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How to Hire for Fashion’s New World Order

Rebooting analogue organisations for a digital world starts with building the right team with the right talent profile.
From Moncler's House of Genius | Photo: Courtesy
  • Lauren Sherman

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NEW YORK, United States — On October 4, Italian luxury outerwear brand Moncler unveiled House of Genius concept shops in New York and Tokyo, showcasing its much-hyped collaborations with top design talents including Valentino's Pierpaolo Piccioli and Simone Rocha. Along with these temporary spaces, which will remain open through the end of 2018, the "Genius" project will pop up in more than 50 Moncler stores, as well as at department stores and multi-brand boutiques, across the globe. It's all part of a far-reaching initiative to overhaul the way the company attracts shoppers, whose consumption patterns are increasingly shaped by the internet.

"The world is changing, so the business must change," said Moncler chief executive Remo Ruffini last week in New York. The project is a major undertaking more than two years in the making. Last year, in a bid to catch up with consumers who now expect newness at the speed of Instagram, the company, best known for its ski jackets, replaced its bi-annual runway collections — designed by Thom Browne and Giambattista Valli — with monthly capsule collections that are co-produced with fashion superstars including Piccioli and Rocha, but also Kei Ninomiya of Noir Kei Ninomiya, Craig Green and Francesco Ragazzi of Palm Angels.

More than a marketing play, Moncler Genius has required a fundamental reorganisation of the way the billion-dollar brand operates, explained Ruffini. While few luxury brands have gone as far as Moncler, many fashion businesses are currently facing a similar challenge. Analogue organisations must reboot for a digital world that is rewiring consumer expectations and behaviours while creating new opportunities optimise performance. The task is highly complex. But one of the most essential elements is assembling the right team.

In fact, a recent Alvanon survey of nearly 650 apparel executives found that 62 percent of respondents are struggling to fill specialised, highly skilled positions that may not have existed in the past. “As the apparel industry begins to recognise and implement digitalisation as a way of delivering on speed, customisation and transparency, it is revealing gaps in the specialised skills set of its workforce,” explained Alvanon chief executive Janice Wang. “Our survey findings conclude that failure to respond to skill shortages will result in the generalisation of poor market practices and adversely impact business performance across the supply chain.”

So, how do you hire for fashion’s new world order?

At Moncler, Ruffini said he actually made very few changes to his staff, but instead sought to reorient employees by shifting the culture of the company to think in a more fluid manner. It took time for his team to process this move from seasonal collections to monthly drops, and took even more time negotiating with suppliers and reorganising logistics to make it possible. “To change the culture is everything,” he said. “You have to try convince people around you, the team around you, that the business needs to change. Now the company is full of energy.”

"We are seeing retail organisations embrace a flatter, more matrixed business structure," said Emanuel Chirico, chief executive of PVH Corp, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. "In today's environment, the speed of change requires structural agility to bring formal and informal teams together for short and long periods of time."

Victor Luis, chief executive of Tapestry, the budding American luxury group that includes Coach, Kate Spade New York and Stuart Weitzman, said he seeks out "hybrid" talents who are right-brain/left-brain, both analytical and creative. "It's that idea of magic and logic," he said. "You must understand creativity and brand-building and storytelling from a global perspective, but also understand the importance of data."

Data has become more and more essential to the fashion business, as companies realise that better information can help to align supply and demand. “Data scientists are communicating to different parts of the company, speaking more to overall strategy,” said Donata Minelli Yirmiyahu, a New York-based consultant who helps companies reorganise.

Chirico agrees. “We tend to ask ourselves, ‘What would we really like to know right now — about our customers, our associates, our partnerships — and then go find answers to those questions in the data,” he said. “We are increasingly hiring people who understand how to access our data in order to answer those business questions, and quickly deliver insights.” Fashion, Chirico added, is lagging behind other industries like consumer packaged goods when it comes to sophistication with data. “This is an evolution,” he said.

But the idea of hybrid roles certainly goes beyond data. “We’re seeing companies create roles that would traditionally be marketing and communications, but now have a foot in revenue,” Yirmiyahu said. For instance, she often advises that companies create what she likens to a “pre-CMO” role, often called “vp of digital, commerce and marketing.” It takes e-commerce — which typically fell under the retail side of the business — and blends it with marketing, because selling online has so much to do with how a company allocates its marketing budget.

And yet creativity is still what matters most for many fashion companies, even more so when consumers expect constant novelty. “At the core of everything is great product and great experiences,” Luis said. “There will always be a need for creative talent in product design and marketing. New talent can bring what I would call design energy.” Digital content creators are increasingly essential. “If you want to stay in tune with the customer, you have to remain close to them,” Ruffini said. “We need new content every day.”

Finding talent with a global outlook is also an imperative. “The world will continue to get smaller, irrespective of many of [political, cultural and financial] tensions,” Luis said. “Travel will continue to become easier, and having truly global talent that understands not only the developing markets, but also future developing markets, is crucial.” When it comes to soft skills, what is perhaps the most important quality is an openness to change. “I don’t think the pace of change of technology will slow,” Luis noted. “We continue to bring in people who understand that.”

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