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Ideally, in order to excel in today’s fashion and retail marketplace a top senior executive needs to have strong engineering skills to match an experienced marketing background that informs a deep understanding of how to sell fashion products across the world. Add to this, knowledge of all the accounting requirements, investor relations skills and overall management expertise any CEO must possess. He or she also has to report to a board of directors that in many instances is only marginally educated in most of these new-world requirements. Note to self: Expand the skillsets of your boards.

Super Executives

Where do you find such a super executive? You only have to look at Apple to see a great example in chief executive officer Tim Cook.

We are living in a digital tsunami! Key executives must have a deep understanding and appreciation of the power of technology as super-tools in today’s marketplace.

Cook is an engineer by way of a university education as well as an MBA. Although it’s obvious that Apple products are technical in nature, Cook also oversees Apple’s operations all over the word. A major factor — if not the key factor in Apple’s success — is their consistently outstanding design. Their products are the best in the industries they serve. The parallel to the fashion/retail business is that it is becoming more tech-based and digital as well as reliant on great design. The process is complex, and like Apple, a fusion of intuitive touch and engineering genius.

Fashion’s Long Road to the Future

Fashion business since the 70s has been an inside out business. A designer singlehandedly decides what his or her clothes will look like from season to season. The stores then promote the look of the season. The fashion press jams the look down consumer’s throats. And the consumer either buys it…or not. That’s the way it has worked for nearly 50 years.

Today fashion design comes from the outside in. Design ideas are often inspired by street trends. The amazing amount of data available about fashion customers has changed the whole trillion-dollar industry. Add to that changes that younger consumers are demanding for customization. The combination of these forces makes it essential that companies collect and analyze masses of data.

Designers in the Digital Age

Smart designers today pay attention to their customer data and create looks that are the most attractive but also flexible. Flexibility allows customers to choose their own colors, decide on lengths as well as take advantage of a limited amount of personalization specific to each product.

Yes, the designer is still the center of the creative process. The personality of the company must come from the designer’s vision. The designer also has a big say in marketing the products. Most importantly, the designer must have a deep understanding of the digital world as it affects fashion.

One major company’s designer recently told me he had never seen business as bad as it has been during the lingering Covid-19 pandemic. Getting this major fashion company back on track will require very sophisticated digitally driven fit, production and marketing techniques to get it operating again at peak capacity.

Retail Engineers

We are living in a digital tsunami! Every single function in a company has to operate with the understanding of the impact of digital. Key executives must also have a deep respect and appreciation of the power of technology as competitive tools in today’s marketplace. The old way of preparing for an executive position in a fashion related company was to get a business, fashion merchandising or marketing degree. Today it’s important to master engineering or digital studies to add to the mix. Key executives cannot just leave everything technical up to their teams, they must understand all aspects of what today’s technological innovations mean to their company.

Work and Play

An executive’s ability to synthesize technology and the creative process can produce relevant results for next-gen customers. Gaming platforms, digitally enhanced product personalization, AR, VR, 3D, toys like talking mirrors and avatars are only the tip of the tech iceberg. There is no end in sight to the degree technology is taking over the fashion and retail industry. Don’t wait until it’s too late to build or buy the appropriate tech systems to keep your company in business.

And for the fashionistas, don’t be surprised if during the next decade holograms named Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld … Halston, Calvin or Donna show up to take a bow on your phone after a collection is introduced! If Kanye West can resurrect his father-in-law for Kim’s birthday, anything is possible.