Rebecca Taylor, Janice Sullivan, and Bruce Migliaccio: Innovation in Fashion

During the first day of Business Today’s 2017 International Conference, Janice Sullivan and Bruce Migliaccio, respectively President and COO & CFO at Rebecca Taylor, addressed nine University students on the challenges and successes of working in the challenging, highly competitive and highly creative sector of the fashion industry in an Executive Seminar at Business Today’s 43rd Annual International Conference in Manhattan.

In the hour long seminar, they stressed creative vision as essential to steering the success and growth of a high quality brand like Rebecca Taylor. According to Janice Sullivan, the fashion industry is currently “undergoing a change of seismic proportions,” fueled by consumers spending less on clothes and more on experiences like vacations, destination weddings, spa treatments, and travel.

Furthermore, fashion is “no longer the chief authority,” says Sullivan. Where in the past consumers followed a higher style authority set by a fashion house, stylistic power is now in the hands of the consumers. Furthermore, with the flood of visuals flooding consumers through social media, on Instagram in particular, consumers are wearing through trends faster than ever.

Since fashion brands depend on increasing consumers' desire to spend their expendable income, brands are often tempted to alter products and hence character to meet current trends. But though trends can change quickly, fashion houses can’t drastically change personalities over and over.

In a world of fast fashion, executives like Janice Sullivan and Bruce Migliaccio must constantly make decisions to develop their brand further, while preserving its character and idea. Sullivan emphasized how she constantly finds herself questioning if a decision follows the creative vision of the company. The best decisions only move the creative vision forward.

While technology and trends will change, a core understanding of business operations and trend and data analysis will remain essential to any undergraduate contemplating a career in fashion. In their seminar, both Sullivan and Migliacco spoke about the different routes professional take in the field.

Sullivan always knew she wanted to work in fashion, campaigning to go to fashion school from a young age and later attending the Fashion Institute of Technology. Migliaccio was originally pre-med at Columbia University, but gave it up after failing an organic chemistry exam and realizing how much he hated the concentration. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, and entered the fashion industry working in finance and accounting for the USA branch of GFT.

He also worked for Giorgio Armani before joining Rebecca Taylor. He shared his career path during the seminar to demonstrate to the students the long-term development of a career in fashion, pointing out that it took him twenty five years, until Rebecca Taylor, to work within an in-country fashion brand. Sullivan and Migliacco’s other advice for students was simple: grow your leadership skills, master public speaking, and surprisingly enough, learn a foreign language. And lastly, when working in fashion, do everything in service to the creative vision.

To this end, both Sullivan and Migliaccio firmly believe that innovation in fashion only works if it corresponds to and supports this same creative vision. They cited an example from Rebecca Taylor’s boutiques, where the company considered installing smart tech and digital mirrors in fitting rooms to make sizing and the fitting process easier, similar to companies Neiman Marcus and Ralph Lauren which have already utilized this technology.

For Rebecca Taylor, however, this was the wrong choice; smarter fitting room tech wouldn’t mean anything in the context of a boutique experience that centers on personal styling and face to face interaction with employees. Instead, innovation that is relevant and lasting to small and large brands alike is a new emphasis on constant visual communication and its direct relationship with online shopping.

Instagram links, influencers, and clothing delivery services like Stitch Fix have in a large way eliminated the store altogether, increasing the divide between close personal attention in boutiques and the complete lack of human interaction online. Capturing the consumer’s desire now relies on a bombardment of images or close boutique relationships.

This visual revolution is an innovation itself and will lead to further innovation, such as Virtual Reality and robotics, which Sullivan and Migliaccio think will soon begin to dramatically shape the fashion industry. Despite the anticipation of these changes, however, both executives are loyal to the concept of a steadfast creative vision.  As a brand, Rebecca Taylor will not sacrifice the quality of its design in order to use trendy tech or innovation just for innovation’s sake, as its brand image is the most important marketing strategy of all.