The 5 Theories to Know from Andrew Rosen’s Keynote

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The 5 Theories to Know from Andrew Rosen’s Keynote


For his work co-founding contemporary fashion brand Theory and investing in up-and-coming designers, Andrew Rosen has been compared to Gucci or LVMH by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

Sitting back, legs crossed, Andrew Rosen looks as confident waiting on the bench as the Benjamin Franklin statue does to his left. The CEO and Co-Founder of Theory is surrounded by an entourage of publicists and journalists, all donning black shades. He wears a pair as well, yet as he slips them off he confesses his anxiety about giving the keynote for Penn Fashion Week 2016. “I am sure you could just stand at the front of the room for 45 minutes, and they would love you,” one of his publicists says.

She is not mistaken. For Penn’s student designers, stylists, models, and journalists, meeting one of the most influential figures in the U.S. clothing business is an unforgettable opportunity. Co-founding Theory with Elie Tahari in 1997, Rosen pioneered the contemporary clothing market. He continues to influence fashion today by supporting new brands and the CFDA Fashion Manufacturing Initiative to boost manufacturing in New York, according to Lauren Sherman, moderator of the talk. Whether you missed the event or are still fan-girling over it, here are the biggest takeaways from Rosen’s discussion of his experience and predictions for the future of fashion.

 1. The industry is changing.

Rosen, who first took over his family’s clothing brand, Puritan Dress Company, at age 25, acknowledged today’s fashion industry is not the same one he entered.

“Basically, back then there was no way to reach the consumer directly. Obviously all of that has changed. Today, frankly, if I know what I am doing socially, I can reach the consumer as effectively if not more effectively than the retail stores or the magazines. And the message can be totally curated to the way I want it, to who I want, and the style and aesthetic I want,” Rosen said. “Magazines need to be more innovative. Not just reporting what happened but why it matters. Department stores need to be more curating to customers. There will be less [department stores] but still some.”

Social media has also caused designer brands to reconsider traditions like fashion weeks, where clothes are shown months before selling them.

“The days of these big runway shows and spending all this money on showing clothes that are not going to be available until a few months are going to be for either a few very big companies or a very few small companies. The norm is going to be to spend all this money and create all this energy around clothes people can buy fairly quickly,” Rosen said. “People today will react very positively to seeing something and to get instant gratification. And number two, the most famous design houses are going to get very frustrated with designing for other people. They are allowing other people to see the clothes…that they are going to ship six months from now, and they are giving other people the opportunity to make it before they do. And I think that is going to stop.”

2. Tech and design skills are essential in fashion.

“Today you have to have the understanding of how to create clothes that are really relevant and make a difference and the new social-digital complex. If you don’t understand how to develop your business through social channels, I think you are at a huge disadvantage,” Rosen said. “You need the whiz-kid that understands the landscape digitally and the talent of the designer. Without the noise on the social channels, without the social power, it is very difficult to get your brand to get through.”

“And at the end of the day, the integrity you have in your partners, that you have with your customers, your passion is what counts,”

–Andrew Rosen

3. Simplicity and sincerity speak volumes.

Rosen is dedicated to helping emerging designers cut through the crowd. Since selling the majority of his shares in Theory to Fast Retailing in 2003, he has invested $10 million in designers like Alice + Olivia, Rag & Bone, and Proenza Schouler, according to  Sherman and Business of Fashion.

Like his idea to start a company around clothing made from Lycra, simple yet innovative concepts with passionate people behind them consistently earn his support.

“I started with making three different styles of pants and two different styles of shirts. It was very focused. It was very easy for a store to come and buy, and it was very easy for a customer to understand,” Rosen said. “All of those companies [I invested in] had an idea; a very simple idea that I thought could cut through and gain authority and credibility to be able to build a much bigger business. Not just setting up a business model of someone else’s.”

“I invest first and foremost in people–in people that have integrity, that have a passion,” Rosen said. “I see a lot of people who have great ideas and probably could have a successful business, but I don’t trust them. And at the end of the day, the integrity you have in your partners, that you have with your customers, your passion is what counts.”

4. Find mentors; be a mentor:

The experience of cultivating Theory with a partner may partly explain why Rosen is so eager to offer a hand to new designers.

“Elie was really instrumental to me at a point and time when I needed someone to partner with me,” Rosen said. “I think that at different points in your life, you need someone to pick you up and get you to the next place.”

Now being the one to pick others up, Rosen finds mentoring designers mutually beneficial.

“The people I invest in always say, ‘Oh we are so lucky to have Andrew because he knows X, Y, and Z, but the truth of the matter is I learn as much from them if not more from what they learn from me. I get to learn from a modern perspective.”

5. Expertise over doing everything:

With the evolving methods, forms, and careers within fashion, those aspiring to work in the industry may feel overwhelmed when figuring out the best way to get started. Rosen believes one should continue to focus on what first inspired them in the first place and strengthen their expertise around that.

“Students should enter the industry anyway they feel comfortable, either through retail or technology, etc. What are you most inspired by and what do you want to do?” Rosen said. “My philosophy is I like to keep things very simple. I don’t like to overcomplicate things, and I don’t like to take on anything more than I can take on effectively. I would rather not participate in something than participate in something half-assed.”

–Emily Cieslak

Image Courtesy of The Huffington Post

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