Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Karinna Nobbs is a freelance futurist and academic. She is a published author and guest lectures and researches on the digitalisation of the fashion industry at London College of Fashion, Conde Nast College of Fashion and Design, Politecnico di Milano, Antwerp Management School, Parsons New York and Pearl Academy New Delhi and recently was appointed as an affiliate Professor at ESCP Europe. Karinna currently co-leads the Strategy and UX Team at creative technology agency Holition. In the last two years she has also consulted with agencies such as King and Partners and Sunshine, media brands like Business of Fashion and Decoded Fashion and luxury brands including The Vampire’s Wife and SWEAR.
What does your current job role entail? What projects are you working on at the moment?
I currently work 4 days a week with creative technology agency and innovation studio Holition - there a co-lead the Strategy and UX team and I front end projects by helping clients focus on the right combination of user journey + creative story + emerging tech + platform. Depending on the client's level of digital confidence, experience and budget this phase can take from 2 weeks to 2 months. I also get involved in business development and often talk at conferences in order to raise awareness of what Holition has done and what they can do. Marketing and PR also falls under my remit, however our marketing strategist drives this whilst I steer and review with her regularly. The other main part of my role which a major focus at the moment is creating and facilitating Innovation for more established organisations in the form of an 'Innovation Hub Programme'. This bespoke for each client but is a mixture of semi-automated environmental trend scanning and data visualisation, educational workshops and strategic planning. It is a very exciting area to work in as it blends my academic and industry skill set well and although it has only been launched for 6 months we already have 4 global clients who have signed up there are already positive changes emerging within their businesses. The other day of the week I undertake a mixture of activities from lecturing at ESCP Europe Business School and London College of Fashion to delivering trend presentations to agencies like Sunshine and Fabric PR. I also work with Business of Fashion on their Education Course offering which has become disruptive in how it is offering another option to traditional fashion education.
How has your career progressed since your degree? Has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
I was lucky that when I finished my masters degree my Professor asked if I would be interested in a trying lecturing - it was not something I had considered as I kind of had my heart set on continuing in visual merchandising. But when I tried it, I was hooked - I loved showing people multiple ways of viewing an idea and to be present when someone has a lightbulb moment in how they think or understand a concept is one of the greatest gifts of being a teacher. I worked full time in academia from a part time lecturer to a full time senior lecturer and programme director for 12 years and during that time my focus was on learning myself - especially in the fashion tech sector so I attended as many meetups and conferences as my diary permitted. I undertook research projects on big data and social media strategy and e-commerce and it was here that again I got seduced by another sector and without a job lined up, one sunny October afternoon I quit my academic job. This was challenging as I wasn't really sure what I wanted or could do next and I had to persuade people to take a chance on me. So I built myself a website and saw a gap in the market for brilliant agencies who were wonderful at their core business but they didn't have an internal marketing person so their social media profiles were weak. I pitched three and they become my first clients - one of which is Holition who I continue to work with today. One of the reasons I love digital and tech and the subsection of fashion tech is that I feel it is very welcoming - no-one has it all worked out so we all need each other to learn and share knowledge from - the best projects I have seen are always collaboratives ones - especially those which cross sectors.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
I suppose it took all my life - all 39 years!! For me the biggest obstacle is that I want to do everything - I want to be an artist - I want to own a shop - I want to build an app - I want to drive growth in the agency etc. Being freelance and working in an agency is the closest way I can do that as I am always working on multiple projects and try and allow myself time to do things I haven't done before too - but I mostly end up working 7 days a week. I quickly realised that when you do what you love that work life balance shifts in its meaning.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you? What are the challenges of being a woman in tech industry?
From attending and talking at conferences over the last 5 years I have definitely seen more of a gender balance in tech and undoubtedly the women in tech movement has helped this by attracting more women into the sector and encouraging event and conference programmers to ensure they have gender diversity on panels. I hear that is still more difficult for female entrepreneurs to raise funds so I really hope that changes in the next 12 months - there is no valid reason for this to happen today. I think the rise of the fem tech sector in relation to tech products and services which are focused on female pain points is a very exciting space to watch.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Ohh I am delighted to say there are a few :) Graduating the first time (I did a BA in Retail) and my thesis was on visual differentiation of window displays using eye tracking technology. Getting a job at London College of Fashion after pestering them for 10 years. Publishing a book on Fashion Management. Getting my first freelance client. Being on the schedule at SXSW felt like a big deal to me, as it was my first time there and I was moderating a panel with ASOS, TOPSHOP and GOOGLE. More recently building up the Innovation Hub Programme with Holition has definitely felt important.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech and VR/AR industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I am personally looking forward to the piece of hardware (glasses) that is combinatory in its ability to allow mixed/extended reality functionality in one device. This may be strange but I still do not own one single wearable so the release of something that would make me part with cold hard cash is hopefully still yet to come. Because of my focus on retail I am looking forward to more brands investing in AR tech to improve the fitting room experience - for such a critical decision making space retailers should invest in more in fitting rooms and fitting room tech (AR magic mirrors) as in reality fitting rooms are probably more important from an ROI perspective than a window display or home page content. I am starting to get much more interested in personal analytics and edge analytics for time management and health rather than for exercise and again if there was a beautiful device which offered this I would take notice. I am also interested to see what the visualisation opps are for chatbots and VPAs - wearables that can project holograms might just make it by 2023!!
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs in wearable tech and IoT out there?
Make sure to collaborate with universities and colleges where ever you can - whether it is for user testing, business mentoring or for live projects or internships - there is a still a lack of connection and knowledge sharing between industry and academia.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in tech?
Fay Cowan who as the Content Director for Decoded Fashion works tirelessly to ensure the most interesting people are talking about the most interesting things at her event and this has been an invaluable global network for me. Also Rachel Arthur is inspirational as the network Fashion and Mash that she co-founded introduced me to not just important clients but many friends. The third woman is Amanda Parkes whose multi-discipline skill set and foresight for change and sustainable futures is reflected in every talk and project that she gets involved in and she always lights my imagination.
LinkedIn: Karinna Nobbs
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of 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.