Interview Spotlight: The Intersection Between Fashion and Technology
Rachel Arthur, Chief Intelligence Officer at TheCurrent
Keynote Speaker at TREND: Luxury Fashion Digital Innovators
As the Chief Intelligence Officer of global innovation firm, TheCurrent, Rachel Arthur leads the team future-proofing businesses by delivering them first-to-market insights and bespoke knowledge solutions surrounding the evolving retail, technology and innovation landscape. She has a wealth of experience in this world as both a consultant and an award-winning business journalist specialising in fashion and technology. She has contributed to titles including Forbes, Wired, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Business of Fashion and more. She delivered a TEDx talk in 2016 about the role technology needs to play to enable a more environmentally sustainable fashion industry, and has regularly been on stage at other international events including SXSW, CES and Cannes Lions.
“My (almost!) daily habit is meditation, for clarity of mind and in order to set an intention. In this connected crazy era we live in, setting aside even five minutes to do this, makes such a difference. My mantra both contradicts and supports this: “You snooze, you lose.” My Dad has said that to me my whole life, and in the context of opportunity, it’s always a good one to fall back on.”
- Tell us a bit about yourself: when did your passion for tech start?
I have been tech-obsessed since the day dot. I went to computer classes after school in the 80s, used to spend as much of my free time gaming as possible when I was a teenager, and drove my parents mad, as most of us did, with being constantly on the dial-up modem as soon as the internet came into existence in our homes. At that stage, there was no way to see fashion shows whatsoever, so I remember scouring chatrooms trying to find images of new collections before any of the rest of my peers. It still seems crazy to me that I moved into all this as a career in the end.
- We have seen a growing need for luxury brands to implement strategies that help them get closer to consumers. Do you think digital is helping brands to achieve that?
Of course! Digital has completely revolutionised the route to the customer and the relationships we can now have with them. This spans everything from more open or democratised communications thanks to the role of social media, all the way through to more personalised and relevant messaging tied to data and evolved CRM.
- How do you think technology can have an impact on the fashion industry overall?
What’s really interesting about the “fashion and tech” space is how it’s moved from being primarily a discussion about digital, into being about how we can impact the entire supply chain. Innovation used to be about marketing, now it’s filtering throughout the whole organisation, and it needs to. Today’s consumer is demanding items faster than ever, at a higher quality and with a more transparent and sustainable approach – that’s a big ask, but a necessary one in today’s market, meaning brands are having to think about how they can look at all of these different areas simultaneously. It’s not necessarily about glitz and glamour, therefore, but about how we can innovate in small incremental ways with the right partners and the right processes in order to drive true efficiencies.
- Do you believe that sustainability is finally having a presence in luxury fashion?
Sustainability is finally having more of a presence in every industry – and it has to. If there’s one thing the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals did, it was to shine a light on all the ways we need to be thinking about our approach to people and planet, no matter what walk of life, or what sector we are in. For fashion, the environmental side of things is critical because of the damage we contribute. On top of that, the customer is now demanding it more and more. For these brands, therefore, it is not only the right decision for the sake of the world in which we live, but for their own businesses and bottom lines too. A more sustainable practice, ultimately, can generate a more profitable one too.
- From your point of view, who are the leading luxury fashion innovators today?
Based on the work we do at TheCurrent, where we connect brands and retailers in the space with tech companies that can help solve their key challenges and ultimately fuel their growth, my answer for this has to be about the startups themselves. Innovation today doesn’t come just from the brands independently – yes there are those doing incredibly interesting and forward-thinking work – but it’s at the hands of the visionaries, experts and entrepreneurs that they partner with that this really happens. Our ecosystem features thousands of these names – spanning everything from the latest in machine learning through to bioengineering for the future of textiles and beyond. What I’m obsessed with is how to make magic happen by bringing the right people together, at the right time and facilitating scaleable solutions as a result.
Don’t miss Rachel Arthur speaking at #TRENDbyVERB discussing Luxury Fashion Digital Innovators on 28th of March at the Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design. Reserve your place here.