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How Perry Ellis’ Innovation Director Keeps Technology First

Perry Ellis is preparing for a tech-centered tomorrow with its inaugural innovation director taking the pulse of the forces influencing the future.

Born into a family that earned its living in the textile industry, Perry Ellis International’s (PEI) director of innovation Isaac Korn initially followed in his kin’s footsteps, working in the family manufacturing business after graduation in a career that took him to factories scattered across Asia, South America, Africa and beyond. Since joining the Miami-based apparel enterprise four years back, Korn, who said he’s long been interested in technology and disruption, stepped away from his sourcing roots in January to fill the newly created innovation role and steer the company into a much more connected and consumer-centric future.

Attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last year gave Korn a preview of the kinds of initiatives that could become standard operating procedure for the 49-year-old firm.

The Perry Ellis Tech Wallet, for one, is a direct result of encountering Chipolo, maker of the thinnest Bluetooth chip, which when integrated makes essentials like keys, phones and wallets trackable and discoverable. For Perry Ellis, the Tech Wallet elevates a product that nearly every man carries, with functionality that just could save the day in a pinch. The smart accessory, paired with an accompanying mobile app, remembers its last location in the event that it becomes lost, and is designed to “ring” once the owner is in close proximity.

Even as Korn, at the time the director of sourcing, was guiding the smart wallet from idea to reality, he was knee deep in Perry Ellis’ Pitch to Pery program seeking innovative ideas that addressed any of four areas: building brand awareness for any of the company’s 38 owned or licensed lifestyle brands, including Original Penguin and Cubavera; boosting sales online; improving in-store sales; and developing fashion products connected via the Internet of Things. Perry Ellis recognized the need to engage with all of the forward-thinking startups cropping up, Korn said, and understand the technology and solutions coming to market. Winners have yet to be announced.

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Perry Ellis has had many irons in the innovation fire, partnering with the New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTL) for access to the startups nurtured by the technology incubator. Despite that cozy relationship, it was introduced to FINDMINE—a NYFTL alum—through a word-of-mouth recommendation. Korn said he and his colleagues were impressed by the startup’s artificial intelligence (AI)-powered complete-the-look outfitting technology for e-commerce that on average creates a 6 percent lift in sales across its retail installation base.

When the team saw how FINDMINE works, they said “we have to have it,” Korn noted. “No one was offering that combination of human manipulation but also AI understanding what will be the best choice,” he explained, adding that Perry Ellis derives 20 percent of total sales through digital channels.

Digital retail needs these kinds of investments because “you need to be strong in brick and mortar but you also need to be strong in e-commerce,” Korn said. “That’s what FINDMINE provides, enabling a better experience when customers shop online.” Now that the FINDMINE deployment has gone live with the Perry Ellis, the company will evaluate historical data to understand the benefit the technology is providing.

“The more solutions we’re able to test and learn from, the more we’re going to get more returns from,” Korn noted.

That tech-friendly mentality applies on the product development side, too. Last year PEI first experimented with 3-D sampling using software from Optitex. Following a successful pilot with its Miami brands like Cubavera, Korn said PEI is “seeing very good results with 3-D technology” and is now deploying the software to other brands, including Original Penguin.

Virtual garment prototyping means fewer resources wasted on unnecessary rounds of physical samples, and ultra-realistic renderings enable designers to execute decisions quickly, Korn observed. Plus, sales teams can sell virtual collections in a digital showroom without the burden of physical samples in tow. Consumers already are shopping online based on digital pictures, so why wouldn’t buyers purchase the same way?

But he’s thinking beyond 3-D’s current, practical applications to the kinds of experience those digital assets could facilitate—especially augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) scenarios. Consumers aren’t quite engaging with VR the way the industry expected them to—“no one wants to wear these weird glasses,” according to Korn—but there’s still plenty of room to use VR to create immersive, 360-degree experiences.

Reporting directly to the CEO, Korn said one of the best parts of his job is having “carte blanche” when presenting new technologies to his colleagues. “When you show them new things, they already know that it’s something our CEO is interested in and it’s something we should pay attention to,” he said.