We last had a one on one conversation with Carly-Ann Fergus back in February 2017. She was program director at XRC Labs, an innovation accelerator for the next generation of disruptive startups in the retail and consumer goods sector. We talked about the unique position she was in at the intersection of Fashion, Retail, and Tech, a space that didn’t really exist 5 years ago. She shared some of the lessons she has learnt along the way like losing the fear of failure and the need to not have all the answers.
Since our last chin wag, she has stepped into a bigger role as Director at XRC, a well-deserved promotion that warranted a catchup with the woman who is busy making impressive waves in the fashion tech space.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your career path?
My career path is very unconventional. 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 a wealth of knowledge that came together perfectly to prepare me for the role that I’m currently in, which is such a huge opportunity.
2. What made you decide to pursue a career that you are in?
I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in fashion at the age of 12. I was initially fascinated by the transformational power of garments. Over the course of my journey, my interests shifted from the glamorous surface to the mechanics of the underlying infrastructure of the system. I’m fascinated by innovation and different ways to move the industry forward whether through technological advancements, new business models, or supporting solutions that promote inclusion in the industry.
“I’m fascinated by innovation and different ways to move the industry forward whether through technological advancements, new business models, or supporting solutions that promote inclusion in the industry.”
3. Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy.
As a leader, I empower my team to be autonomous and take ownership of the work they do. I love working with people who are intelligent, driven, and self-starting. The most important thing is that everyone is aware of the collective mission and are working to a standard that is in alignment with that mission.
4. What are some of the challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them?
One of my greatest challenges was losing the fear of failure and the notion that I needed to have all the answers. I now say yes to more new challenges no matter how terrifying they are. If you keep waiting for the perfect timing you’ll miss out on so many great opportunities. Just say yes and be willing to learn as you go. The further I advance in my career the more I value the tremendous growth and lessons that stem from these challenges.
5. Women in the field of technology are the minority, do you feel this has changed over the course of your career?
It’s getting better but there is a lot more work to be done to create more pathways for women to be successful in the tech field. The issue isn’t finding qualified or talented women, we’re dealing with a broken pipeline. Whether it’s getting more women into executive positions or access to funds for female entrepreneurs, it’s important to ensure that there are more platforms that provide more opportunities, mentorship, and support.
6. Do you feel that women have the same opportunities as men in the tech world?
The playing field is still very uneven for women in tech. Women of colour face even more challenges entering and thriving in this field. We must also acknowledge the intersectionalities of the issue to create solutions that are inclusive.
“It’s impossible to navigate your career successfully without mentors.”
7. Have there been any mentors who have helped you grow along the way?
Absolutely. It’s impossible to navigate your career successfully without mentors. Having a group of seasoned individuals behind you to serve as a sounding board and a source guidance is critical. The advice, coaching, and introductions I’ve received from my mentors have played a pivotal role in my career advancement and development as a leader. Having a strong network is everything.
8. What advice would you give to women looking to break into the field of computer technology?
Go for it. Embrace the challenge of stepping into spaces where you don’t see yourself being greatly represented. Think about the impact your presence and work could have on shifting the status quo. Your visibility matters and will inspire other women and young girls to see the possibilities in this field.
9. What has been your most interesting job so far?
My current role as the Director of XRC Labs has been a dynamic experience. It’s exciting to be at the forefront of innovation. The environment in an accelerator is very is fast-paced and ever-changing which is what I love most about it. It’s great to be in an environment where you are constantly learning. There is no such thing as a typical day. I’m constantly inspired and motivated by the passion and energy of the entrepreneurs that go through our programs and I’m proud to say that over 40 percent of our startups are led by female CEOs.
10. What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?
We are currently on the verge of great transformations in technology. There are a lot of exciting developments happening in regards to sustainability. It will be interesting to see how solutions such as on-demand 3D knitting transform the apparel industry and consumer behaviour. As many industries aim to adopt or implement more sustainable practices there will be a surge of new opportunity for entrepreneurs who are focused on high impact solutions.
11. What are your thoughts on the next transformation in the tech industry?
I hope to see more inclusion and diverse representations at all levels of the tech industry. It’s great that more people are having these conversations and are working toward solutions. I’m looking forward to seeing the continued development of initiatives and platforms that foster more opportunities for women, and minorities in tech.
Founding editor-in-chief of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta is currently one of the leading influencers writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology. She has also given talks at Premiere Vision, Munich Fabric Start and Pure London, to name a few. Besides working as a fashion innovation consultant for various fashion companies like LVMH Atelier, Muchaneta has also contributed to Vogue Business, is a senior contributor at The Interline and an associate lecturer at London College of Fashion, UAL.