Tag Archives: SXSW

Looking back at SXSW: wearables, privacy and avoiding bandwagons

14 Mar

This article first appeared on The Business of Fashion 

Rachel Arthur recaps the highlights of this year’s SXSW Interactive conference and identifies key takeaways for the fashion industry.

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AUSTIN, United States — The marketing and tech crowd hit Austin, Texas, once again this week for the annual SXSW Interactive conference, bringing with them more members of the fashion industry than ever before. There were representatives from long-time attendees like Burberry and Bergdorf Goodman, alongside a flurry of first timers from Parisian fashion houses and UK department stores alike, a sure sign of technology’s increasingly pervasive impact on fashion retail.

Thought of as an incubator for tech-enabled creativity which aims to provide a “view on the future,” the annual event is overloaded with keynotes, panel discussions and pop-up events, not to mention a trade show floor. But, as usual, much of the action also happened off-piste, in spontaneous conversations at hundreds of events and parties.

Here, we’ve compiled some key takeaways, on themes ranging from wearable technology to consumer privacy.

The State of Wearables

It was clear wearables — an emerging category of personal accessories with embedded sensors, displays and other digital technology (such as Nike’s FuelBand, Google Glass and Apple’s rumoured iWatch) — were going to be a key topic even before SXSW began. They’d dominated the scene at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas each January and over 60 sessions addressed the topic, up from a mere handful last year.

Speakers unanimously agreed that the category is advancing rapidly. American basketball star Shaquille O’Neal even made an appearance to discuss his new interest in wearable technology with Rick Valencia of Qualcomm. Yet despite predictions that the market for wearables could reach $30-$50 billion over the next 3 to 5 years, the growing consensus was that mass adoption was still a ways off. On Google Glass, Robert Scoble (author and startup liason officer of Rackspace) said: “This is one of those products you know is the future, but it’s so unfinished at this point that it’s frustrating. It’s three to five years away before it’s really useful.”

And indeed, it was the word ‘useful,’ more than design or aesthetics — which the current crop of wearables are widely thought to lack — that came up the most. Jennifer Darmour, user experience design director at Artefact, said she has a drawer full of wearables that she had worn for just a week or two each before abandoning them. There was too much focus on novelty, she said, rather than on creating real functional value. “We’ve been taking a technology and trying to find a problem for that technology, instead of the other way round,” she added. “We need a more human-centric approach.”

Q Manning, chief executive of app design company Rocksauce Studios, agreed: “We need to solve problems. Just because we can build it, doesn’t mean we should. We need to pinpoint will this actually be useful? Is it beneficial? Will it help me live my life better?”

Jay Morgan, digital creative director of Havas Worldwide, added: “When wearable tech becomes [part of our] normal clothes and we don’t have to [actively] interact with it, it’s not then going to be about whether people care about it, it’s just going to be a part of your life. That’s what brands need to think about it now.”

Managing Privacy

Privacy was another key topic at SXSW this year, perhaps unsurprisingly as whistleblower Edward Snowden gave one of the headline talks. Appearing via Google Hangout from an undisclosed location in Russia, Snowden called on the technology community to help protect privacy rights by building them into technical standards. “There is a policy response that needs to occur, but there is also a technical response that needs to occur,” he said. “It is the development community that can really craft the solutions and make sure we are safe.”

Christopher Soghoian, principle technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, added: “I really think that consumers need to rethink their relationship with many of the companies to whom they entrust their private data. I really think what this comes down to is if you are getting the service for free, the company isn’t going to be optimising your experience with your best interests in mind.”

While Soghoian was referring to Internet services like Facebook, the issue of consumer privacy should be of concern to retailers as well, as they increasingly collect and leverage personal data.

“The bottom line is data should not be collected without people’s knowledge and consent,” said Snowden. “If data is being clandestinely acquired and the public doesn’t have any way to review it and it is not legislatively authorised, it is not reviewed by courts, it is not consonant with our constitution — that is a problem.”

For others, the issue of privacy and personal data was seen in the context of a value exchange, with consumers increasingly willing to reveal information in return for benefit. “The more utility you get, the more you’re going to have to give away your privacy,” said Scoble, adding he’d happily do so himself in return for more useful and personalised experiences. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, agreed: “I’m excited about data being about me. The marketer gets a certain amount of value in the stats on my demographic, but the real value is for me.”

Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, said the way forward was giving consumers control of their data. “We are now developing technologies to give people control over who manages their data and how. We are ensuring privacy, so it will be very easy and very comfortable for them to give their data over and get something out of it.”

Avoiding Bandwagons

Elsewhere at SXSW, conversation swirled around everything from “embeddables” (technology emebedded in the world around us, such that “virtually any human activity we can think of is going to be modified and amplified with an invisible mesh of data and processing that we will drift through obliviously,” according to one panel) to bioengineering. But ultimately, “good technology is no excuse for a bad idea,” said Paul Kemp-Robertson, co-founder and editorial director of marketing consultancy and magazine, Contagious. “It’s easy to jump onto bandwagons just because a new technology looks cool. Everyone enjoys feeling like that little kid chasing after the bright, shiny tool in the distance. But in this age of service design and living data, if a marketing idea is not useful, relevant or entertaining, then really there’s very little point in letting it loose on the world.”

Kristina Simmons, a partner at leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, agreed. Wearable technology, for example, should not be a priority just because everyone is talking about it. “It needs to be something that makes sense for your business. It’s about thinking about your top five priorities, versus saying I want to do something with wearables.”

“Innovation isn’t just giant leaps and bounds and the sexy stuff — it’s also about the basics and thinking about how we do things better. Incremental changes can make a big difference too,” said Will Young, director of Zappos Labs.

“Being first has always been a big thing,” said Ben Malbon, Google’s head of creative partnerships. “But the future is here already. We should use the existing tools we have on the table. Innovation doesn’t need invention.”

Could this be the year fashion makes its mark at Cannes Lions?

15 May

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There was a great article written by Rei Inamoto, chief creative officer of AKQA, for AdAge last year about why Cannes Lions, the international festival of creativity – otherwise known as advertising’s biggest global awards – trumps SXSW in terms of content.

“At events like SXSW, there is a lot of information. And information can become useful knowledge for marketers. However, what really moves people is inspiration. And that’s where Cannes keeps its edge for marketers. While SXSW may be about informing and finding that Next Big Thing, Cannes’ focus has been about pushing this industry of ours forward,” he says.

It reflects my own sentiments exactly. I’m well versed in both, but Cannes likewise wins for me* largely because of both the curation and the quality of its content. This is the place where true leaders come together to share not only best in class work, but overarching ideas and thoughts for the future of this space.

It’s a week where inspiration is utterly abound (alongside copious vats of rosé of course). Speakers over the last couple of years have spanned former US president Bill Clinton, Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Redford, Sir John Hegarty, Alain de Botton, Patti Smith, Aaron Sorkin and more.

Yet it’s SXSW that the fashion industry has managed to get a good grip on in terms of its relevance to them – all manner of luxury brands and major retailers have been in attendance these past couple of years, as I’ve previously covered, to source both content and opportunities for partnerships within the largely tech-focused world. Of course at SXSW there are now huge volumes of agency folk too, and at Cannes an increasing number of technology companies.

Two years ago I wrote this article about the significant lack of fashion presence throughout Cannes. It focused on the fact that fashion communications remained largely about print ads selling product over campaigns selling ideas, a viewpoint I still hold at large, but certainly one that is beginning to shift. In doing so, it’s sparking more relevance than ever for these brands to start making an appearance at Cannes, both on the delegates list and in those nominated for awards.

The great news is, 2013 looks like the year that might take shape.

Just announced is news that Burberry CCO Christopher Bailey will take to the stage on the Friday of the festival (it runs from June 16-22) to talk about “digital’s creative revolution” with Google’s head of marketing, Lorraine Twohill. From the write-up, as well as prior news from Google, that event will be the kick off for another impressive digital project from the brand.

Burberry is one of a number, alongside adidas and Volkswagen, involved in Google’s Art, Copy & Code initiative, a follow-up to its Project Re-Brief last year. This is “a series of projects and experiments to show how creativity and technology can work hand in hand”.

The write-up for the session at Cannes adds: “How do you engage your audience when ad views are voluntary? What happens when the physical and digital worlds intersect? How can data enable creativity? What if ads didn’t have to look or feel like ads? The only way to find the answers is through risk taking and experimentation.”

[Side note here as to Google’s subtle but increasing infiltration into the fashion industry across all aspects of its business – way beyond just search].

Elsewhere at Cannes there are other fashion types in attendance too – Vivienne Westwood speaking with SapientNitro to “de-construct the narrative behind some of the most innovative stories of all-time”, and photographer Annie Leibovitz as part of a panel discussing the “genesis, evolution and continued success of the global ‘Disney Dream Portraits Series’.”

Watch this space…

And do also keep an eye out for the free daily live-streams being offered from the festival for the first time this year… there will undoubtedly be some good ones to choose from.

*Full disclaimer: I am employed by the same parent company as Cannes Lions. My opinion would stand regardless.

A look back at SXSW Interactive – key takeaways for the fashion industry

18 Mar

This article first appeared on The Business of Fashion

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AUSTIN, United States With some 30,000 people in town for the 20th annual SXSW Interactive conference, not to mention hundreds of keynote talks, panels, exhibitions, meet-ups and parties to both participate in (and get distracted by) each day, you’d be forgiven for feeling completely overwhelmed by the whole affair.

The festival aims to provide a “view on the future” and is predominantly focused on the technology space. This year’s conference was headlined by Elon Musk, a South Africa-born, American engineer and entrepreneur who co-founded the groundbreaking electric car company Tesla, as well as payment system PayPal, and is the founder and CEO of SpaceX, the world’s first commercial company to deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station. Musk spoke about a manned mission to Mars and shared a video of a reusable rocket that could, for the first time, land back on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter. Former American vice president Al Gore, likewise, touched on all manner of big ideas, including the genetic engineering of spider goats. Meanwhile, there was tremendous buzz surrounding Grumpy Cat, the real-life meme with whom conference attendees queued up to have their photograph taken.

But for the fashion industry from which there’s a growing contingent that comes to town for the event how much was relevant? The answer is lots.

Part of the beauty of SXSW is, of course, meeting up with digitally-minded people from across the sector. But, without doubt, the most powerful insights are gleaned by stepping outside the fashion bubble and learning from other industries. The challenge is being able to distill down the key takeaways. So here goes.

The Maker Movement

This year’s festival was opened by Bre Pettis, CEO of New York-based 3D printing company MakerBot Industries, who said that cheaply available and easy-to-use desktop fabrication tools would give rise to “the next industrial revolution.”

“We’re empowering people to make stuff, faster and in more affordable ways,” he said, announcing the MakerBot Digitizer, a machine which can scan any physical object between three and eight inches tall and replicate it. Think of it as “a real-world copy and paste,” he added.

In another talk, Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO and co-founder of 3D printing marketplace and community Shapeways, said: “3D printing is so incredibly quick that what we’re doing is design-manufacturing.” Indeed, soon we will be able to not only buy an item online and print it out at home, but manipulate it first, to create a truly personalised product. Though the textiles aren’t quite there yet, a dress that’s downloadable in different fabrications and, better yet, a perfect fit, isn’t that far off.

Mike Senese, a senior editor at Wired, expects brands to swiftly take hold of this opportunity. NASA, Ford and Nokia are already doing so, while Nike, without the large official presence it had last year to launch its FuelBand, was quietly using the networking effects of SXSW to spread news of its new Vapor Laser Talon shoe. Created for American football players, it features a lightweight 3D printed plate, crafted using Selective Laser Sintering technology (SLS) and designed to improve acceleration.

Kimberly Ovitz, who featured 3D printed jewellery in her Autumn/Winter 2013 New York Fashion Week show, this February, was also on site at SXSW. She said that, for the fashion industry, the beauty of the technology at this stage comes down to timelines. Not only can she better keep up with consumer demand by delivering her jewellery within a two-week timeline, but she’s also that much further ahead of the fast fashion outlets who copy her.

Digital Meets Physical

Importantly, hardware dominated the discussion at this year’s SXSW, marking a major move away from the app-focused conversation of the past (SXSW was the launchpad for both Twitter and Foursquare in 2007 and 2010, respectively).

Unsurprisingly, Google Glass got a lot of airtime, with a number of individuals spotted trying out the augmented reality headsets around the festival’s convention center and a live demonstration hosted by Timothy Jordan, Google’s senior developer advocate, who showcased third party apps from companies like The New York Times and Path and introduced the tech crowd to Google Glass’ Mirror API. Expect much more on this front.

Google also introduced a talking shoe (that reminds wearers to be more active) in collaboration with adidas as part of the tech giant’s “Art, Copy and Code” initiative. It was prime example of the so-called ‘Internet of Things,’ the trend towards everyday objects becoming networked. Although still just a concept, the trainers feature sensors that track a user’s speed and performance and speak to them directly (via a speaker) or their phones (via Bluetooth) to encourage movement.

Leap Motion, meanwhile, was widely called “the Nike FuelBand of 2013″ in terms of the buzz it generated. A device about the size of a USB stick that plugs into any Mac or PC, it allows users to control a screen with hand gestures alone. Technically, it’s a step on from Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect for the precision it allows. The device can track individual finger movements with accuracy up to one-hundredth of a millimetre. It also retails for only $79.99 and will ship in May.

Collaboration

Amidst all the new technology launches and cross-pollination of big ideas, came a call for greater collaboration. For Elon Musk and Al Gore, that meant fostering collaboration amongst institutions to solve major problems that no single company could address alone. For many brands, it meant embracing their consumer communities.

The team at Lego shared their focus on being “fans of our fans.” With the launch of its crowdsourcing site Cuusoo, the company is empowering their most engaged customers to design their own products, the best of which are actually manufactured. Peter Espersen, head of online communities for the Lego Group, said there was value, not only in listening to your consumers, but setting goals on what you hope to achieve from them.

PepsiCo hosted a similar panel (the company’s fans have helped produce ads for the Super Bowl and create new flavours of Lays Potato Chips). “When you give people a forum to express themselves, you unearth things you never expected to find,” said Jen Saenz, Frito-Lay’s senior director of brand marketing. She addressed the idea of creating a circle of advocacy that could likewise apply to any fashion house: sourcing information, doing something with that information, feeding that back to fans, listening to their reaction and acting upon it.

Not surprisingly, data was a big part of this conversation. In particular, Saenz highlighted the deep level of insight Frito-Lay now has about its customers’ flavour preferences across geography, information it would never have been able to source at such scale using traditional methods.

But despite the focus on crowdsourcing, the importance of powerful storytelling (beyond what the facts, figures and feedback might show) rang throughout the festival. Ultimately, breaking through the noise, said Gary Goldhammer, senior vice president at H+K Strategies, means adding something remarkable and unexpected. “What makes for great storytelling is 1+1=3.”

Capturing #SXSW Interactive’s fashion crowd

13 Mar

Hundreds of individuals can be spotted out and about during SXSW toting hefty cameras, ready at any moment to snap the über eccentric crowd for their various street style blogs…

During the music portion of the festival that is.

During Interactive, it’s somewhat of a different affair. The nerds are in town, an estimated 28,000 of them, and the style bloggers don’t so much follow. But there is a little bit of fashion hanging around in there too. Honest!

So as a little bit of a joke, my dear friend Sarah Owen captured some of them for me during Monday’s Fashion Brain Bar, thrown by Fashion’s Collective.

The best thing about the resulting mini gallery below, is it epitomises Fashion & Mash, each of those featured working at the very crossroads of designer and digital for the likes of Net-a-Porter, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Aritzia, WGSN, Moving Image & Content and the aforementioned Fashion’s Collective. There is also, of course, the lovely Cannon Hodge from Bergdorf Goodman, and Aliza Licht, better known as DKNY PR Girl, in there too.

SXSW is all about what’s next; in our industry, these are some of the people really paving the way…

More insight to follow from the festival keynotes and panels soon…

#SXSW Interactive in prep: a fashionable playing ground for 2013

4 Mar

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If there was one thing I learnt from SXSW last year, it was that I absolutely had to go again in 2013. On top of the fact it’s the place to hear industry leaders  give expert insights, the place to learn about new innovations and source fresh inspirations, and the place where trends and directions for the tech world break… it’s also a breeding ground for incredible networking.

For anyone working within the fashion-meets-digital space, this seems especially the case this year, with more attendees headed to Austin from our industry than ever, as well as a host of relevant events to go with it.

Fashion’s Collective is hosting one of them, known as the Fashion Brain Bar on Monday, March 11 (as pictured above). It’s aim is to provide a bit of respite from the insanity of the festival, but also a space for everyone to meet the people they need to meet and have “the conversations that will play a key role in the advancements we’ll see over the next few years”.

Industry experts on hand will include Raman Kia, executive director of integrated strategy at Condé Nast through to Dave Gilboa, founder of Warby Parker. The full list can be seen here, as well as a space to submit questions to them in advance.

Another fringe event planned is called The Neighborhood. Created by AvecMode and 2nd Street District, it’s a move on from the Style X event of previous years, which brought a fashion focus (complete with runway shows) to Austin nearer the end of the festival. This time plans are in place from March 11 – 14 with a bit more of an industry edge. There are pop-up stores still, but also Q&A sessions with pros from the likes of Neiman Marcus, Michael Kors, Lyst, Refinery29 and more, as well as highlight interviews with menswear designers John Varvatos and Billy Reid.

The main SXSW schedule does of course feature a number of fashion-specific events too, including this one with Nina Garcia focused on the democratisation of high fashion. And this one featuring New York’s “digital it-crowd” in Aliza Licht, Cannon Hodge, Erika Bearman and John Jannuzzi (that’d be DKNY, Bergdorf Goodman, Oscar de la Renta and Lucky Magazine).

Fashion’s Collective has also published a survival guide to the whole five days, including must-attend events (lots of them non-fashion which I would highly recommend, there’s nothing like being inspired from outside your normal remit), as well as a handful of food and drink recommendations (indispensable).

I also love this guide from Andrew Hyde, called Ditch the Marketers, Find the Makers, it sums up the rest of the experience beautifully (be friendly to everyone, sit down when you can, put down your tech and look at people – yes really).

On that note mind you, if you’re going, drop me a line over Twitter. Assuming I can connect, I’d love to meet you.

BOF: Looking back at #SXSW Interactive

17 Mar

Covering the rise of the connected fan, through to the uneven impact of curation, not to mention the success of Nike and Amex in Austin, this is a great round-up piece by The Business of Fashion on everything that happened during SXSW Interactive. Check it out.

#SXSW Interactive: Fashion’s greatest challenge lies in realigning production with communications

16 Mar

“If I were the CEO of a major fashion brand today, my focus would be on trying to compress the production cycle so it realigned with communications,” Imran Amed, founder and editor of The Business of Fashion, said at SXSW earlier this week.

Speaking on a panel called Who needs a fashion cycle? I’ve got social media, he explained that we’re at the beginning of a seismic change in the way consumers communicate with each other, make decisions, and ultimately purchase.  It’s only by changing the operational side of what we do, he said, that we’re going to be able to catch up.

As we all know, the internet has revolutionised this industry. Where once fashion shows were private trade events, now they’re more consumer facing than ever before, highlighted Michelle Sadlier, global digital communications consultant for Karla Otto International, and moderator of the session.

Designer collections used to only be seen by the public when they hit shop floors six months later – or the pages of the magazines just before. Now they’re viewable in real-time. The likes of Twitter and Instagram, not to mention bloggers and live-streams, mean consumers have the same level of access, at exactly the same time, as those invited to the catwalk presentations.

The issue of course, is that the operational side of the process is still the same. Rather than speeding up alongside, production has remained a lengthy and complicated system. The user is subsequently seeing something online, that isn’t available to buy for a further four to six months.

This gap, said Chris Morton, founder and CEO of fashion discovery site Lyst, means brands are missing out on capturing that “intent to purchase at the point of inspiration”.

He referenced a handful of companies attempting to address this: Burberry’s Runway to Reality initiative – where viewers can shop straight from the catwalk for delivery in just eight weeks – for example, as well as start-up Moda Operandi, which offers a similar solution across a variety of brand names.

Lyst itself launched a Runway Tracking service last September, which at least reminds consumers of the items they liked, by sending them a notification once they’re available to buy.

Amed however, said while each of these ideas is attempting to work around the issues, they’re not actually solving the problem. This is the industry’s biggest challenge, he added, and there’s no easy solution.

One of his suggestions was to create two separate events around the shows. One small and quiet for trade to see the season ahead, and the other a big, all-out affair for consumers, timed so it’s in sync with the actual season. So in other words, shifting the position of the fashion show as we know it today, so it sits at the end of the cycle rather than the beginning.

Of course to do so, would mean skipping a season, something Natalie Massanet, founder of Net-a-Porter, first suggested to Amed in an interview in 2010. No mean feat to pull off…

Which takes us back full circle to the very first line of this post. At the end of the day the company that masters how to realign the production cycle with the communications one, will be the one that finds success. And the likeliest way of achieving that right now, is by focusing first on compressing operations.

Watch this space.

#SXSW Interactive: a new must on the fashion calendar

15 Mar

I have just returned from the most incredible week at SXSW Interactive, where speakers varied from Al Gore and Sean Parker, to Ray Kurweil, Biz Stone and Dennis Crowley.

I’m in the midst of finishing off a piece on the key thoughts and ideas from the week – to be published elsewhere [UPDATE: if you’re interested please email me for a copy].

In the meantime, I wanted to write one very short and simple blogpost that says, if you’re a fashion brand aiming to achieve anything along the lines of digital success, you need to go next year.

SXSW is the place to hear industry leaders (aforementioned and more) give expert insights; it’s the place to learn about new innovations and source fresh inspirations; and it’s the place where trends and directions for the tech world break.

But more importantly, it’s the hottest place to network with anyone and everyone also working in this space. Serendipity as Mashable calls it here. From meeting new start-ups and coordinating with established platforms, to swapping ideas with those from your own industry, it’s the perfect playing ground for getting your head both in the game and ahead of the curve.

And if that isn’t convincing enough, it speaks volumes to see which brands are already doing it. There this year were teams from Burberry, Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorfs, Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi… not to mention fashion-specific platforms including Lyst and publications from The Business of Fashion and WGSN, to Fashion’s Collective.

It was undoubtedly one of the most valuable experiences of my career to date.

I hope to see you there in 2013!

Digital snippets: Jean Paul Gaultier, Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Cartier

9 Mar

I’ve just arrived at SXSW in Austin, Texas, for a few days, where I’m very excited to see there looks set to be more fashion-related content than ever before. Stay tuned for coverage on that, and please excuse the hiatus otherwise throughout it.

In the meantime, here’s a look at a few more stories surrounding all things fashion and digital over the past week:

 

  • Jean Paul Gaultier releases first film of three-part mini series in new role as creative director of Diet Coke (as above) [Fashionista]
  • Barneys launches shoppable video for spring CO-OP campaign [The Window]
  • Neiman Marcus tests new customer service app [WWD]
  • Cartier embarks on multi-channel Odyssey campaign [L2 Think Tank]
  • Leading Pinterest user to ‘Live Pin’ for fashion label Calypso St. Barth [Mashable]
  • Online fashion outlet Nasty Gal raises $9m from Index Ventures [TechCrunch]
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