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VF Corporation combines science with design

Brands should develop wide networks, look outside the business world for ideas and combine technological innovation with design know-how to innovate successfully, Steve Zades, vice-president of transformational innovation at VF Corporation, told Drapers Digital Festival this morning.

“Innovation is about seeing connections,” explained Zades. “The more unobvious those connections are, the greater the innovation.”

VF Corporation, which owns brands including Vans, The North Face, Timberland and Lee, runs its Cognitive and Design Science Lab in California, where innovations such as its Body Optix technology for Lee jeans are developed. The fabric is designed to catch the light in such a way as to make the clothes more flattering.

Zades said combining different areas of expertise works well: “It turns out designers and scientists are amazing partners. They’re curious about the world and they both approach it in different ways.

“This idea of combining designers and scientists, we have seen well choreographed in other industries – companies such as Apple and Tesla are good examples. You don’t see it in ours yet but I think that’s going to change.”

He added the lab has also taken inspiration from projects in other areas, such as the Sundance Film Festival, on how to create a culture of innovation.

He also advised building networks of businesses, individuals and freelancers to generate the best ideas, and points out that no one company will be able to own all the assets they need or come up with all the best ideas on their own: “We believe strongly in a network approach. A few years ago some companies’ attitude was ‘we want to own all the assets’.

“Nothing is further from the truth. Working in a network model means those with new ideas are working with you, not with someone else.”

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