Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Kristen Ohlsson, general manager of North America at Browzwear, discusses the lessons fashion can glean from the service sector and the need for a more digitized design process.
Name: Kristen Ohlsson
Title: General manager of North America
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
The industries we can learn from are really those that have centered their efforts around digital connectivity. One example is the service sector, where we see a move toward online solutions like OpenTable connecting diners and restaurants, rideshare apps connecting commuters with transportation, and so on.
When a solution is as “simple” as connecting an available need to an available service, it eliminates the time and inconvenience of searching for what you’re looking for. In the apparel industry, we can drive the same transformation by using technology to enable connectivity across the supply chain.
Do you consider yourself a typical consumer?
I’ve never really stopped to think about this, but, yes, I suppose I’m a fairly typical consumer—depending on the product. Besides my occasional impulse buys, my tendency is to do some research before purchasing, read reviews, shopping both online and in-store. Of course, I tend to have a more critical eye when shopping for apparel after working in the industry for many years.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
Convenience, quality and excellent customer service.
What’s your typical uniform?
For work, a nice pair of slacks, a blouse, and a great pair of heels. On the weekend, I’m often painting or baking, so comfort is key accessorized with a great smock or apron!
Which fashion era is your favorite?
It’s tough to pick a favorite; there is something inspiring and unexpected in each era. I do love the classic silhouettes from the 1940-50s.
Who’s your style icon?
My aunt. I just remember she had such a cool, effortless style. Always on trend but never overstated. She bought my first pair of ruby red Mary Janes when I was three or four that I just loved. Come to think of it now, that was probably the birth of my love for shoes.
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
At the beginning of the year, we took a moment to slow down and rethink how Browzwear interacts and intersects with different aspects of the apparel business. Being a global company, we recognized the impact COVID-19 would have on both the supply chain and retail early on, and we knew that the entire dynamic of how companies operated would be changing.
As a result of these changes, the urgency behind digitalization became all the more clear. Creating physical samples was no longer an option, and at the same time, design and development teams were suddenly dispersed.
To meet the needs of people—because that’s what the business is at its core—Browzwear really came together to provide people with the tool that will enable them to accelerate transformation. We quickly built support for more online learning through Browzwear University, revamped our Guild page to connect digitally-trained industry professionals to companies seeking this knowledge, expanded our program for independent designers and extended free access to our resources for all to those who were furloughed. The ability to accomplish these initiatives in such a short period of time is a testament to the passionate teams here at Browzwear.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
One that celebrates innovation and collective leadership, where everyone acknowledges that great ideas come from all areas of the company. We are equally passionate about the apparel industry, many of us working in it for several years, as we are about the technology that is helping make the industry better—more efficient, less wasteful, etc. Bridging the two creates such an exciting charge and drives us all to keep pushing boundaries and exploring new opportunities. It’s fast paced, ever-evolving, and, at times, challenging. Still, we all believe in the sustainability of the apparel industry, the opportunities technology offers, and our ability to continue unlocking them.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
Agility and connectivity. Working in the industry for many years, I’m well aware that a businesses’ ability to manage change amidst the daily demands of design teams, management and other leaders is no simple feat, yet it has become a top priority. With political and economic factors dictating the order of the day and our industry’s environmental impact weighing heavily on everyone’s minds, flexibility and responsiveness are critical. Technology is a means to enable agility and connectivity, but it is a change in mindset that will propel this movement forward.
What keeps you up at night?
Of course, the events that have transpired the past six months have not only been emotional but alarming. And so it is simply in having empathy for each other during this time.
What makes you most optimistic?
Resilience driving purpose. Coming together to affect positive change, build connections and relationships, learning, growing, developing. It is amazing what we can do together.
Tell us about your company’s newest service:
We’re thrilled about the launch of our online Browzwear University learning platform as part of our global training services. It is a carefully curated learning journey combining how-to instruction along with common industry application providing an opportunity for anyone to learn the software anytime from anywhere. Learning content will continuously be added to ensure our users remain equipped with the latest knowledge and skill to revolutionize the apparel industry. Also, to help our clients gain digital capacity faster, we have introduced the online Browzwear Guild, which connects trained 3D fashion design software users from all around the world with the companies who are seeking such digital skills.