8 Minute ReadFuturist Karinna Nobbs on Studying the Future and Making Predictions

FashNerd.com editor Muchaneta interviews Karinna Nobbs, a Futurist, on the role her job plays in the merger of fashion with technology. 

I think that it is exciting that as the fashion tech space shifts into overdrive it is giving birth to job titles that could not exist a few years ago. FashNerd’s “I Want That Job” series will explore various jobs that would definitely put your parents out of the running. We are starting off with Karinna Nobbs, a Futurist.
Karinna Nobbs
Karinna Nobbs, Chief Futurist at Holition

I first met Karinna on a visit to Holition offices in central London. It was during our meeting that she told me that she was a futurist. My first thought was “interesting”, quickly followed by “I must find out what a Futurist is?” So we arranged an interview to discuss in depth the role that a Futurist plays in the merger of fashion with technology.

What is a Futurist?

The dictionary defines a futurist as ‘a person who studies the future and makes predictions about it based on current trends’. Within the creative technology agency Holition, this is similar in that we synthesise original and secondary research to support fashion and beauty brands in making decisions about which technologies they should invest in and when. We merge digital anthropology and data science to create a dynamic picture of how consumers are communicating and behaving in relation to their fashion and beauty habits.  I work closely with the user experience team so that we can look at the experience gaps and pain points in the customers’ current journey and fill or erase them with the right tech.

“A futurist is a person who studies the future and makes predictions about it based on current trends”.

What is your background? 

My background is in retail and academia, I started my career as a visual merchandiser for United Colours of Benetton and then went on to work for Kookai, House of Fraser and Ralph Lauren before moving into research and lecturing. I taught at London College of Fashion and the British School of Fashion and during that time undertook global research projects on flagship stores, pop up stores and social media marketing. Two years ago I decided to go freelance and have worked with a mixture of agencies (Four by Two, King and Partners, Holition) fashion brands (Swear, The Vampires Wife, Folk) and media brands (Business of Fashion, Fashion and Mash, Vestoj, Showstudio, Decoded Fashion). Although I don’t work full time in academia anymore, I still teach at many different institutions around the world and passionately believe that industry and academia need to work more closely together to understand the future and problem solve and whenever possible try to make introductions and undertake projects to support this belief.

What highlights and challenges have you have faced?

The highlights have included getting a book published on ‘Fashion Management’ in English and Mandarin, moderating a panel session at SXSW with Topshop, Google and ASOS senior managers and the successful launch of the Education Masterclasses that I wrote with Business of Fashion. The most significant challenge is figuring out what to say yes and no to, especially when you are hyper-curious and just want to learn all the time.  It just isn’t possible to do everything, and in fact, that process of reduction and curation has been the most important and the most difficult skill for me to master.

“Try not to get so hung up on the future that the ‘now’ passes you by”. 

What advice would you offer women who want to become a futurist?

The best advice I can give is to hone a broad range of research skills that include qual and quant and also try to develop your unique way of researching and expressing ideas and concepts. Then go and make friends with trend agencies to understand their processes and learn and refine your skills from these interactions. Lastly, try not to get so hung up on the future that the ‘now’ passes you by – I have ‘now’ tattooed on my left hand to remind me of this!

Which fashion tech collaborations have been your favourite so far?

Within a retail/marketing context, it would be the Marc Jacobs tweet shop and the Nike + SNKRS scavenger hunt. From a product perspective the iconic 2007 Hussein Chalayan collection, anything created by Chromat or Iris Van Herpen and Billie Whitehouse‘s Nadi X yoga pants.

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What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

To trust your gut. When I had a lightbulb moment, I wanted to quit my ‘safe’ academic job and follow my dreams. As soon as I did, it felt so good. I thought in a very positive state of flow after (even though I was still pretty scared about getting my first retainer so I could pay the rent!!). So many people questioned my move, but I still did it anyway.

“When I had a lightbulb moment, I wanted to quit my ‘safe’ academic job and follow my dreams. As soon as I did, it felt so good”.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Hmmmm, to be honest, I gave up trying. I just accepted that being a freelancer work/life balance merges into one. For me, fashion and tech are the reason why I am excited to get up in the morning. Work is life and life is work. That being said, I do aim to offset the amount of time I spend in front of a screen by meditating morning and night and doing a digital detox of at least 48-36 hours every three months.

What do you think is the most significant issue for women in the workplace?

I feel lucky in that I have never experienced any injustice or inequality personally as a female, but I have many close friends who as academics and entrepreneurs have, so I am very much a supporter of equality through education and awareness raising. I am quite often the only female on some of the panel discussions that I contribute too. However, I guess I see that as a positive as I stand out more.

“I have always been good at stalking people whether that is physical – i.e. running after people in the street like Anna Dello Russo or Mira Duma or digitally – i.e. contacting them via social.”

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Yes definitely, I have a wide range of mentors for both and in all my classes, I very much advocate this approach. Although it must also be combined with your own ability to find your own north star, i.e. I take bits and pieces of advice from different people and then do my own thing. If it works, I continue, and if it doesn’t, I either change my perspective on it or change the situation. I have always been good at stalking people whether that is physical – i.e. running after people in the street like Anna Dello Russo or Mira Duma or digitally – i.e. contacting them via social. Take the time to research and contact someone, even if they are very senior. If your introduction is succinct and well articulated, the majority of the time this approach has a positive outcome.

Many of these contacts have become my mentors. The other part of that is that, if you do not get a response the first time, do not give up!! I once was trying to get Nicola Formichetti to come and do a talk at London College of Fashion and emailed him once, then ran after him in the street a few weeks later (I haven’t done a follow up yet). He said ‘I saw your email, but because you didn’t follow it up I didn’t think you were serious’. So I never made the same mistake again, and now I always try three times (with an appropriate amount of space in between so they don’t think you are annoying).

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Ahh, there are so many, anyone who has made a bold move like moving to another country, quitting their job to starting their own business, women who can be mothers and senior managers at the same time and women who have bounced back from stressful situations. Regarding public figures within fashion, I much admire Rei Kawakubo’s creative approach and mainly how she has shaped the innovation of retail formats. Need to shout out to Grace Jones here as she is the ultimate embodiment of fierceness. Someone who has influenced me personally is Anja Aronowsky Cronberg who is the founder and editor of Vestoj who I work within the capacity as social media editor; she has taught me not always to think so commercially and does not still react so fast which has been very useful.

“Someone who has influenced me personally is Anja Aronowsky Cronberg who is the founder and editor of Vestoj”.

What do you want to see the fashion tech space accomplish in the next year?

As I said before, I want to see more collaborations between academic institutions to solve not just commercial issues but also social ones, more fashion tech events should be a mixture of both in the audience and on the stage. Other than that, I would like to be wearing a good looking AR/MR headset (Apple soon please!), and I would be quite happy getting an NFC payment embedded in my index finger.

What do you think the most significant innovation has been so far in your lifetime?

Boring answer I suppose, but it has to be my iPhone. Although I do have an ‘I love the internet’ tattooed on my bottom. I might have to get blockchain on the other cheek!