How to balance creativity and data in fashion, according to industry experts

Straight from the fashion panel at Vogue Codes Sydney Live.

It’s easy to look at the fashion greats like Coco Chanel or Phoebe Philo and put their prowess down to an otherworldly sense of creative genius; an innate way of knowing what’s revolutionary in the industry. But today, both the esteemed design houses and smaller fashion-centred brands have an immeasurable amount of data at their disposal, informing them what their customers want, and what they don’t want.

The data provides an incredible insight into consumer habits, but also presents challenges in terms of balancing the data with that aforementioned sense of creativity. For Australian fashion experts Deborah Symond O’Neil, Elizabeth Abegg, Marie-Claude Mallat, and Karen Walker, it’s a real-life problem they grapple with every day. O’Neil, in her curated fashion store Mode Sportif, Karen Walker, in her eponymous fashion and accessories label, Abegg, in the line she co-founded with her sister, Spell Designs, and Mallat in her leading fashion public relations agency, MCMPR.

It was a topic up for discussion at Sydney’s Vogue Codes Live event, with the panel touching on the ideas of tech, creativity, and making data-led decisions in an industry that’s traditionally rooted in creativity. For all of the best bits, keep reading.

Trust your intuition

Deborah Symond O’Neil is Sydney’s fashion darling, weaving her personal style with her curated fashion online and retail brand, Mode Sportif, seamlessly. Symond is a huge fan of data, explaining that it leads her brand’s marketing strategy and customer interactions. But at the very core of it, it’s her intuition that she falls back to when it comes to bringing new labels in. “I’m very drawn to all the brands I work with – I base a lot of my buying decisions on gut instinct.” Of course, she monitors how they land by crunching the figures, but that initial affinity is what starts the process.

Fashion is a creative business

In 2019, every business is a tech business, but fashion veteran Karen Walker is still a firm believer in fashion as an art form. “Tech is of course central to what we do, from design to retail and telling the story along the way. Without it, we would be screwed. But when you’re in the creative and artistic business, looking at data of what worked before can kill that creativity. Fashion starts from a dream, not a spread-sheet.” Judging from Walker’s incredible success, sage advice indeed.

Consider tech as a way to scale your creative work

Elizabeth Abegg of Spell Designs knows all too well the ways tech can facilitate creative growth and scale. “When we started, we were technically quite small, and our rapid growth proved a lot of growing pains. We wished we had consulted peers about how to build Spell in a way that was easy to scale digitally. Now, we are very quick to use new platforms and adapt with all forms of technology,” she says.