October 31, 2022
Diane von Furstenberg launched a movement dedicated to empowering women to be leaders who advocate for themselves and inspire others with her DVF InCharge Series. Each month, DVF invites the community to their Showroom in Manhattan (swoon!) to share their personal stories, professional experiences, and expert advice with attendees.
I was honored and beyond excited to be asked to moderate last week’s discussion. Fashion and fierce women? Sign me up!
I was joined by Gabby Hirata, President and CEO of DVF, Emily Mullins, Former GM of Global Business and Product Director for Performance Running at Reebok, and Pippa Newman, President of Accessories and Footwear for Michael Kors. During our session, we covered key topics including the challenges women still face in the workplace today, how to use data to get closer to consumers and strengthen your voice, and why embracing technology and change are critical to success (but not always easy!).
I came away from our conversation feeling so inspired by these incredible women that I wanted to take a moment to reflect on our discussion and share it with you. Let’s dive into some of the key takeaways and major highlights!
Toward the beginning of our chat, Emily revealed that she started her career in the tech industry and that one of the secrets to her success in fashion has been the use of technology to help her teams stay connected and move quickly. Not only did her team implement the Agile Methodology during her time at Reebok, but she also put the tools and processes in place to help decision-makers from design to marketing share information, collaborate, and achieve alignment. “It was eye-opening to see how the creation side of this team was so thirsty for more information and for the data the marketing teams held,” she said.
Pippa’s team at Michael Kors is also focused on digital transformation and shifting from analog methods of decision that make it hard to keep version control in check, like spreadsheets, to PLM software, 3D CAD technology, and Voice of Consumer platforms. She credits 3D CADs with bringing her team together, getting them excited about accelerating the product creation process, and giving them “some skin in the game,” as we like to say in tech.
Technology not only helps teams get closer to each other but to their brands’ consumers, as well. “You can look at it as trying to keep pace with consumers, you can also look at it as how can you stand out with all of the noise and rapid change of options out there. So in some ways, I think you can use technology to actually slow down and connect with your consumer and build a real relationship with them,” said Emily. “Shoppers can really buy products anywhere these days. Products are just a commodity. So how do you build that relationship and how do you invest time with them? And I think that comes with understanding more about them, asking questions… and really learning about what they value.”
Pippa agreed, “There was a time where you were telling the customer exactly what to do, and now it’s listening to the customer and being really curious about their needs, their wants…. And technology helps you do that in a faster and easier way.”
Gabby credits listening to consumers and using this data to guide decisions with helping DVF achieve profitability over the last two years. “The consumer is the core of decision-making, and that’s kind of how I became a CEO,” she shared. In a perfect illustration of her point, she even asked session attendees to stick around after the panel to provide product feedback!
Next, Gabby told the audience about a time when consumer data helped her team make a surprising discovery and subsequent design updates to what they thought was DVF’s category-leading product: wrap dresses. It turned out that consumers actually preferred non-wrap dresses due to their higher neckline. These insights enabled DVF’s product creators to make specific changes that brought the style more in line with consumer preferences.
As I noted during our session, this story is a great example of how data successfully moves conversations away from subjective, sometimes unpopular, or ungrounded opinions toward objective and productive discussions. Centering decisions and innovation around what data is telling us takes any bias, agenda, or ego out of the equation, helping teams work better together to determine the best next steps. Data is a great equalizer, and I’ve been noticing a lot more women leaning into it to support their recommendations and strengthen their voices.
On a similar note, Emily shared that she finds that data can help everyone overcome fear of failure. She suggests that teams test small solutions, measure their impact, and use the data to learn and implement change at scale. “Sometimes the fear of change is because it’s built up in your head so big,” she said. “Instead, bring it down and have little wins along the way to prove out your point and then really make the case to implement those changes.”
Implementing new technologies, taking a consumer-led approach to product creation, and using data to drive decisions are all positive changes in the fashion industry. But change is hard, and leading others to embrace change is even harder. As Pippa said, “No one wants to change. I am always so amazed by how fearful people are of change, especially in the workplace.”
Fortunately, Pippa also had some advice for helping people warm up to the idea: “I always say to my teams, if I told you that in two years from now nothing was going to change in your personal life, you'd be like 'No, that's terrible. I want to move forward. I want to grow.' …It’s really about getting them to understand that change is inevitable because that's a part of life, but the growth that comes from the change is optional. And if you're a part of that, that's the exciting part. You're going to grow and go to new places."
Speaking of change, one of my favorite moments during the panel was when we talked about the skills we discovered we needed to develop as we advanced in our careers. For Emily, this involved learning how to say no. She went on to explain, “Early on in my career, team sports drove my mentality so it was about bringing everyone together and making sure that everyone is on board… As you move up in your career, you have to accept that you're going to piss people off.”
For Pippa, accepting that she didn’t have to have all the answers and learning how to listen instead was key. “It's okay not to know everything. You're not supposed to know everything,” she said. “You have teams, and you have people that you work with who are specialists in this or that. There was a time when it was really scary to say 'I don't know that.' Everyone comes with different skill sets and it’s about how you then listen to everybody in the room and take that away to then lead them... That was one thing that I learned that I did not have — the listening part."
Gabby agreed, “I think about what I don’t know all the time!” Personally, I believe there is a lot of value in being a vulnerable leader who is able to admit that you don’t know it all. We as people have had to learn everything we know today, and that’s part of the fun! Figure out what you don’t know and surround yourself with people who do.
Vulnerability was once classified as a more feminine, less valuable “soft” skill in business. But research continues to show the importance of “soft skills” like communication, empathy, and resilience when it comes to successful leadership and inspiring others. And thanks to the fabulous and brilliant Brene Brown, more people are now referring to these as “human skills.”
Emily drove this point home in our panel by saying, “You want to make sure that you're close to the people that you're working with... How do you get the most out of them? How do you motivate them to drive those business results? I think understanding the full person isn't a soft skill. It’s a human skill... tapping into why they are here, what motivates them, and what's driving them... That ultimately is going to get you the business results that you want."
“Today more than ever, human capital is such an important part of any business,” added
Pippa. “It has definitely changed over the last five or six years. Women that had leadership roles had to emulate masculine traits to succeed. It was Devil Wears Prada. Today that has shifted. As women, we do value human capital. We do understand that putting value in people is going to help make your product that much better. Allowing them the space to be human energizes them and makes them feel better and they’re going to do a better job.”
So how do you foster a work environment that makes people feel safe and able to be their full selves? “By sharing your vulnerable moments,” according to Gabby. She also makes it a point to practice empathy in her role as DVF’s CEO. Leadership is not immune to struggles, and being authentic and vulnerable is what makes us all human.
From the power of 3D CAD and consumer obsession to the wise words of Brene Brown and making change exciting, I hope you found all of these moments from this DVF InCharge session as enjoyable as I did. Who knows — maybe they’ll inspire you to start telling people “no, try your hand at data analytics,” or “go buy that new DVF wrap dress!”
I’m proud to work for a company that supports women, is on the cutting edge of data and technology, and helps leading brands become consumer obsessed. Come check us out at makersights.com! Have a question about something technology- or leadership-related that wasn’t covered in our panel? Feel free to drop me a line on my LinkedIn.
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