maven46 meets: Rachel Arthur

The founder of Fashion & Mash

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Words by Síomha Connolly
January 24th, 2017

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As a fellow woman in tech, we were keen to find out more about Rachel Arthur’s website, Fashion & Mash, which documents the latest happenings in fashion, digital communications and technology. Tracking the evolution of the industry, Fashion & Mash was founded in 2011 and has now grown to also include regular events for its real life #FashMash community. We spoke to Rachel about her typical work day running Fashion & Mash, the biggest fash-tech trends of 2017 and the most innovative brand campaigns that stood out for her in 2016.

On her typical work day…

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a typical work day for me, which is what makes it so enjoyable. I split my time between running the Fashion & Mash site, writing for other publications, and running a consultancy business. All of it is tied to the intersection of fashion, digital communications and technology – or as I like to think of it, what’s really impacting the future of the fashion industry from a business perspective.

On the idea behind Fashion & Mash…

Fashion & Mash was conceived in 2010 just as big news about the likes of Burberry, Ralph Lauren and a handful of others working within the realm of digital innovation, was really starting to make headlines. I was following it all closely, reporting on much of it myself for my day job, and slowly but surely started discovering more and more in the way of really small but just as interesting launches that weren’t being picked up at the time. I launched the site in early 2011 as a result, with the intention of wanting it to become a bit of a repository basically; an archive or go-to resource for essentially the recent history of fashion and tech, or fashion and digital communications.

It began as nothing more than a blog logging it all, and slowly but surely has grown into the much bigger news-driven site that it is today. The ethos is the same however; reporting on all the areas that are impacting the future of the fashion industry.

On what she hopes to bring to readers with Fashion & Mash…

Essentially the objective has always been to provide readers with a comprehensive overview of how digital and technology is impacting and shaping the fashion industry. We want to make it as digestible as possible, meaning we cover all sorts of short news, relevant analysis as well as a weekly curation of everything else out there to know.

It’s been six years since we launched essentially, which is a lifetime in this digital age. So so much has changed over that time period, and the site really tracks it. When we started out, the fact that certain brands would livestream their fashion shows was headline news. Today, there are much bigger expectations on these organisations for the role that digital and tech play in their future success, and it’s incredible to see it being given due consideration at the top level for the recognisable impact it can have on the bottom line.

On the biggest challenge of running a website…

Really the biggest challenge is all about resource. We’re a really small entity, we don’t have funding and what we’re putting out is often fairly time intensive. We try and publish something every day, but given how much is happening in this space, we could write more like five pieces if we had enough resources to do so.

It is also incredibly hard to monetise content, especially in the business space, so you have to look at alternatives. Fortunately, we have a budding consultancy and events business that makes all the difference. Fundamentally what we do within that is advise fashion brands and retailers on the same areas; from brand and digital strategy to innovation, tech integration and start-up partnerships.

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Charlotte Tilbury Magic Mirror
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Microsoft Hololens Headset

On #FashMash events…

#FashMash is our “real-world” community that sits alongside the website. I started it in London with Rosanna Falconer, who is now the Business Director at Matthew Williamson. The idea was simply to bring people together that we each knew in the industry and felt should all actually know each other as well. We wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t about stuffy networking, however, we were both tired of going to talks for instance where often the people sat next to you in the audience were probably the ones you should be speaking to, but you were none the wiser. So we stripped out the formalities and just told people to be at a bar at a certain time. That’s grown and grown and we’ve now got 500 members globally. We run them in London, New York and Dublin, and we do them as pop-ups at tech events like Web Summit and SXSW. We also now run a series of educational workshops and seminars. The whole intention of the community is to enable conversations, to share ideas and challenges, and to connect and facilitate partnerships between fashion and technology companies.

On fash-tech trends for 2017…

Honestly, there are so many. What I’m tracking the closest is really how we start bringing the convenience of online shopping into the offline world, and the personalisation and experience of that offline store into the online one. That immediately suggests all sorts of exciting technologies, including personalisation via big data and machine learning through to artificial intelligence, the role that virtual and augmented realities will increasingly play, even how we enable greater efficiency in the supply chain by way of digitisation.

When it comes to clothing itself, the area I really care about is how innovation can come into textiles development in order to make the industry a more sustainable one. The future of fashion really is about connected and more intelligent clothing, but it fundamentally also needs to be based on science that can start producing fabrics that are less damaging to the environment. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world after oil – which just isn’t good enough. Innovation is what has the potential to change what that looks like.

On innovative brand campaigns that stood out in 2016…

It’s been a really interesting year in that regard, to be honest – we’re seeing innovation shifting away from just being a campaign and actually more to do with broader business strategy, making some of the most exciting things less obvious than would perhaps be thought of – things like ensuring stock visibility through digital tagging in garments, or even the recent news of Rebecca Minkoff’s self-checkout in store.

That said, lots of brands have really been experimenting with virtual and augmented realities this year, which I’m quite excited about. The Charlotte Tilbury ‘magic’ mirror within its new Westfield London store, by Holition, is one of my favourite examples.

At London Fashion Week, meanwhile, Martine Jarlgaard London held its show in mixed reality, meaning attendees wore Microsoft Hololens headsets to see the collection come to life in the form of holograms in front of them.

I think the things we’ve perhaps been talking about the most during 2016 otherwise, have been either Snapchat and its growing influence, the introduction of chatbots, or at one moment in time, Pokemon Go! It doesn’t really count as innovation, but I was also completely obsessed with the “Data Center Chanel” set at Paris Fashion Week in October.

On the current of change trickling through the industry right now…

It was inevitable that change had to come. There’s been too much disruption on the front-end, the consumer-facing side of the industry, and not enough in terms of operations and production to keep up with it. The amazing thing about digital is how much it has connected brands and fans, but that’s proved a real issue when it’s come to then fulfilling that demand in a timely fashion. The way clothes are made and distributed hasn’t really changed at all. I think we’ll continue to see a lot of experimentation over the coming seasons while designers try and work out what is right for them within all the different options, as a result. See-now, buy-now as a strategy, particularly, is not going to be one that’s right for everyone, but it is resonating for some already like Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger and will continue to be played around with. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this.