When it comes to reinventing oneself, Tommy Hilfiger is considered revolutionary. One of the most creative strategists behind the brand is Avery Baker. We met the chief brand officer in Amsterdam to talk about future concepts in a fast-moving industry.
Like a modern palace in the middle of the new Houthavens in Amsterdam, a staple in the creative industry, the new Tommy Hilfiger headquarters boast a mixture of white and glass elements to create an imposing overall look.
If you manage to get one of Avery Baker’s few free appointments, you’ll be immersed in the world of Tommy Hilfiger, a company whose offices resemble a hypermodern co-working space with restaurants, cafes, a gym and digital showrooms exhibiting the finest pieces of the latest collection.
Avery Baker looks out over the water from the 12th floor; she sees cranes, hears the foghorns of the ships. She’s wearing a royal blue jumpsuit, subtle make-up and a casual wave bob. Her smile is incredibly sympathetic.
Ms Baker, you have been working in the fashion industry for over 20 years. What kind of changes are impacting the market the most right now?
I would say digital technologies, especially social media. Trends are emerging more quickly and news is spreading faster. There is also much greater transparency than ever before.
What consequences should we expect to see?
Digital technologies will shape consumer expectations in a different way. Consumers are not only evaluating their experiences with Tommy Hilfiger and other fashion brands, they are also evaluating their experiences in regards to how they can book accommodation with Airbnb, how they can get a ride with Uber, how things can be shipped to them immediately with Amazon. That’s huge competition.
You introduced a revolutionary concept for Tommy Hilfiger fashion shows by allowing consumers to order right at the time of the show. How did you come up with this idea?
There is increasing discontent in the fashion industry among all the excitement and attention that is generated around fashion shows today. We felt it was misguided to make the consumer wait up to six months after the shows to order the product. Nowadays, people demand everything immediately. You would never wait for an Uber for longer than five minutes, so why should you wait six months for a dress you saw on Instagram? The timing felt right to us, and we were also able to align it with the launch of a new, major women’s repositioning effort featuring Gigi Hadid.
“A lot of skills that are quite natural for women are becoming more important for everyone.”
Was Tommy Hilfiger the first brand to begin doing things this way?
I would say that we developed this particular model of doing it. Many other brands were experimenting with a style here and a piece there, but we were the only brand, I think, that set out to make 100 per cent of our pieces available for purchase through all channels.
You once said that fashion shows have become content platforms. What do you mean by that?
Fashion shows and the environment around them present an amazing opportunity to tell stories on a grand scale. It’s not just TOMMYNOW shows, it’s an entire ecosystem which includes our stores, digital presence and social media, and allows us to develop immersive and engaging stories across every touchpoint.
Are you afraid of losing control in such an ecosystem because of people sharing their own views?
Tommy is very democratic; it shouldn’t be us telling the consumer what we mean, what we believe, and how they should present themself. It’s a new type of editorial, a kind of individual interpretation or personal connection that some followers or influencers will pass along. We love that. It’s really amazing to see it evolve organically.
The new generation is looking more and more towards sustainability. How do you respond to these consumer trends?
We believe it is a necessary path for our company – and ultimately for every company – to go down. We have over two and a half million pieces in our spring 2019 collection that will be produced in a more sustainable way, and we’re unveiling one hundred per cent recycled cotton for the first time on this scale. We really believe this is the future.
What comes to mind when you think about where the fashion industry will be 30 years from now?
I think the biggest change will be how we access fashion and how we consume it. I wouldn’t be surprised if people will be able to print garments in their homes using a 3D printer, and our role will be to just sell patterns to people, not to make clothes anymore. Perhaps the supply chain and production methods will have changed so drastically that we will only be providers of style and inspiration. It’s very hard to predict how fashion will evolve in the future, but we are giving it a lot of thought.
What inspires you personally?
Good question. Travelling inspires me a lot. Just going to Shanghai, Milan or Los Angeles and seeing what people are wearing, what food they are into, what the lifestyle is like in different places – all of this has an impact on the choices that you make in fashion. There are also a lot of inspiring people on social media, certain influencers from different industries. And then there’s Tommy himself. He’s a very curious, open-minded individual, and he’s always talking about the cool new things his kids are telling him about. He’s very observant. It’s great to have an inspiration like that every day.
You are a woman in a position of leadership. How do you empower other women?
Since taking on a leadership role it has been very important to me to empower the people around me – women and men. I’ve tried to empower people by really giving them a voice and encouraging different opinions. I try to foster an environment of positivity, encouragement and inclusion as a way of achieving success as a team and individually.
Do you think leadership is changing?
Yes, I do think so.
What skills do you think will be important in the future?
A lot of skills that are quite natural for women are becoming more and more important for everyone; you don’t have to be a woman, but you should have the skills. Empathy is incredibly important, as is the ability to lead without your own ego getting in the way, but rather as part of the team, creating this environment of trust and communication. The ability to admit weaknesses and show vulnerability is also valuable. I think these qualities are the opposite of the traditional leadership model, which is centred around power. This approach will be much more effective in the future in getting the best out of your team, especially with younger individuals coming on board. Your employees will really feel that they are part of the team and have a voice.
In 2003, you moved from the US to Amsterdam. How has life changed for you personally?
At the beginning it was a big shock, coming from New York City to Amsterdam. I came here in 2003, before the age of digitalisation. But I spent many years back and forth between both cities. I have to say, we just love it here. The quality of life and the ability to work hard, but also find yourself in a more relaxed environment than New York, has been very refreshing. I love New York and I always will, but I think Amsterdam is a great place to raise a family.