Keeping Fashion Fresh
Fashionistas discuss their strategies
The runway was missing, but fashion industry experts were out in full force on October 18, 2006, when the Johnson School brought "The Business of Fashion" to New York City. More than 80 participants packed the wood-paneled library at the corporate headquarters of Polo Ralph Lauren, where three panelists discussed innovation in the fashion industry and fielded questions.
Two other Cornell units – the College of Human Ecology and the Cornell Entrepreneurial Network (CEN) – joined the Johnson School in sponsoring the event. This was the sixth in the school's "Business of . . . " series to examine leading business issues.
Malia Mills '89, president of Malia Mills Swimwear, shared the importance of innovation to her small, specialty fashion design and retail business. "It's not just the product we need to innovate, and not just the message about our products," she said. "It's the process of how we do what we do."
Mills started her eponymous company with the goal of making swimwear with superior fit so that the swimwear shopping experience would become anxiety-free for women of all shapes and sizes. She went on to open her own chain of swimwear boutiques in Manhattan, where highly trained sales people help women find the perfect suit.
Because Polo Ralph Lauren is a publicly held company whose founder and largest shareholder is a fashion designer, its innovation expresses itself differently, said Wayne Meichner '79, president of Polo Ralph Lauren Retail Stores, the company's full-price retail operation.
"We differentiate our company and innovate by our products and by our store concepts," Meichner said. "Any time something is working, Ralph wants to move off of it – he's constantly moving to the next thing."
Mills and Meichner were joined on the panel by Kim Roy, president of Lauren by Ralph Lauren, the company's line for women. Suzanne Loker, the J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship and Personal Enterprise at the College of Human Ecology's Department of Textiles and Apparel, moderated the panel; the event was hosted by Tatiana Rosak '93, MBA '98, vice president of merchandising for Lauren by Ralph Lauren.
– Shannon Dortch