DGG’s FashionSpeak, Michigan’s largest conference for the fashion industry, took place on Thursday, October 13, 2016.  Presented by Taubman, this one-day conference brings together nationally recognized experts in five fields crucial to the success of the fashion industry; each conducting a 70-minute workshop, all centered around the business of fashion. 


This year’s lineup was: Keynote Speaker: Former CEO of Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs and more Jeffry Aronsson; Group Vice President, Softlines of Meijer Annette Repasch – “Get Your Foot in the Door: Developing Relationships with Larger Companies”; Product Development Expert Amy Dietrich – “Determine and Develop Your Best Product”; Buyer at Freeds of Windsor Lauren Kirsch Weiss – “Tradeshow 101”; Public Relations Expert Karen MacDonald – “How To Elevate Your Brand”.

Attendees included fashion and accessories designers, photographers, bloggers, wardrobe stylists, local retailers, many college students and other industry enthusiasts..

One of the major highlights from the afternoon was keynote speaker and fashion industry expert, Jeffry Aronsson.

A little background on Mr. Aronsson: 

"Frequently referenced in industry publications, Mr. Aronsson is a globally recognized leader in formulating and executing turnaround and brand growth strategies. He has demonstrated special expertise and experience throughout the world critical to luxury and apparel businesses including licensing, operations and brand development and repositioning.  This includes conception, formulation and execution of international joint ventures, acquisitions and new product launches.

Prior to his career in the luxury industry, Mr. Aronsson practiced law in New York where he specialized in international corporate taxation after receiving his masters in tax law (LL.M in taxation) from New York University Law School."

During his keynote, he shared his journey and answered relevant questions from Karen Busecmi during his time on stage.  He also offered honest advice and feedback to the inspired audience members who had questions. 

I had the opportunity to sit one on one with Mr. Aronsson.   What an honor it was to spend time with a man who has so much knowledge in "the business of fashion…"  As he was the former CEO of Oscar de la Renta (1993-2003), Marc Jacobs (2003), Donna Karan (2004-2006), Emanuel Ungaro (Interim CEO: 2011) and Ralph Rucci (CEO: 2012-2013).  I was totally pinching myself, the inner Fashion Institute of Technology version of myself was very excited to talk with him.  He is wise business man and shares insight into the industry and just general advice on how to make it (in any industry). Hope you enjoy the interview below. 


{SS}: What is your connection to Detroit? 

{JA}: I am originally from Detroit and my grandfather was born in Detroit.  I have deep roots in Detroit.  There is truly something special about coming back – still feels like home, no matter how long it has been!  During my visit… walking out of my hotel in the morning, it didn’t matter who the person was or what the person was doing there is just sincerity all around. I miss these genuine hello's and nice greetings walking down the street. I would love nothing more than to see the city thrive – Detroit has always been a city of innovation – from the carriage trade, shipping, to automobile. If there is some way I can a be a  part of this renaissance, I am glad to help! 

{SS}: How did you get started in the Fashion Industry?

{JA}: It was a bit serendipitous. I attended NYU School of Law and became a practicing lawyer. One day, I got a call from an accountant in my network.  He wanted to know if I wanted to to meet a fashion designer who needed a good corporate Lawyer? "Sure, who is the Designer, I asked."  and it was, Oscar de la Renta.

Imagine this, upon our first meeting.  Mr. De La Renta was the "sartorial elegant gentleman" (and I was the polyester plaid from the Midwest).  Mr. de la Renta asks me, "So Mr. Aronsson how many fashion clients do you have?  What makes you think you can do anything for me?"  I simply respond, give me something to do… and he liked my work.  The rest is history. 

The irony of me being in the fashion industry, is, I would have never imagined myself in the industry considering the retail trauma my mother put me through when she dragged me with her to Saks in the "NEW CENTER" – spending hours warned to sit still. So, for me – I never thought about being in the industry until the opportunity presented itself. 

{SS}: Biggest career highlight?  

{JA}: I was outside council for Oscar de la Renta for 5 years and he asked me to come on board as CEO.  I think it was my first few days on the job as CEO for Oscar.  We were close to bankruptcy and I was able to re-write the loan agreements and in that moment it changed everything for us, as a company.


In general a highlight for me, is the fact I can look back and think, one of my first meetings with Senior VP, GMM of Bergdorf Goodman having been summoned for a ‘seasonal reconciliation.”  I felt intimidated, a real outsider  and very much in over my head. After apologizing for not knowing what I should know, I asked him to explain things to me as if I were three years old.   I was a bit intimidated and feeling well in over my head  as I had to ask him what "RTV" meant and he had to explain it. Regardless of my lack of knowledge in the industry… within 5 years we multiplied the size of our Bergdorf Goodman business 20 times., in one location. Overall being an outsider, non fashion focused and just a typical tax lawyer, I was warned by my friends in other businesses, that the fashion industry eats people like me for breakfast.  However, I saw it differently.  The fashion industry like any other was built on relationships.  It was in this context, however, that the concept of “Synchronicity” took on meaning   It was true "Synchronicity" for me – I was prepared and skilled in a certain area YET open and ready to be working in the fashion industry even though I was not accustomed to it. I took the opportunity and never looked back. 

{SS}: Synchronicity; when two things come together.  {noun 1. the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection}.  Mr. Aronsson stated, "start thinking like that in your day – it opens up in your life."

{SS}: What would you tell your 23 year old self?

{JA}: Have a skill – learn a subject matter and to be useful and then to keep an open mind – and it can be applied that ways you would have never imaged.  Also, the most valuable asset anybody can have is, integrity – that, #1 – make promises you intend to keep and when fulfilling the promise – be sensitive and aware of the consequences of fulfilling the promises.  ALWAYS try to see the full picture. 

{SS}: What would you tell a young professional just starting out in the business? 

{JA}: Three important things… 

1. Be yourself – be true to your values, don’t compromise them, stay focused on what you want to do – with enough "peripheral vision" - to remain open to the big picture you might otherwise lose with a laser focus.

2. Don’t give up; use setbacks as learning experience.  There is no failure; unless you stop.

3. Treat people the way you wanted to be treated – good guys finish better!  

{SS}: In your opinion what is the future of fashion? And how will it be defined? 

{JA}: The future is not one channel or another. OMNI means multiple channels of distribution including direct to consumer – can include bricks and mortar, social selling – the key to the future – is to establish relationships with your customer, directly without intermediation. 

{SS}: Who do you think does a solid job of omnichannel (experience) or physical / online presence in the industry?

{JA}: Bonobos, does a great job… and of course,  Amazon is the future – but, it does not have to be the only. How do you get noticed when there are so many other big guys making noise. The answer is,  innovation – and always staying on top that. 

Here is something to consider, "social" is great – 12 million followers is great – but how many of those 12 million are actually customers? More direct connections and maybe smaller more engaged following is extremely important because that smaller, engaged audience are the ones who are actually buying.  

There are many, but a few others that come to mind: 

And within the "modest fashion trend"  there is a brand called, Haute Hijab – super specific market with huge potential- and no one is approaching it as does Haute Hijab. With more than 400,000 followers across several platforms, their engagement is extraordinary along with sales growth, and customer loyalty. *At the end of the day, you want followers you can convert – it isn’t even engagement – it has to be conversion! 

{SS}: Who inspires you?

{JA}: my late business partner, Mr. Oscar de la Renta – it was through him – I was really exposed to the world I never knew and I was given the opportunity to apply my interest in art and business in a very gratifying way. He was my soulmate in business.  

Also, my grandfather as he represented, hard work determination, commitment and integrity. 

{SS}: What are your “words to live by” OR favorite saying/quote?