Lam, Jan Schlottman, Jennifer Fisher, and Emily Weiss, agreed that as much as strategy and marketing can assist with a brand’s image, ultimately what makes YOUR brand unique is YOU. The fashion industry is extremely adept at turning authenticity and emotion into a commodity, and people overwhelmingly buy in. In contrast, science and technology is often seen as devoid of emotion and disconnected from personalities of scientists. Fashion teaches us that emotion sells; could the fashion industry, with its appeal to emotions, be used to expose and communicate science? Would people be more receptive to learning scientific concepts if they trust in the authenticity of the medium, in this case their relationship with a specific clothing brand?

Fashion is a seasonal industry, and people in the retail world are very aware of market shifts. Many agree that the industry has been stagnant in recent years, and that it awaits a new major disruptor. Is science + fashion the next disruptor in the industry? We think it is, and leaders at the conference seemed to think so too.

Photo caption: The incredible speakers at the Founder's Forum: Lisa Smilor, Derek Lam, Jan Shlottman, Emily Weiss, and Jennifer Fisher.

Photo credit: Julia Borden

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