How is fashion and beauty being transformed by tech?

This month’s women in tech meet up focused on how tech has transformed the fashion and beauty industries and showcased the range of careers available. I’m a regular at LGG’s meet ups and always enjoy meeting new people and catching up with old friends at these gatherings.

The event was the biggest and best meet up yet with over 50 people in attendance. With sponsorship from Avenue HQ, an exciting theme and an eclectic panel, it’s easy to see why.

The panellists were:

Llara Geddes – Head of UX @ Beauty Bay

Marie Adams – Insight Analyst @ Missguided

Anastasia Kenyon – Founder @ Palette

Lorna Kenwright – Senior UX Designer @ Shop Direct

It was really interesting to hear how the panellists had got into their tech roles, especially as the web has evolved over time. Lorna has been at Shop Direct for 7/8 years having studied design, moved through some web agencies and started at Shop Direct in a rich media role before moving into UX (User Experience).

Similarly Llara joined Beauty Bay before a UX function even existed and started in customer service. A lot of the current roles didn’t exist when the panelists were at school, and we can only imagine what roles of the future will look like. This is a key message which should be passed on to the next generation!


A changing industry

Technology has undoubtedly changed the fashion and beauty industries.

For Shop Direct this has been huge. The business has shifted from a catalogue based service to an e-commerce service with two-thirds of products being purchased on mobile.

Missguided has grown from originally only selling dresses to having 19 product categories on their website. Marie said: “The biggest change is around the brand. The products could be the same as eight years ago, but the brand ethos is now so important because of social media. It’s the main reason why people would buy from you. You get them to your website because of the brand identity.”

Llara added: “Social media has created massive change. Customers can immediately tell you now what they like and don’t like. And they will put it out there if they don’t like it. As a result companies are at the mercy of customers – and rightly so.”

Roles in the industry

The industry is becoming increasingly technical and it’s surprising just how many roles are tech based. Missguided see a lot of young people coming from a fashion design background looking to get into buying and merchandising, but not realising it’s such a technical role now and that you need technical skills.

Marie said: “The team at Missguided are 75% female although the wider sector is still predominantly male. But the tech roles go right across the business – including customer care, warehouse and delivery, marketing, photography, email, CRM. There are a lot of technical roles behind the scenes.”

The entrepreneurs perspective

If you’re looking for a tech role in fashion and beauty then don’t rule out starting your own business. Anastasia launched Palette after realising there was nowhere online for her sister (a makeup artist) to market herself and take bookings.

Anastasia started with paper wireframes before putting together a team to build the site. It was hugely successful and she has just been bought out by Hearst. She’s now CEO of a new company, Lifestyler.

Anastasia spoke about the challenges of people trying to steal your ideas; “but then you realise they’re not you and they’re never going to do it exactly like you do! So you carry on regardless and smash the competition.”

She added: “There was a lot of learning involved for me – tech, UX and UI. We have now managed to remedy any drop off points that came from that first design. We’ve completely redesigned and rebuilt the site.”

Interesting innovations

For Anastasia it was the booking system of the new Palette site that took the most time to develop – making sure everyone is perfectly accommodated and every possible thing that could go wrong has been planned for.

At Beauty Bay, the team are anticipating that VR and AI could affect how people are choosing to buy their products. Llara said: “Now our audience can get an app and try a new look. As people are using Alexa more frequently they don’t want to type to search for products any longer, so how do we get ourselves into the right spaces as the digital landscape is changing?”

She added: “It’s really interesting as our customers already know what they want before they visit our site. They don’t need swatches because they’ve seen it all on YouTube before it was even available in this country. So how do we develop content for that scenario?”

For Shop Direct the innovations are happening in terms of giving customers a virtual shop experience, allowing them to browse through the rails. They’re looking towards making their chat bots artificially intelligent with IBM Watson. Watch this space!

Advice for young people

The panel gave some brilliant advice for people looking to get into the fashion and beauty industry and into tech roles. Here’s the key points:

  • Keep an open mind about your skill set. Lots of skills are transferable.
  • Ask what companies have available in terms of work experience, internships, etc.
  • Do anything ‘extracurricular.’ Get into tech and show you’re interested. Liverpool Girl Geeks courses and meet ups are an obvious example!
  • Make it a hobby. There are so many free coaching and coding websites which will help if you don’t have experience yet. Pick up some new skills in your spare time and get something to put on your CV.
  • Try and get a foot in the door. A lot of jobs are advertised internally, so why not get into customer service and build up experience? Then find out from the inside who the right person to approach is.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people for their time and advice. Ask about opportunities for learning and development.
  • Be passionate.
  • Be open-minded about start-ups as there as so many opportunities to learn new skills.

The first step to helping girls and women into the industry is to help them understand the variety of roles that are available, so if you can find the time to mentor somebody then do it.

A number of our partners in the industry advertise their local opportunities with us – check them out now.

Written by Emma Riley.