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What Happened at Desautels’ Fashion Business Uncovered Conference?

Fashion Business Uncovered 2016: Global Edition Review

The third annual Fashion Business Uncovered (FBU) Conference once again took its participants to the other side of the fashion industry, past the glitz and the glamor on February 12, 2016.

Fashion Business Uncovered is one of the most well-known and popular conferences that invites some of the most powerful and influential regional and international figures in the industry. This year was the “Global Edition” where the speakers shared their thoughts and tips focusing more on the global expansion of the fashion industry in our “flat world,” with the boom of digital media and e-commerce.

As Ella Tsang, the co-executive of the conference noted in her previous interview with Her Campus, on the surface, fashion is all about beauty, luxury, and glamor. What the conference aims to do is help its audience see past its looks and realize that the industry scene behind does not exactly mirror its appearances. As numerous panels shared their presentations and speeches reflective of their journey to success, the audience was able to gain a multidimensional and realistic view of the industry landscape.

In this review article, Her Campus McGill will take you through some key points of the conference.

GROUPE DYNAMITE: Growing and evolving with customers

As the main sponsor of the conference, Groupe Dynamite’s Catherine Brisebois delivered the opening keynote, which shared the company’s history, vision, and its development through the years of fast fashion landscape and its evolvement. Groupe Dynamite’s key success factor seemed to lie in its customer-centric mission, with its brands Garage and Dynamite devoting all efforts in engaging with their respective target market. What I saw was their effort to create a story that relates to its customers and build its people and products around that story in order to become more than just a clothing brand, but rather a friend. This Montreal-born brand’s national and international success story was very fitting of the theme, “Around the World.”

MACKAGE: “Go slow to maintain focus”

Mackage is Montreal’s very own fashion retailer that has expanded internationally, and behind the doors of this urban-chic leather brand stand the two Elfassy brothers. As successful entrepreneurs, the brothers shared their tips on “growing your own global brand.” Some of these included the different steps one should follow prior to making a decision to expand, as well as some challenges he or she must overcome. 

To quote the Elfassy brothers, “[h]aving focus means saying no to a thousand good ideas.” These entrepreneurial brothers demonstrated what it means to have a strong belief in their idea, and to have a humble yet confident strategy in maintaining its brand identity. Had Mackage decided to expand aggressively at every opportunity possible, it would not have been able to acquire its current level of exclusive brand value. Likewise, the two speakers advised future entrepreneurs to go slowly in order to maintain focus and to perfect and conquer your home first before expanding.

Mackage’s Patrick and Eran Elfassy

ELLE QUEBEC: Importance of content strategy

Elle Quebec’s Sandra Abi-Rashed deepened the audience’s understanding of the fashion industry by sharing her fashion publication’s point of view. With today’s overwhelming mass of advertising, she shared the importance of having one’s own “purple cow,” a unique identity. While the pie-size of advertising stays the same, the variety of mediums continues to increase. The new entrants of media strategies such as e-commerce, social media, search engine optimization, and more have been threatening the traditional media. This shift led to an increased importance of content and video, which Elle has been successfully adapting to. Despite the heightened competition, Elle still stands strong thanks to her “overall belief in the field of marketing and its continuous evolution.”

FRANK AND OAK: More than just a purchase

Frank and Oak’s Ethan Song captured millennials right away with his success story that everyone dreams of. His target consumers, in fact, exactly match the audience members: millennials who have Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and a story to share. As Ethan Song described, this generation is moving past the desire for “access” towards “experience,” which is exactly what he tapped into. He made his store experience “more than just a purchase” but rather a relationship, which has led to numerous entrepreneur awards and incredible sales records. As a forward-looking young entrepreneur, he inspired the audience with what he identified as “five opportunities in 2016”: 1. Start everything with a story; 2. Be curious — don’t just look at your competitors; 3. Always design for a mobile lifestyle; 4. Rethink the in-store experience; 5. Become a data scientist. 

Ethan Song was definitely one of the most personable, inspiring, and relatable speakers with an excellent presentation that was not only informational but also intimate.

Sonia Zarbatany: What is the life you want to live?

This incredible young mother and an entrepreneur delivered one of the most entertaining and heartening presentation while sharing very practical tips. She was exciting, inviting, and relatable to the main audience members, the young women interested in fashion.

She shared the following tips on how to get into this industry, to cut this “gap of experience” between young job-seekers and employers, and to mirror the person that you want to be:

  1. Think to yourself, “What’s the life I want to live?”
  2. Know where you are going and be ready. Read your job description, print out your CV, and cut out the clutter prior to your interview.
  3. Practice. Don’t waste the potential employer’s time
  4. Look at five of your closest friends. You’re the average of that group. If they are not motivational, encouraging, or who you want to be, you’re in the wrong group.
  5. Don’t be discouraged because you are a girl. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are “too much” just because you are chasing after what you want.
  6. Find what you love. If you don’t know, find out what you would do if you didn’t have to work for money, who is doing that, and finally, figure out how to do what they do while making money.

Sonia approached the audience like a sister, and the audience saluted her for honesty, inspiration, and for being the role model that she is.

(Sonia Zarbatany interacting with the audience)

The following is a condensed list of tips that other panels offered.

Beyond the Rack’s Richard Cohene: The purpose of university is “to learn to learn.” Take risks and be curious. 

(He also suggested reading these three books: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, The Hard Thing about Hard Things, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon)

Vero Moda’s Grimur Gardarsson: Write down your ten goals for the next five years. Once you write them down, they are proven to be much more likely to come true.

Last Panel with Vero Moda’s Grimur Gardarsson, How INTL’s Steven Sein, and Dynamite’s Nicolas Gaudreau: Realize the importance of goal setting. Understand that it is hard to get it all, and you will need a team. Fashion is not just about clothes, look past it and be prepared to look at numbers. 

Before closing, one thing to note is that it is very easy for speakers share a story that focuses purely on the growth of one’s business. A few speakers focused on the history of their company, which can be interesting at first, but once it gets very specific to that particular business, it is hard for listeners to relate. On the other hand, speakers should be advised not to generalize their success story too much either. One speaker repetitively said that for him, some of the industry sectors were “pretty much the same,” which many audience members found hard to understand and to relate to. 

To conclude, this year’s Fashion Business Uncovered hosted numerous influencers who were very welcoming, motivating, and more than ready to share. The speakers were very well-diversified but with the same goal of literally “uncovering” the mythic fashion world. The Global Edition of the conference was very informative and engaging, and most importantly, it actually motivated people — the post-networking cocktail was filled with excited faces, eager to hear more and learn more. From the audience’s point of view, this conference was a huge success, and I personally cannot wait until next year’s. The committee made the audience genuinely curious as to how they are going to break the misconceptions about the fashion industry and once again spark the light of ambition in every one of us.


Images obtained from:


Averie Hah

McGill '17

Digital marketer, social media enthusiast writer, feminist, leader in training. Recent Marketing and Economics graduate of McGill. A social media enthusiast  - Instagram addict @ave.hah  - Tumblr junkie here  - See my other work here
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