By putting people first, founders Jordana and Marcelo Guimarães are successfully merging the worlds of fashion and technology.
In July 2018, Brazilian couple Marcelo and Jordana Guimarães wrote “fashion and innovation” on a piece of paper with the idea of creating an event that would bring the two worlds together. While new to New York City at that time, Marcelo noticed that there were no events that merged fashion and technology like he saw in the food, finance, and education spaces. Jordana, with her background in fashion marketing and public relations, knew that they needed to bridge the divide.
Two months of cold emails later, Jordana and Marcelo had Diane von Furstenberg, Susan Rockefeller, Google’s Director of Engineering Ivan Poupyrev, the founders of Shopify, and representatives from the United Nations among the big names headlining their very first event right in the middle of New York Fashion Week. Reminiscing, Jordana shares, “We literally just emailed an idea with no website and nothing to show on Google. We then knew there was a demand for the event because it was so quick to get a yes from a cold email. We were like, ‘Okay, now we really have to do it because we have speakers.’” Taking those words that they wrote on paper, the portmanteau naturally emerged and Fashinnovation was born.
No one was more surprised by the speed of success and the scale of their initial event than Jordana herself. Fashinnovation welcomed five hundred guests to their inaugural summit to take part in a series of conversations with leaders and pioneers in fashion and technology. The common thread that ran through all the conversations was sustainability. Since day one, sustainability along with innovation and entrepreneurship, diversity and equality, and inclusion have been the solid pillars that Fashinnovation was built on.
Jordana attributes the immediate attraction and early success of Fashinnovation to her and her husband’s love of people. She passionately says, “The key to what’s gotten us to where we are is that, for us, first and foremost are people and impact. Business comes second.” Jordana describes how she and her husband have the same excitement no matter who they’re speaking to, whether it’s a president or a designer, because it’s someone who has a passion for what they do.
Their commitment to people and impact, and the need for connection became especially evident during the pandemic. In April 2020, Fashinnovation was among the first organizations to host a digital conference. While they hoped for a good number of attendees, they could have never anticipated the sheer number of participants. Fashinnovation went from 1,000 guests during their last physical event in February to over 120,000 attendees from 190 different countries at their first digital summit weeks later. Attendees logged in to listen to 90 different speakers, including fashion designers in the US, fabric makers in Nigeria, and artisans in India.
Looking back, Jordana says, “Funnily enough, our slogan was ‘Fashion is to Love’ even before Covid happened.” That slogan became a mantra as Jordana and Marcelo then decided to host regular digital events called the Worldwide Talks. As cities went into lockdown, Fashinnovation opened doors and channels across the world to stimulate conversations and create pathways for learning and collaboration. “No matter what the conversation was, no matter what the technology was that we put on stage, sustainability is always a core component,” Jordana says.
Fashion for All
Deep in their commitment to put people first and foster new connections, today, alongside biannual Worldwide Talks, Fashinnovation organizes business missions, private dinners, and a slew of other purpose-driven gatherings. For its business missions, Fashinnovation embarks on a trip to major cities, including London, Paris, and San Francisco. For five days, participants are taken behind the closed doors of some of the most recognized heritage brands, as well as today’s exciting startups. Whether you’re a designer in Manila, a student in Shanghai, an artist in Cape Town, or a founder in New York, all are welcome to apply and join an immersive learning and business experience within the office walls of Pinterest, LVMH at Station F, Stella McCartney, Veja, Farfetch, Harrods, Pangaia, and Lyst, just to name a few. Anyone or any brand that wants to make a positive impact and is able to add to the conversation is more than welcome to the business missions.
Fashinnovation’s welcoming and open environment is in line with its objective of democratizing fashion, to open events and make them accessible to those who’ve never been invited in order to spark new conversations. She explains, “Brands have the responsibility to educate consumers but platforms and communities, all of us, have to keep these forums open because once people really understand things such as sustainability, that’s when behaviors can shift.”
With this in mind, not only is Fashinnovation unlocking long closed doors but they’re also giving free-access to informational materials to everyone, everywhere. Thousands of hours of content from every talk they’ve ever had since 2018 is available to view on the Fashinnovation website. Jordana and her team have gone even further by taking the key points that previous speakers have made, including some 700 CEOs, and created educational programs out of them. In other words, Fashinnovation’s platform is like a free online university where the professors imparting knowledge are some of the most respected and well-known names in fashion, design, media, retail, business, and technology.
Jordana is the first to admit that being a founder and trying to change the status quo is akin to a rollercoaster ride with endless ups, downs, and loops along the journey. She honestly says, “As you’re building something, it’s very easy to look and say, ‘Is this all worth it? Are people even listening or paying attention?’” The unequivocal answer to her question is yes.
Jordana and Marcelo’s steadfast determination and larger than life vision has led to a collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships, in recognition of how crucial the work they’re doing is towards sustainability and improving the global fashion industry. This year, Fashinnovation has also formed a partnership with The Lions agency to further push for diversity, equality, and inclusivity throughout the industry.
Most recently, Nasdaq approached Fashinnovation to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and Mastercard invited Jordana and Marcelo to take part in their sustainable fashion initiative during the Cannes Film Festival. Jordana shares, “When you have these moments like Nasdaq, out of nowhere, reaching out and saying, ‘We want you to ring the opening bell based on the impact we’ve seen you make in the industry towards sustainability,’ it’s such validation. You’re then like, ‘Okay, I’m actually going to keep going because I feel like this is getting somewhere.”
Fashinnovation undoubtedly believes that fashion is one of the biggest vehicles for change. Jordana puts it simply, saying, “Everyone wears clothes. It’s one of the universal things that connects all of us, even if we don’t speak the same language.” However, ironically, Jordana has found herself standing in front of and standing up to raised eyebrows and expressions of skepticism the moment she mentions that she has a platform bringing together fashion and technology.
“The minute they hear the word ‘fashion’ it’s like they don’t take it seriously. People see fashion and they don’t correlate it to business when, in fact, fashion is one of the biggest businesses in the world,” she adamantly expresses. For Jordana, this reality has made it even more vital to have CEOs and founders on the Fashinnovation stage to talk about their day one story.
Speaking of Innovation
While “innovation” always brings to mind the most advanced technologies, Jordana describes how innovation can simply mean doing things differently. Of course, technology is what can help steer the industry faster towards circularity and sustainable progress. However, she also explains, “Innovation doesn’t have to mean Web 3.0, it doesn’t have to be some crazy technology. It could be innovation in the way a brand brings their message forward or the way a founder started their company.”
Fashinnovation itself is doing things a little differently in a lot of different ways. As a public platform with a global community, Jordana and Marcelo are open to partnering with and listening to anyone that is working towards positive outcomes and doing things for the right reasons. This has meant that, amidst the prevalence of cancel culture, Fashinnovation has taken on controversial collaborations.
Jordana candidly shares how a lot of people couldn’t understand and accept why they’d work with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture. She explains, “Fashion has no borders. 70% of the founders we brought on stage in Saudi were women, which was awesome. Designers and brands anywhere in the world deserve an opportunity because they’re not running the country and have no say in what happens.” It’s evident how passionately Jordana feels about this. “It was important for us to do, to give them this light and let them know that the rest of the world supports them, for them to continue to do good things and have that empowerment,” Jordana wholeheartedly states.
Jordana is not only unafraid to speak up, she’s unafraid to have those difficult and unpopular conversations. More importantly, she’s willing to truly listen. Talking about Fashinnovation, she says, “I think, honestly, one thing that differentiates us is that we listen to everyone. We’re a community, we’re a platform, we’re events but our whole thing is initiating conversations that need to be had, to share different perspectives for all of us to come up with a solution in unity.” Perhaps in this day and age, one of the most innovative things that one can actually do is to have constructive conversations, to boldly ask the tough questions and to considerately listen to the answers.