In Her Own Words: CARLY-ANN FERGUS [Women In Tech Series]

As we approach Women's Day on 8th March, we take a moment to listen to Carly-Ann Fergus, Program Director of XRC Labs, and an advocate for women in business and technology.

On the run up to Women’s Day on the 8th March, we are paying homage to 7 women who have made a name for themselves in the world of technology. The names behind the women we are honoring might not be commonly known, but there is no denying that they are quietly making a difference in their field. In this series, the women personally share their experiences and challenges whilst also giving us a glimpse into the lessons that they have learnt along the way. In her own words, Carly-Ann Fergus shares her story.

When it comes to the industry I am in, I’m currently in a unique position of being at this intersection of Fashion, Retail, and Tech. This space didn’t really exist 5 years ago. My career started out in the traditional Fashion industry through various roles that spanned, design, retail, and building startup fashion brands. Over time it became apparent that the industry was stagnating so I felt the need to reposition myself and redirect my path. My willingness to jump in and learn the different facets of the industry gave me wealth, of knowledge that came together perfectly to prepare me for the role that I’m currently in, which is such a huge opportunity.

Before talking about the role I am currently in, we need to go back to when I was the age of 13. This was a time when I was fixated by the fashion world. Initially, I was obsessed with the creativity and craftsmanship of the garments. Over the course of time that fixation for the clothes and the designers was replaced by an obsession to analyze and change the entire system itself, which is broken unlike we’ve never seen before. I’m fascinated by how technology can be leveraged to improve legacy industries such as retail and fashion.

To get to where I am now, I know it’s sounds so cliche, but it all came down to hard work. A lot of trial and error. I entered the industry at the age of 19 with my first internship at Tommy Hilfiger, where I got the opportunity to try many things. The benefit of interning and experimenting with different roles at an early age enables you to quickly discover what you’re not good at. I pivoted several times until I found a lane that felt natural to me. The fashion industry is one of the toughest career paths you could choose to enter. You have to love it or you won’t last. I’ve been fortunate to be able to carve my own path in a way that works for me.

Currently I am program director at XRC Labs, an innovation accelerator for the next generation of disruptive startups in the retail and consumer goods sector. We launched in 2015 with the Parsons School of Design and Kurt Salmon as founding sponsors. There’s no typical day at XRC which is what I love the most about my job. It’s a very fast-paced environment where everyone is constantly learning and being introduced to new concepts and people. My role as Program Director ranges from finding and evaluating new startup technologies, structuring and coordinating the XRC startup curriculum, hosting industry-focused events and conversations and managing the programs we’ve launched for the Parsons School of Design community.

Like any role, it comes with challenges. My biggest challenge so far has been losing the fear of failure and the notion that I need to have all the answers. I’ve since learned to say yes to new challenges no matter how terrifying they are. It’s the best way to grow. The best lessons come from mistakes. It is because of this that I am able to pass on some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way such as, step out of your comfort zone, and learn new things in order to distinguish yourself, bring a unique point of view to the table. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask mentors or experienced professionals for help or advice. Network like your life depends on it. Your social circle and connections create future opportunities. Life doesn’t work on your timeline. Be patient and open minded. Don’t put strict deadlines on your aspirations. Having a goal is great, but you will never be able to maintain full control over what the journey looks like. Finally, when you feel lost establish a zone of stillness and let your intuition guide you.

With these lessons, I’m currently inspired by many powerhouses who are subverting the status quo and are using their platforms to spark provoking dialogue or change in their respective sectors, not just the one I’m currently in. There are so many I could name, Michelle Obama of course, Elaine Welteroth (Editor- in-Chief at Teen Vogue), Reshma Saujani (Founder of Girls who Code), Bob BlaRelated imagend (CEO of Manufacture New York and Co-Founder of the Women’s March) and so much more.

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