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Op-Ed | The Fashion-Tech Revolution Needs More Women

For new digital innovations in fashion and retail to resonate with female customers, women must be part of the technology teams that build them, argues Rebecca Minkoff.
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  • Rebecca Minkoff

NEW YORK, United States — Six words are all it took to undo months of work and countless dollars of research and development: "This mirror makes me look fat."

It was the last thing that anyone on our team wanted or expected to hear during the pre-launch preview of the interactive dressing rooms for our flagship store. Until that day, despite an extraordinary investment into our vision of building what have been called the “store of the future,” we somehow forgot to properly solicit the opinion of female millennials. They simply hadn’t been on the engineering team.

I started my company by breaking the rules in fashion from a sixth floor walk-up apartment. Everyone told me there was a certain way to do things: keep your customers at arm’s length and build your brand using glossy print campaigns, even at a time when everyone my age was beginning to use social media to engage with each other. But together with my brother Uri, a former software executive, we rewrote the industry’s rulebook, routing around traditional gatekeepers and speaking directly with our consumers through creative uses of emerging technologies. We couldn’t afford to advertise in fashion magazines anyway and, instead, grew our business by being smarter on social media and by adopting the kind of cutting-edge data analytics tools that have helped us see and be seen by our customers. As a result, we’ve managed to build one of the fastest growing brands in the fashion industry and the largest label led by a millennial female designer.

When it came time to design our first store, we spent months figuring out how to use technology to enhance the in-store experience and deployed, among other innovations, interactive digital dressing room mirrors that customers can use to seamlessly request specific items and sizes, or call a sales assistant. But our state-of-the-art dressing rooms made her look terrible and our developers didn’t even notice, because there wasn’t a single woman working on the engineering team. As someone who starts my design process with my customer in mind, this feedback hit hard. In an instant, I realised that in order to design a technology experience that resonated with our audience, it was essential that our audience be part of the process.

Women should be the creators, not just the consumers, of our increasingly digital future.

We’re living through an extraordinary period of transformation, where disciplines like fashion and technology are converging. I may not have an engineering degree, but as we develop new digital innovations to scale our brand, I need technology partners who understand how my customers see the world and right now there aren’t enough women in technology.

Women make up half the US workforce, but less than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals. Despite the fact that 80 percent of jobs in the next decade will require technology skills, only 0.4 percent of female college freshman intend to major in computer science. As a female entrepreneur whose business is built on connecting with our audience through new technologies, this is seriously concerning. The lack of female participation in technology and engineering is already having consequences not just for our ability to continue to engage our consumer, but for the future of innovation.

If women don’t get involved in the technology revolution, who will advocate for our preferences and our needs? We’ll either get stuck with the “shrink it and pink it” approach (just Google “Bic for Her”) or we won’t be taken into consideration at all. Either way, the next generation of emerging technologies will have little chance of resonating with us or solving our problems. We need women to design technology for women. Some tech companies have told us that the lack of women on their teams is just the way it is. But that’s not good enough. It’s time to change the rulebook.

I want to expand the pipeline of female technology engineers and help provide women around the world with opportunities to learn and lead through science, technology, engineering and math education and careers. Studies show that when girls learn what engineers do, 75 percent become interested in the field, therefore it’s imperative that we drive more awareness about the possibilites that STEM education can unleash.

This year, I’ll be travelling to cities and college campuses around the country. We want young women to understand how technology and problem-solving skills will help them express themselves creatively. We want to talk to the girls who are designing cool emerging technologies. We want to hear their ideas and integrate their technologies into our customer experiences and products. Through the college tours and other events like design ideation camps and hackathons, we aim to connect college-age women to role models and career opportunities that further encourage them to pursue a future in technology and engineering.

Women should be the creators, not just the consumers, of our increasingly digital future. As a millennial woman leading a global company known for its innovation in the tech space, I know both my business and our economy depend on it.

Rebecca Minkoff is the co-founder and creative director of Rebecca Minkoff, a contemporary women's brand based in New York. The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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