Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Maud Etienne is an entrepreneur, and co-founder of FashionTech Week Paris, a movement dedicated to promoting FashionTech initiatives and meeting fashion and technology players. She is also the Communication manager the Lectra, and ESCP Europe “Fashion & Technology” Chair. After spending many years in a leading digital institution in France, Maud created .konkret in December 2016, to exercise her passion as an innovation space designer. With her experience as co-founder of FashionTech Week, she joined the members of the association LA FashionTech to continue her work in the development of the FashionTech movement in France and abroad.
Maud, how did you get into fashion tech ?
As Diderot said: "by chance, like everyone else" :) I have always adored fashion, but, from the beginning, nothing could have predicted my path to this sector. The digital world works in mysterious ways!
What is the idea behind your project and how did you come up with it ? When did you start with that business, how did you start and do you have other members in your team ?
In 2013, I was working for a well known company in the digital ecosystem, but not at all known in the fashion industry. I created events, and worked with communities to develop their visibility and in their search for partners. Given the growing interest in the subject of FashionTech, I felt it was necessary to set up a collaborative event, open to everyone, called FashionTech Week Paris. And that's what we did, four girls in a garage, somehow made it happen.☺ We have created a core group since the launch of the project. We each have our own business, or even several, and sometimes we needed to organize ourselves, to re-motivate ourselves. When you are a volunteer, even for your own project, you need courage not to give up and say "what's the point". The gratification of achieving together, and the success of the first 4 editions reboots us every time.
How long did it take you to be where you are now ?
4 years, but this is just the beginning ! In recent months, I joined the association "LA FashionTech", to contribute to the promotion of new uses enabled by digital technology in fashion. We address all the actors of the fashion and digital industries, and more widely to the amateurs and enthusiasts.
What was the biggest obstacle ?
All of us being volunteers makes things more complex. We would need 25-hour days. But we are looking for funding to be able to commit more working hours. Even in the digital age: “The sinews of war are infinite money.”
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in ? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur ?
I have had no issues being a woman in tech – which is still very male dominated - setting up projects and creating my own business. We must not internalize a weakness that does not exist. Women have a role to play in tech, especially in FashionTech.
What are your biggest achievements to date ?
I am happy to have created a tangible platform through FashionTech Week. Since the first edition in 2014, we have succeeded in building a Parisian and national network around this movement. FashionTech Week Paris brings together many different events, mixing the public and the practices, at the heart of the fashion to come. Our partners, whether public or private, are growing in number and continue to support us every year. Recently, we received the support of the Féderation Française du Prêt à Porter Fémimin. We would never have thought that such an institution officially support our efforts when this project first began.
What are your projects you are currently working on ?
In addition to developing my space design activity, I’ve just finished running the 5th edition of Fashion Tech Week Paris. Round tables, exhibitions and workshops were offered throughout Paris and in Lyon. Growing from its Parisian origins, this movement has the potential to expand nationally and then internationally. Europe has much to say and do in the field of FashionTech. So we need to broaden our spectrum and include all those who want to innovate in this sector.
Is the #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why ?
As far as I am concerned, I am a feminist of equality. I do not think we have to react with a counter-model that would replace male domination by an excessive feminization of everything. We could gain infinite time by promoting as much as possible for de facto equality between men and women. However, a symbolic catch-up is still necessary and this is the importance of the #womenintech movement. First of all, we have to say that we exist and play an important role to finally achieve this natural mix of men / women, even in tech. I understand and share the visceral reactions of women to certain unspeakable behaviors of men, including in tech, but we must also promote our vision of the world, positive and fulfilling for everyone.
What will be the key trends in the fashion tech and wearable tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading ?
I can not predict the future of wearables, but, on the other hand, I am convinced by the benefits which will be amplified within e-health. For example, it will be necessary to better understand the functioning of the body, and the skin in particular (sensitivity, elasticity, movement) will have to be taken into account by designers and developers. Living longer and healthier is imperative to our civilization. Wearables could help those of us with disabilities to gain independence. Wearables will have to be truly useful (individually and collectively), and also multi-purpose, to be adopted at scale. Within five years, it will be normal that everything we wear today is "augmented".
FashionTech has a role to play in the future of work, especially in high-risk occupations (aeronautics, passenger transport or construction). It seems certain that geolocation, for example, which now relies on external devices, will be directly integrated in certain wearables items. This may be critical in certain high-risk situations. In this example, we must also be vigilant and consider the "unintended consequences" of the technology. A garment that allows you to find somebody in case of a problem is an advancement, but a garment that could become a new way of monitoring or controlling the wearer is a risk. Fashion will therefore continue to evolve, and must do so by understanding all the issues. This is why I believe the topic of FashionTech must find its place in future training courses for the trades of this sector.
So, to answer your question, the challenge for the next 5 years is to redefine the initial functions of the products towards other forms of utility. I hope that in 2022, startups, and large private and public companies will have had the necessary exposure to the topic to collaborate in the creation of useful and sustainable projects to benefit the greatest number of people, and the environment.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there ?
Dare, surprise yourself, and always remain faithful to what you believe in. Saying or doing is only the end of a process. First, you have to see, read, listen, understand ... Failure exists and it should not be seen as a drama. If you fail, move on. No matter what people think, the important thing is to feel free. Do not consider yourself as entrepreneurial women but as female entrepreneurs.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in fashion tech and / or wearable tech ?
Obviously Iris Van Herpen for her audacity and the magic that emerges from her creations, Anouk Vipprecht for her poetry and aesthetics. I am also fascinated by Francesca Rosella, co-founder CuteCircuit for her vision of FashionTech for the masses.
Facebook: Fashion Tech Week Paris
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.