“Passionate about entrepreneurship, innovation and social and business transformation”. This is how Luz Adriana Naranjo describes herself and shows herself to be in this interview. Since 2009, the leading professional in Colombia’s fashion business has been working at the Institute for Fashion Exportation (Inexfashion). “I began by overseeing a business innovation program that directly benefitted 240 companies directly and more than 9,000 indirectly”, she explained. With the challenge of embracing new issues in the industry, such as knowledge, she was appointed by the Chairman of Inexfashion as the Director of Strategic Transformation. Her main mission was to find other ways of connecting with businesspeople and generate value for them in order to compete in the market.
During this period of personal and professional growth, Luz Adriana decided to round of her development in the academic sphere as well. “I was looking for an option that enabled me to continue working at Inexfashion and manage my time”. After a thorough search of the programs available in relation to innovation, she eventually chose the Master in Business Innovation Management at EAE Business School. As well as the online format, other determining factors in her decision included the School’s Alliance with the Universitat de Barcelona and the great references that she had been given about the School, which led her to select this training option. “Out of all the study programs I have taken, this is the one that I have gained most from”, explained Luz Adriana, adding that not only did she find it highly enjoyable but also, thanks to being able to combine her studies with her work at Inexfashion, she was able to “implement everything she learned”.
“Knowledge is the driving force of social and business transformation”
The objective of the Colombian institute Inexfashion is to “connect knowledge to make the Fashion System buzz”. As Luz Adriana told us, they see knowledge as a “driving force of social and business transformation”. To illustrate this statement, the former student used a quote by the businessman Jack Welch: “An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage”.
Giving us an overview of her typical daily duties at Inexfashion, she explained that, based on innovation and knowledge, she has to build “projects that make an impact on people in terms of the way they act, and on companies in terms of the way they are and what they do”. To achieve this goal, innovation is the key piece of the puzzle, through which knowledge is converted into money for the entire set of companies that make up the “Fashion System”.
We asked her why she considers it a ‘system’ and which other industries it influences directly or indirectly. Luz Adriana responded by explaining that, as a result of a trip to Milan (Italy), they came to understand fashion as a system. “From that starting point, we did some research into what was happening in England, Paris and Brazil. We generated a set of knowledge to connect fashion with other industries”, she explained. “Now I see the connection as completely natural. Fashion helps us to communicate what we have inside through jewellery, footwear, accessories, make-up etc. But the same can be said about music, art, gastronomy and many more industries, and not only in creative sectors”.
“Nowadays, the industry not only competes with respect to products but also in terms of business models that have an impact on people’s wellbeing and quality of life”
After eight years forming part of the team at Inexfashion, for five of which she has been the Director of Strategic Transformation, Luz Adriana has experienced the transformation of the fashion industry first hand. She highlighted the brands’ new approach to offering more than just a good product, after realising that customers were looking for a compelling concept. “People consume from the perspective of emotion”, she explained. This explains the increasing importance that companies have gradually placed on developing business models that “have an impact on people’s wellbeing and quality of life”.
Colombia, the interviewee’s market and homeland, has seen how its own consolidated and century-old fashion system has reinvented itself. “Columbian companies also understood that they were not just competing on price, but also with powerful brands based on their own DNA and the speed at which they reached customers”. This all needs to be achieved while once again embracing innovation, especially in terms of sales channels.
“The market shifted from selling make-up to branding and we are now experiencing the retail boom. It used to be highly dependent on what was sold in the United States and Venezuela. The Colombian middle class has grown from 15% of the population 10 years ago to 37% today. This was one of the industry’s great lifelines: the average number of clothing purchases for Colombian people increased from 7 to 22 garments”. Not only did Luz Adriana witness this national situation first hand, but also significant international developments in the sector, such as the global recession in 2008, the political and economic upheaval in countries like Venezuela and Ecuador, China joining the WTO to become the great fashion factory, and the impact of ecommerce.
Challenges and trends in the fashion industry
While Columbia’s fashion market in the 1990s was focused on export, it now concentrates more of the national market. “We used to be a manufacturing company with a strong focus on exportation, but all that has changed”. Luz Adriana explained that this change was not only due to the situation in China, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam, but also because, nowadays in the Americas, it is cheaper to produce in Mexico, Peru and Brazil. “As a country, we face huge challenges in terms of finding niche export markets, adapting our products to international markets and structuring global brands”.
As a result, the ratio of export to national sales, which was 1:8 a decade ago, has undergone a dramatic turnaround, with the domestic market absorbing the losses incurred on the international market. The former student summed up the situation bluntly: “The model changed. We went from being manufacturer to creating brands and we are now in the retail age, where there is a great obsession about what is being bought”.
“The opportunity comes from connecting with customers’ hearts”, humanizing the brand and creating stories around it. In this respect, the sector professional stated that consumers nowadays want brands to tell us stories with a deep meaning. To this end, brands have their own DNA, a set of values, a communication style and a language, all aspects that they have to express.
To bring the section on challenges and trends to a close, we could not fail to mention ecommerce and the revolution that the internet has brought about for the fashion sector. According to Modaes, ecommerce will grow by five times by 2020, which leads Luz Adriana to focus on the “great opportunity and challenge of communicating and selling through online platforms and networks. At Inexfashion, there are success stories involving companies that focus exclusively on online sales and she highlighted the ‘Epic Innovation Challenge’ program, which including companies with annual turnovers of over 400,000 dollars per year, only selling on Instagram. “They are small, young companies, operating for no more than two years on the market and which do not only base their strategy on the online channel, but rather other channels that enable the brand to reach customers in a creative way and make the shopping experience easier”.
“Knowledge is the keystone of everything we do”
It is therefore clear that the challenges that companies in the fashion system face can also be converted into businesses opportunities to capitalize on through innovation. “The key is to create the optimal methodology to enable the businesspeople to implement it”.
As Luz Adriana told us, innovation goes far beyond the world of retail, also encompassing technology (wearables, 3D printing, apps, etc.). “Although fashion is one of the most changing industries in the world, there is a great opportunity to deliver greater value than simply in terms of the product appearance, quality and the brand values”. Nowadays, customers demand more that just the product itself. They want wellbeing and fashion that embraces the technological age, as well as “more socially and environmentally sustainable fashion”, she added.
Luz Adriana Naranjo, an “out-of-the-box thinker and results-focused”
After talking to the former student about her work at Inexfashion, the current situation in the sector in Colombia and the challenges and opportunities of the future, it becomes clear how much the professional trusts in knowledge and its transmission, in order to transform the business community and society. “The entrepreneurial drive and the desire to connect people and opportunities are in my blood”, she told us, explaining that her family all have a vocation for business.
With respect to her passion for fashion, she explained that it dates back to her university studies in international trade. “I decided that I wanted to work for cosmetics or fashion companies rather than a car or fridge manufacturer”, joked Luz Adriana. Her opportunity to break into the sector came about in 2004, when she started working at the Agency for Business and Cooperation Promotion in the city of Medellín. “I had the chance to promote my city as a business destination for the fashion, health and tourism sectors”.
Since then, she admits that she never could have imagined the wonderful adventure she would have in terms of continuing in the sector and going on to become the Director of Strategic Transformation at Inexfashion. In 2012, when she took on this executive position, the Institute was undergoing a process of reviewing its business model, which “involved large changes and
challenges in terms of restructuring a business area and creating a model that would have a great impact on businesspeople, while being profitable for the organization”. After a period of research and learning, thanks to her experience and qualifications in business, international relations and geopolitics, Luz Adriana took charge of leading knowledge fronts.
“I am a different Luz Adriana after completing the Master at EAE, not only professionally but also personally”
As we mentioned at the start of the interview, in the class of 2013/2014, Luz Adriana decided to take the Master in Business Innovation Management in the online format.
She did not want to leave Inexfashion, but neither did she want to study at a Columbian institution or university. With this in mind, she looked for the online format in order to be able to continue working and managing her time. In addition, she told us that many of her friends had recommended this Master to her as it focused on her passion: innovation. “Out of all the study programs I have taken, this is the one that I have gained most from”, she told us, emphasizing that she was a different person after completing her studies, not only professionally but also personally. “It helped me to find my essence, what moves me inside, and I went on to project this at Inexfashion”, explained the former student. “The Master forced me to give my headspace a real shake-up and it all helped me to be happier”.
Since then, Luz Adriana has continued to expand her knowledge and training in innovation, leadership, the entrepreneurial culture and retail management, being a strong advocate of lifelong learning, or “intellectually curious” as she describes herself. This is partly thanks to the Institute that she works for, which “believes that knowledge connects and connecting transforms”, which is embodied in continuous training in technical, strategic and personal aspects.
To conclude the interview, Luz Adriana thanked EAE Business School for “having the courage to reinvent itself and really work for the transformation of companies”. On a personal level, the former student would recommend the School, primarily for this reason. “EAE has managed to reinvented academia both in terms of the channel of knowledge delivery, with respect to embracing digital means, and in relation to learning methodologies to implement while you are learning”.