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Up Close: In Conversation with Kalypso’s Sarah Pierson

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, Sarah Pierson, senior manager, consumer practice at consulting firm Kalypso, a Rockwell Automation company, explains why sustainability is an investment and why fashion must go beyond “dabbling in digital.”

Sarah Pierson Kalypso
Sarah Pierson, senior manager, consumer practice at Kalypso, a Rockwell Automation Company Courtesy

Name: Sarah Pierson

Title: Senior manager, consumer practice

Company: Kalypso, a Rockwell Automation company

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

I think of it more in terms of leading practices, which any organization, from any industry, can employ. Those leading the way are connecting their supply chain to the enterprise using the digital thread, which is essentially a seamless flow of data and information. A connected digital thread enables greater agility, visibility and traceability in the supply chain—and the organization overall—allowing leaders to leverage data and AI-fueled predictions to make better decisions.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I’m definitely a direct-to-consumer (DTC) shopper and do most of my shopping online, even before Covid-19. I enjoy shopping whenever I want, from whatever device is handy, when the desire strikes, without having to park or wait in checkout lines.

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

Provide consistently great products and excellent service. Have generous product filtering capabilities that allow me to find what I want faster. Make it simple to check out and simple to return products that don’t work. And the occasional special offer or discount doesn’t hurt!

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What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?

While I greatly appreciate fashion, I’m no fashion plate. My typical outfit is a cardigan (it’s still winter in New England) with a long-sleeve white T-shirt and jeans. My footwear of choice is either my Vans UltraRange Gore—fabulous for travel, which these days only consists of trips to the grocery store—or loafers.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

We’re in a fascinating fashion era now. There’s so much innovation in materials, fabrications and manufacturing processes—from wearable technologies to fabrics made from seaweed and apple leather, knitting robots, 3D-printed garments and accessories and more. It’s so inspiring to see sustainability and technology advancements translating into fashion. Consumers can even virtually try on fashions now—perfect for the DTC shopper, like me.

Who’s your style icon?

Dolly Parton. No way would I be able to pull off her look, but I so admire her. She’s got this irresistible persona—smart, savvy, talented, a great sense of humor and a little irreverence all wrapped up in a kind, generous (and sparkly!) package. That’s iconic style in my book!

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

Kalypso made the decision to be acquired by Rockwell Automation in the past year. Our mission has always been to deliver digital transformation for our clients across industries. Rockwell adds manufacturing prowess to our wheelhouse, so now we can deliver end-to-end expertise along the value chain to help our clients bring the best products to market.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

We’ve been called “cowboys” and “cowgirls” by some based on our healthy lack of respect for tradition, but that’s how we deliver real innovation to our clients. Our leadership really encourages Kalypsonians at every level to understand what the future of technology means for our clients. We have an unwavering commitment to our clients and our values, and that shows in our culture. The client and their priorities always come first.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

Remember a year ago when everyone was pivoting their manufacturing to make PPE? I’m so proud of how the apparel industry responded in the crisis; what a great way to help society while using up fabric commitments and excess inventory. Companies can take that experience and build similar agility across the organization. Smart connected operations and smart connected manufacturing provide agility across the enterprise and on the factory floor by using digital technologies to reveal insights, improve decision-making and increase efficiency, safety and profitability.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

Digital transformations should be the top priority now—and not just another proof of concept. It’s time for the apparel industry to stop dabbling in digital. It’s time to challenge people and teams to transform the organization by connecting the digital dots into a digital thread that is woven through the entire value chain. If you’re not working on this, you’re already behind.

What keeps you up at night?

How to get brands to think differently about sustainability initiatives. Many think of sustainability as a cost, but really it’s an investment in our environment and our future. Opportunities exist to reduce global impact, and while most organizations have sustainability initiatives, many struggle to leverage technology to support them. There are many ways to make an impact: swapping digital for physical samples, visibility to material, product and supply chain impacts in PLM, supply chain optimization, circular fashion and recycling, etc. And when it comes down to it, reducing energy use and wasted raw materials also provides direct bottom-line savings, so sustainability is not just a cost.

What makes you most optimistic?

A year ago, we were all reeling in the face of the pandemic. A year later, looking at how far we’ve come and all the changes and hardships we’ve endured, I’m really optimistic about our resiliency and how we as humans can overcome most any obstacle.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

We did some research mid-pandemic and asked our clients about their digital strategy going forward. Ninety-three percent said Covid-19 accelerated their need for digital transformation, but only 59 percent felt they had a clearly defined strategy in place to get there. To support apparel leaders, we’ve put together a 12-week DPC (digital product creation) accelerator offering that helps retailers and brands achieve speed-to-scale and speed-to-value. We think that by taking 12 weeks to align around a DPC strategy and create a roadmap to address specific complexity and human needs, companies can accelerate quickly past pilots to achieve scale and value ASAP.