Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Hannah Bernard leads the global marketing communications team at Avery Dennison for the apparel and RFID divisions, focusing on all customer and industry-facing activities, including events, product launches, marketing collateral, and awareness opportunities. As global director , Marketing Communications, Apparel and RFID, she is the communications lead for key events, including the National Retail Federation Retail’s BIG Show, RFID Journal Live!, and EuroShop. Positioning RFID as a key enabler in improving the retail consumer experience, Hannah works in close collaboration with strategic partners on mutual initiatives and promotional activity. Prior to joining Avery Dennison, Hannah held the role of publisher at Fashion Monitor, the leading provider of contacts, news, and events for the fashion and beauty industry. Hannah has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Southampton (UK).
As director of digital solutions at Avery Dennison, Julie Rodgers Vargas partners with brands and retailers worldwide to drive on-product digital innovation. In 2016, the team launched JanelaT M Smart Products Solution, enabling individual garments and footwear to be manufactured with a unique ID connected to a digital profile in the cloud that can connect with the consumer through the IoT to drive personalized experiences and content. Julie is a thought leader and expert in the intersection of fashion and technology and is regularly relied upon for expert commentary in the media, panel discussions and keynotes, most recently appearing at SXSW and MAGIC. Julie has over a decade of experience leading retail success in operations, distribution, analytics and sensor technologies at multiple international brands including Coach. She is also fluent in four languages.
How did you get into this industry?
HB: I started in the fashion and beauty publishing industry working for Fashion Monitor - a contacts, news and events website. I was responsible for building the brand image, partnering with key institutions like the British Fashion Council and designing events such as the Style Lounge during London Fashion Week. After 5 years I felt that it was time for a new challenge and that is when I was approached by Avery Dennison to join the apparel team.
JV: I found radio frequency technology while working as an analyst at Coach. Fascinated by the ability to leverage this technology to improve outdated business processes, I joined a start-up focused on interactive store fixtures using RFID to enhance the consumer experience. From there, I was recruited by Avery Dennison to join their RFID team working with brands and retailers on implementation.
You are both working at Avery Dennison. What does your current job role entail?
HB: I lead Marketing Communications for the apparel and RFID division at Avery Dennison. The great thing about my role is that no day is ever the same. I get to work with teams from all of the world to launch products, create compelling marketing campaigns and design and execute events. One day I could be working with emerging designers showing at New York Fashion Week and the next I can be travelling to host a trade show in Hong Kong. My role is very dynamic and I love it!
JV: I lead the Digital Solutions team as part of the RFID division. We work with our partners at EVRYTHNG and our customers to drive opportunities to build the connection between physical products and digital content by driving on garment triggers and corresponding applications. We are exploring this new space as a natural evolution of our leadership in enterprise use cases with connected products like inventory accuracy and brand protection. As more and more products are born digital, it is exciting to see where and how our customers and their consumers can drive new engagement strategies through their most valuable asset, the product itself.
What projects have you been working on lately?
HB: In January, we are working on the creation of our booth and activity at NRF’s Big Show, which takes place in New York. It is one of our largest showcases of the year and we had lots of exciting product launches and announcements in the pipeline.
JV: Our team is working on a variety of projects with different customers. Most notably, we just launched the #alwayson connected handbag with Rebecca Minkoff and are thrilled to be supporting a pilot of connected products with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. We are also working side by side with Hannah and her team to find new and creative ways to share our vision with the industry in 2018.
Has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
HB: For me it has definitely been a learning curve, I have always worked within a B2B environment within the fashion industry however I had little knowledge of the manufacturing industry until I joined Avery Dennison. Navigating a global business can also be a challenge, there is always someone working somewhere seeking your input and guidance therefore you have to be strict with yourself on when to switch off and get that work life balance.
JV: It's an inspiring industry full of incredible people, which makes any and all challenges worth it. RFID technology is not new, but the new ways we are using it to help our customers is exciting. As we stretch the limits of capabilities and look to converge multiple technologies in a fast paced, ever changing environment, there is a sense of pioneering that is simultaneously challenging and rewarding.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
HB: I have been with Avery Dennison for almost 4 and a half years now and my role has changed or evolved every year. I personally thrive off of change and love the dynamism of the business. The biggest obstacle for me was getting over trying to make everything perfect. Sometimes we don’t have time for perfect and that is ok!
JV: I've been in RFID since 2009 and at Avery Dennison since 2011 with roles in different areas of the business. My biggest obstacle has been trying to find balance in an always on world. There is always something to be done and something new to explore and filtering priorities, both at work and at home, is critical. Throughout the journey, I've had incredible support, mentors and partners (like Hannah!) that inspire me to grow and develop.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
HB: Launching JanelaT M our smart product solution last year. Working alongside Julie and the team to create a launch campaign for the product was both challenging and rewarding at the same time. As a business we specialise in RFID technology but this was the first time that we launched a product that had a consumer engagement element. We were named as the Top Tech Product at NRF by WWD and featured in countless publications for the launch. We are now building on the campaign and our research into consumer smart products with the recent launch of DEQ, the Digital Emotional Intelligence framework to guide brands and retailers on how to use data driven from connected products to engage on an emotional level with their consumers to drive loyalty.
JV: I agree with Hannah. Working with her and the entire team to create and build the JanelaTM solution and go to market messaging was a defining moment. We were able to drive concept to launch in a matter of months and have since been pushing the boundaries of where and how we can influence the connected products space. As a manufacturing company focused on RFID technology for enterprise applications, the JanelaTM solution launch was an incredible opportunity to build on this expertise and redefine how we influence the industry.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you? What are the challenges of being a woman in wearable tech / fashion tech?
HB: For me it is extremely important, it is a great example of women supporting women and getting recognized in an industry that is dominated by men. Julie has definitely been our front woman for Janela and it has been great to work with her on speaker opportunities for key industry events such as SXSW.
JV: The #WomeninTech movement is extremely valuable and important to me because our voices and ideas are critical to driving the industry to the next level. While our numbers are growing, it has long been an industry dominated by male dialogue. At one of my first speaking engagements at RFID Journal Brazil a few years back, I remember being super nervous about speaking Portuguese in front of such a large crowd. However, there was no comment about my language or my background, just one simple statement to put it all in perspective: "Welcome! We've never had a woman here before." Never? That is when it dawned on me that I was the first female to be on such a panel talking about technology. I have been very fortunate to have incredible role models- female and male- that are advocates for more female leadership; however, we still have a long way to go before there is parity in representation. Movements like #WomeninTech are critical to driving that forward.
In 2016, Avery Dennison Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) teamed up with leading London jewellery and product designer Sarah Angold on a project to create custom-made accessories embedded with Avery Dennison’s RFID technology, which were showcased at the Decoded Fashion Summit in New York. Can you tell us a bit more about that project?
HB: This project was actually a long time in the making. I met Sarah Angold 8 years ago while I was working for Fashion Monitor and when I moved to Avery Dennison we started looking at how we could connect our technological expertise with her amazing design talent. We decided to look at consumer engagement and enhanced experiences that can be driven by connected products that used RFID. Working with our R&D team, we visited the lab to experiment with different design ideas and test what materials would work to ensure that the RFID technology could perform effectively. We finalised 4 designs, two necklaces, a handbag and the showstopping Crown.
JV: What I love most about Sarah's project is the focus on fashion first. Our industry often looks for ways to hide the technology or overlooks the impact of the technology to the design. Sarah has done a phenomenal job of embracing the technology to make it front and center in her designs- incorporating fashion and functionality seamlessly.
In 2016 AD also collaborated with smart products platform EVRYTHNG and concept retail shop The New Stand, as well as New York menswear label Rochambeau. Result was # BornDigital BRIGHT BMBR - a handsomely embroidered satin bomber jacket that acts as a digital key to exclusive nightlife and cultural experiences. Could you share a bit more about this project, too?
HB: We work with emerging talent and designers across the business to drive innovation. This collaboration was particularly special because it was our first for Janela. We integrated NFC and QR technology into the fabric label that was sewn into the seam of the jacket. Once purchased the owner could interact with the jacket by tapping the NFC or scanning the QR code to trigger personalized experiences. Rochambeau wanted to use Janela to give their customers an insight into who they are as a brand. Therefore, the unique experiences included dinner at the brand’s favourite restaurant and an art gallery tour at a place they frequently visit for inspiration. It was an amazing way to build understanding of the brand and drive loyalty with their valued customers.
JV: To add to Hannah's comments, this is another great example of embracing technology as a design element. Laurence of Rochambeau didn't want to add technology to his design, he wanted to use technology to change the entire way in which he thought about the product. Why create a lifestyle inspired brand when the product can actually give you direct access to the lifestyle? As the designer, Laurence wanted to show the wearer places he would go in this jacket and access to things that inspire him. The connected jacket has a digital life and it is completely grounded in the physical design and physical world.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fashion tech in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
HB: Wearable tech will truly need to benefit consumers in order to gain traction over the next 5 years. Long gone are the days where something lighting up on the front of a jumper is considered wearable tech. Consumers want and expect more from wearables now, whether that be a way to improve their lives through saving them time or providing true health benefits, it has to be useful to catch on.
JV: I think there are 3 key trends to watch for wearable tech and fashion tech: First and foremost, it has to be fashion first. Bulky electronics will not be tolerated. It has to look good. Secondly, I agree with Hannah that it has to improve our lives somehow. I think we will see a lot of great design evolution around the healthcare sector for both physical fitness and awareness. The third trend is the ability to integrate relevance and learning. Hannah mentioned the DEQ earlier. Connected products have to be able to learn what we want and what we like and provide relevant context. Big data, machine learning/AI and block chain are all potential design elements that can help wearable technology know us better, learn over time and give us ownership directly through the products.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and fashion tech?
JV: There are so many! Rebecca Minkoff and the women on her team like Ye Jin and Nilofer Vahora are phenomenal at pushing boundaries.
The Women of Wearables (WoW), led by the fearless Marija Butkovic, are super inspirational and have built an incredible community for collaboration. Deborah Weinswig of FGRT is also an incredible connector and is building a bridge between traditional retail and new technologies.
HB: I agree with Julie - right now we are seeing a phenomenal movement in #womenintech and there are so many to look up to. I would also like to add Sheryl Sandberg - this year I read her book “Plan B” which is a very personal an honest insight into the struggle that she faced when her husband passed away. The book features stories of men and women and the adversity they have faced in life. It was a truly inspiration read and an eye opening that when life throws you a curve ball you can always work out a way to continue playing the game.
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.