Technology was very much on the minds of the panelists and other participants in “Powerful Women in Retail/Fashion,” which the Business Journal and its parent company, Westfair Communications, presented Jan. 14 at The College of New Rochelle, host and co-sponsor.
“Online shopping is growing like crazy. It’s now 25 percent of the business,” said Barbara LaMonica, founding partner of the LaMonica-Baas Group, a global wholesale and retail fashion consulting firm.
LaMonica, a former senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Bergdorf Goodman, was joined on the panel by Joyce F. Brown, president of the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan; Julie Gaynor, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus Westchester in White Plains; and Kara Mendelsohn, creative director and designer of cooper & ella, a contemporary fashion brand for women. Some 250 fashionistas were on hand for a discussion that often came back to the relationship between the very tactile world of fashion and the digital world.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, online and in-store shopping feed one another, as stores offer different collections in both, the panelists noted. Technology also can be a tool for the retailer. Neiman Marcus equips its sales associates with iPhones, Gaynor said, so that they’re only a few taps away from the customer or what he needs.
“A lot of people still want that human connection,” she said, and, perhaps not-so-ironically, the digital revolution can facilitate it.
Social media, too, can be a powerful tool in introducing new designers to retail, which like publishing and other industries can be a tough nut to crack. But if a newbie can demonstrate a following on the Net or at a recent event covered on the Net, that can go a long way to getting his or her well-heeled foot in the door. Mendelsohn, who has worked for Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs, recommended that domain-name registrar GoDaddy.com be the aspirant’s first stop on the road to building a successful website.
There is, Mendelsohn said, one area in which fashion and technology will continue to keep separate company and that is wearable tech. Wristlets for your cell, a cool watch that does more than tell time? Yes. But Google Glass — a combination of eyeglasses and a computer? Or even a shirt that measures your vital signs? Not so much, she said, unless perhaps you’re an athlete.
What matters in fashion, panelists said, is what has always mattered — fabric and cut. And that is why designers, retailers and shoppers alike will seek out what they want at home and abroad, high-end and low.
So American-made? Yes and no.
“Often you’re not getting the same fit (from abroad),” Joyce Brown said. “The American body has a different fit than those in other places in the world.”
On the other hand, Mendelsohn said, “some of the most beautiful product comes out of Asia.”
The event sponsors were Sterling National Bank, Entergy, The Greenwich Medical Skincare and Laser Spa, Bigelow Tea Co., Drs. Maria Lufrano and George and Jeffrey T. Shapiro, and White Plains Hospital. Supporters were Gallery 66 NY, The Dessertist, the Westchester Library System, the Women’s Enterprise Development Center, The Women’s Business Development Council and Professional Women of Westchester.