For fashion experts, Brand Strategist Sissi Johnson, Tech Advisor and Contributing Writer to the Huffington Post, is the “industry girl antidote”, the one to see for sharp pieces of advice. Graduated from IFA Paris with an MBA in Fashion Business, the athletic woman headlines trends and became more than a brilliant influencer: the muse of numerous designers, creatives, professionals and young women around the globe. She believes in the rise of a sustainable “eco-fashion”.
Michel Temman: You are one of the most well-known and requested consultants when it comes to creativity, lifestyle and brands. What are your secrets – the ones you can share – and principles in terms of creation and strategy?
Sissi Johnson: There is always something to be learnt from everyone. I’m a listener and an observer. Inspiration comes from everywhere, so don’t just stick to your sector. Listen to influencers, artists, politicians, seek information and network outside your field. You’d be surprised to find a common thread and see how well others respond to you. That’s how I get my best ideas and stay in tune with what is happening across multiple industries and markets. My other advice is to always be ready and open to network. Most of my collaborations have come from spur of the moment encounters. Last year, I randomly ran into the founders of Mansur Gavriel on the streets of Paris. We had an impromptu photoshoot. The pictures did amazingly well on social media. A few months later, we collaborated on their upcoming Spring-Summer 2016 campaign. I am not a model, but you never know where you’re going to spark synergy and find new opportunities! There are also a number of digital platforms and apps to learn new skills and boost your productivity. Udacity, Vyte.in and Asana are some of the ones I use.
M.T.: What is your motto?
Sissi Johnson: From my Mom: “No problems, only solutions!” Another one I live by and may add is: “What you seek is seeking you!”
M.T.: You’ve helped lots of artists and brands to emerge. It must be a very enriching experience to support different creatives to find a platform to express themselves?
Sissi Johnson: I always respect the brand or artist’s vision first and foremost. It’s their vision to own and my job to nurture it. But then again, I require of them to keep a very open-mind to reach their goals. This usually means stepping out of their comfort zone, a process which can prove challenging on both parts, but in the end, it’s a win-win for everyone. Back in 2009, when I started my collaboration with Airbnb, the founding team allowed me so much freedom and welcomed my feedback and ideas with open arms! That is a rewarding trait I really enjoy about the start-up culture.
M.T.: Could you tell us more about your studies at IFA Paris and in particular about the MBA in Fashion Business that you graduated with?
Sissi Johnson: I had international industry experience prior to joining the school. However, IFA Paris (Shanghai campus) helped to cement my global outlook on fashion, especially on conducting business in emerging markets, China specifically. You have to understand the intricacies of global communications. For example, how to work with platforms such as WeChat and Weibo. Having this kind of cultural awareness will make you stand out on any market. To this day, I am still connected with most of my classmates. We have a bond that transcends Whatsapp and borders! While we have not been able to organize an official reunion yet, we regularly connect in small groups across South America, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
M.T.: Can you share your views and feelings about the current and global fashion scene?
Sissi Johnson: Information technologies are changing everything about the textile industry, constantly evolving the way we consume fashion. Social media has given smaller brands a voice and platform that weren’t even there five years ago. As a result, these brands are more often on the radars of big retailers such as Net-A-Porter. Of course, this is all happening online. Physical retailers are going to have to up their game, Burberry-style, to stay ahead of the curve. On another hand, pop-up retail has been a very big trend for the past 3 years or so. This goes to show as active consumers may be online, they still value an in-store experience, just not in the archaic and traditional way. The consumer purchase journey is way more complex. Whether online or offline, the experience has to be seamless and exciting. For brands, consistency and innovation are keys. The fashion media landscape continues to shift too. The distinction between paid advertisements and so-called “unpaid editorial content” is becoming increasingly strained. With blogger giants and social media influencers raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars per product placement (think Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid), traditional publications are struggling to keep their own personal interests and ad-free editorials separate – especially with their online content.
On another note, I was recently invited to the United Nations for their annual Business & Human Rights forum. The Ethical Fashion Initiative had a very insightful discussion about initiatives in Africa, to use eco-fashion as a medium of socio-economic empowerment. I hope to see a drive towards sustainable fashion. It’s happening slowly, but with a wealth of information being shared online, consumers are starting to wake up to the humanitarian and environmental toll fast fashion is taking. The True Cost documentary is a great example of the media taking an interest. Ethical fashion is becoming infinitely more chic. I myself had preconceived notions prior to starting my collaboration with Eden Diodati, a luxury brand producing jewelry in Rwanda by survivors of the genocide, and gowns in an Italian social cooperative. In 2013, the brand was awarded International Sustainable Brand of the year by The Centre for Study of Sustainable Luxury.
M.T.: You have just been invited to host Luisa Via Roma's Fashion and Tech Summit in Florence. What is your role during this event?
Sissi Johnson: The summit was an insightful roundtable about fashion and the digital landscape intertwining. I hosted panels featuring Executives from Facebook, Instagram and PopSugar; other panelists included Google, Samsung and Condé Nast. I enjoyed being involved in an event fusing the two industries I am in. Luisa Via Roma’s brand identity is unrivalled. They’ve achieved the rare balance of taking a well-established retail space online and preserving their iconic voice. Historically, the store has always been at the forefront of visual merchandising and they’ve carried this tradition on beautifully into their digital marketing. Their online editorial has been leading the way for web retailers since 1999. After my time at IFA Shanghai, I completed my M.A at Polimoda in Florence. The school invited me to give a lecture right after Luisa Via Roma summit to M.A Fashion Brand Management students. Being back in Florence 5 years later on such an exciting occasion was quite a treat and an exceptionally rewarding experience.
M.T.: And could you tell us a little bit about your actual life and projects?
Sissi Johnson: A key highlight of my role as a brand strategist has been the shift with my “branding” approach. Initially, I consulted fashion and luxury goods, which was very product oriented. Over the years, my focus has been on personal branding. I have helped students, models, digital influencers, diplomats, creatives and professionals build their personal brand and monetize it. As far as fashion, I was able to transfer my skills and find a niche in FashionTech. In February 2016, I will be in Kiev Ukraine for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week as well as the Kiev Fashion Industry Forum. The panel will be about how to successfully build a brand in the digital world.