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Up Close: In Conversation with Lilly Pulitzer’s Mira Fain

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, Mira Fain, executive vice president, design and product development at apparel label Lilly Pulitzer, discusses how fashion supply chains could become more efficient by taking cues from the auto industry and her brand’s activewear moves.

Mira Fain Lilly Pulitzer
Mira Fain, executive vice president, design and product development, Lilly Pulitzer Courtesy

Name: Mira Fain

Title: Executive vice president, design and product development

Company: Lilly Pulitzer

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

Apparel is known for speculating on sales and producing product based on those projections. If high sell-throughs are achieved, we chase reorders with months of lead times; if not, inventory sits, leading to liquidation. The auto industry has managed the task of developing efficient planning and forecasting tools to meet pull-driven demand and make the supply chain lean. A pre-vetted supplier network located near the plants allowing for an uninterrupted flow of components into the manufacturing plant to meet the demand would be beneficial to the apparel industry. It would shorten lead times and have the right product at the right place, at a right time.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I do a lot of research online to be both influenced and informed, and my path to purchase can be painstakingly long at times. However, once in a store, I am an impulse buyer mainly driven by senses, and mostly how the store atmosphere makes me feel. I tend to find myself facilitated and delighted—or equally frustrated—by the service and store environment. In both channels, I am willing to try new brands and products dependent on the brand experience.

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

Superior service, quality and a seamless shopping experience. Know me well enough to make it easy for me, up-sell and cross-sell well by creating the need to buy, and be authentically interested to resolve my need.

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

Dressing up daily brings me great joy, whether going to the office in person, preparing for a virtual meeting or taking the dog out. I draw energy from color, and especially during the pandemic, wearing color and print created a way to escape the outside world and draw security from what seemed like the only familiar routine we were left with. My go-to outfit choices tend to be dresses and statement tops paired with oversized accessories. Weekends follow the same formula with the addition of swim and tennis apparel.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

The colorful and optimistic 1960s.

Who’s your style icon?

Grace Kelly and her granddaughter Charlotte Casiraghi portray sophistication and confidence through decades. I admire many influencers, such as Olivia Palermo for her usage of color, ability to mix high and low, and for always being spot-on. Through the decades, my closet has also been enlivened by TV series and the styles of actresses like Lisa Bonet and Sarah Jessica Parker.

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

Investment in digital, pivoting fast and being agile across all functions during the early period of the pandemic, followed by a rollout of a strategic plan for recovery. Shifting gears from being heads down in the day-to-day business, to spending time on focusing on longer-term goals and objectives. Throughout the company, team members know that whatever they are working on needs to align with those objectives.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

We honor over 60 years of history as a brand and live by the company’s core values and leadership qualities embedded in the brand’s DNA. Even the new employees tend to quickly form an emotional connection to the bright colors and dynamic prints forming a natural association with optimism, positive energy and can-do approach.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

Covid-19 left permanent marks on the future across industries and highlighted for many that they were underestimating the speed of change and underinvesting in the tools and technologies. I was intrigued to see how fast processes, workflows and routines that had been in place for years in the office environment were radically altered and adopted quite effortlessly in the virtual environment, gaining efficiency and productivity as well as new innovative approaches across functions and deliverables. Agility, adaptability and resiliency of the workforce, digital tools and great external vendor relationships became the driving force first for survival, and now for growth.

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

Focus on the multitude of shifts in consumer behavior and expectations. To deploy change at a speed of which the customers and employees require rather than at the speed of which the current systems or historical familiarity will allow. Reinvent processes and reboot.

What keeps you up at night?

Not enough hours in the day. The transformation; envisioning, testing and scaling up current strategies and future opportunities.

What makes you most optimistic?

I thrive living by optimism being a choice. Positive change in human behavior makes me most optimistic. In this period of crisis where we needed to prioritize basic needs such as food, health and safety, we still found the compassion to open our hearts and homes to shelter animals. I was struck by how shelters were empty or having limited supplies of pets. Covid-19 affected, disrupted and changed our lives, but also re-prioritized our value systems and made us better humans in many ways.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

The growing relevance of outdoor sports, wellness and health has become an integral part of Lilly Pulitzer’s product offering. As part of the growth strategy in our Luxletics performance category, we introduced golf and tennis to meet the growing demands of our consumers. Recently we also successfully reintroduced swim with a superior partner in fit and quality.