Monday, September 30, 2013

"Masters of Fashion" Interview: Eddie Mullon of Fashion GPS


Eddie Mullon CEO of Fashion GPS
(Click images for larger views)

At the age of eight, FASHION GPS founder, Eddie Mullon, found himself “extracted” from his native country, Malawi, Africa, and thrust into Sussex, England, in the 1980’s.   He spoke very little English and until that point in his life, he had spent most of his days, “barefoot and happy” in the Malawian countryside.  For a young boy who had never even seen an elevator before, it was a shock, to say the least, to be immersed in the British culture of the day, complete with Mods, Punks, and Skinheads. 

As a child, Eddie had always possessed an innate curiosity and was extremely interested in the technological devices he discovered in his new homeland.  He found himself fascinated with television and once even unscrewed the back of the TV set (with it still plugged in) and actually put his hands into the television “to see where all the pictures were coming from.”  He was determined to see how it worked and try to understand the electronics of it.  The resulting electrical shock was forceful enough to throw him across the room, with his hair standing on end and his forearms blackened with soot, yet not enough to dim his inquisitiveness about technology. 

Mullon considers himself a born entrepreneur.  At the age of 18 he started his first company, designing screen savers for early PC’s that ran DOS (Disk Operating System).  He went on to create PCB boards and learned CAD (computer aided design) and Auto CAD software, which he used in the development of 3D models.  Intermittently he did a variety of odd jobs on the side, everything from working at McDonald’s to driving an Ice Cream Truck. A number of entrepreneurial forays eventually led him to New York and a chance meeting at the fashion public relations firm, KCD.  As “Dr. Ed”, the computer Doctor, Mullon had widely distributed fliers describing his computer repair services.  A publicist at KCD had picked up a flyer and called him in to repair a computer, and thus began an ongoing relationship that would eventually lead to the development, in 2001, of a legacy computer system to manage inventory for the public relations firm. 

Fast forward to 2006.  By this time, Mullon had developed a web enabled sample inventory business (the first of it’s kind using cloud software), and thus, Fashion GPS was officially established, as it exists today.  The new business offered a modern and efficient way to manage an integral part of the fashion industry, but getting companies to adopt the new technology was not easy. Mullon self funded his company in its early days and had to work hard to sell this new product to some of his earliest clients, among them were Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan. As Mullon’s business grew, so did his understanding of the workings of the fashion industry and public relations firms.  He became curious about how other aspects of the business could be run more efficiently.  For example, why were printed look books used instead of virtual ones and why did fashion shows and events utilize long tables with even longer lists, rather than managing them digitally?



After years of trial and error to develop a technological system to manage the registration and attendance at New York Fashion Week, Fashion GPS partnered with IMG, the producer of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, in 2010. Just as the shows were making their move from Bryant Park, the new computerized system was ready to make its debut at Lincoln Center.  For those in attendance that first day at the new location, the Fashion GPS system seemed to run seamlessly from the start, but, according to Mullon, the reality was somewhat different: “ I remember that first day, it was so nerve wracking, because I could see the crowd coming in, and they’re waiting and the doors are just about to open, and I‘ve got my developer who’s still writing code… and what’s amazing with the way it happened is, we executed everything and it was like when you’re watching a movie and it is right at the edge. It was like, down to the minute and the final ten seconds we pressed a button and everything came up.”  He actually remembers tearing his shirt while making technical adjustments under a desk, in those last few minutes before the doors opened.




 Mullon describes the Fashion GPS system at Fashion Week as a complex series of communications, in real time, between their database and those of all of the pr firms involved, so that when an attendee takes a final scan of their barcode to print a ticket, the system is doing a lot of calculations in the background. Alison Levy, Director of Global Strategy & Partnerships, for Fashion GPS, describes the system as “probably the best example of the Fashion Industry working together.” At this point, the vast majority of New York designers and pr firms have come on board with Fashion GPS, allowing them to turn their attention to further simplifying the workings of the fashion industry for all those involved.  Mullon’s company now consists of four offices: London, Paris and Sydney, in addition to New York.  An office in Milan is planned for 2014. There are four divisions: GPS Samples, GPS EVENTS, GPS RADAR, and GPS STYLES, which recently launched in a new form, STYLES 2.0, integrating it into GPS RADAR.  This latest innovation, will allow editors, buyers, etc., to request images and samples directly through their GPS RADAR accounts.
 
 
As Fashion GPS has expanded abroad, Mullon has learned to tailor his services to the needs of each individual market. “It’s culture”, says Mullon, “and I feel like for myself I’ve lived three cultures and it’s important how you communicate.” In Milan and Paris, where they are reluctant to give up their hard copy invitations, Fashion GPS has been able to imbed RFID chips into the invitations, so there is no scanning of barcodes involved. “The great thing about that”, according to Mullon, “is in Europe, they like their invitations, in a way we’ve adapted the technology in the background, so it still has that elegance.” Levy adds that “It allows the heritage brands to still convey the brand message that they want to send, it’s a good example of how technology can make life easier but it doesn’t have to change the way you manage your brand.”

 So what is next for Eddie Mullon and Fashion GPS?  Mullon confesses, “When I started in the fashion industry, I didn’t know what a show was, but I’ve learned a lot…and now I love the shows, I love everything about it… but it has given me a perspective that it’s not just about the shows. It goes further down, you’ve got all these complex systems you have to maneuver.  You’ve got your contact list, then you have to do a show, you have to do a press day, it just keeps going on.  What we want to do is provide the brand with the administrative tools so that they can really focus on being creative” Mullon also feels that he can use what Fashion GPS has “built” to create bridges into other industries such as art and entertainment (The MOMA and the Guggenheim already use his system for events), once again, learning the business as he goes along.  “Once you understand the process and you start putting the pieces together, that’s the great thing about this industry.” says Mullon.  As he speaks, one detects that innate curiosity that still drives him to this day.

- Rhonda Erb

("Masters of Fashion" profiles are an ongoing series of interviews with some of the most influential people in the New York fashion industry. Past interviews include Iris Apfel, Rose Marie Bravo, Bill Cunningham, Ruth Finley, Elsa Klensch, Grace Mirabella, Arthur Elgort, Bill Marpett, Paul Cavaco, and Charles Froom.)

 Fashion GPS is a major sponsor of Lookonline.com




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