Disrupting Through Innovation


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


October 24, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture. I'm Emily Lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:12 

I'm Bret Schnitker. 

Emily Lane 00:13 

We speak with experts where we explore the global dynamics that shape trends in the fashion industry, 

Bret Schnitker 00:20 

brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global production and design house with over 30 years of industry experience. 

Emily Lane 00:35 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Today, we're going to be talking about creating a culture of innovation. I'm excited to be joined once again, by Bret Schnitker, CEO of Stars Design Group to explore this conversation a little further. Are you excited for it? 

Bret Schnitker 00:52 

I am excited I get to feel the questions, and you get to be in the hot seat. 

Emily Lane 00:59 

Oh, boy. 

Bret Schnitker 01:01 

So let's dive in. So, you know, there's been a lot of conversation out there, especially during COVID, about companies, you know, figuring out new strategies, certainly a lot of things we talked about in previous podcasts that, that things that we thought we had a lot of time for evolving processes, etc, have been accelerated, whether you're, you know, heavily brick and mortar and now having to battle with online space. You know, if you're not staying ahead of the game, you're falling behind, you know, evolution, not revolution, we've been down the road on all these different topics. So I'm going to use two different words. Now, today, you know, on a lot of calls that we've been on, a lot of different organizations have said, Hey, during COVID, we've had to pivot to these different deals, what's the difference between pivot and innovate? 

Emily Lane 01:54 

I love the word pivot. Because to me, it's all about inviting change, like recognizing that there are dynamics happening in the world or within your company. And it's time to be thinking about how can you make a shift? And, you know, it doesn't have to be a huge shift. But how can we make a shift to make sure that we're relevant and delivering what is needed in the market? I think when you're looking at what's the difference between innovation and pivot, there's, there's, quite frankly, quite a bit of similarity, because what is innovation, but change? You know, it's 

Bret Schnitker 02:35 

pivot sounds like a polite word for innovation to me. I mean, like, I don't want to make everyone nervous innovation seems like this grandiose change. 

Emily Lane 02:42 


Bret Schnitker 02:42 

it seems like we're just pivoting stepping. 

Emily Lane 02:45 

Yeah, I, you know, I it's just, it's just a frame of mind. But really, you know, innovation is, you know, a new method, a new idea. It's embracing, you know, a lot of us think about technology, when it comes to innovation, but innovation is really embracing change is not limited to technology. So really, to me, they mean the same thing. 

Bret Schnitker 03:09 

Okay. So it's, it's a way of getting people comfortable with this, this mode of constant change, you know, I look at, I look at, you know, the word innovation. And I think, you know, at Stars, we've always had this drive for innovation, and it hasn't been kind of empty innovation, it's how do we make things easier for our clients to understand how do we make them more real, you know, the example that we've talked about in the past about 3D, you know, that we've been doing that for nine years, even within that space, all of that is changing and innovating all the time, and we're trying to stay ahead of it, you know, what our main characteristics of innovation, if we're really kind of jumping onto the word innovation, 

Emily Lane 03:49 

I think a core characteristic of innovation is looking to stay ahead of the curve. And if certainly, like, look at your example of looking towards technology, to provide a service in the industry that was forward thinking, I think it's much the same in this application as a conversation, you know, we're looking to embrace an evolution to, you know, stay ahead of trends, or, you know, be on track and stay ahead of trends. And, you know, there are a lot of benefits to this, one of which is, you know, making way for easy pivots down the road. You know, here we are nine years later from Stars embracing technology in the industry of 3D design. And, you know, the, the rest of the industry is just caught on to it, you know, part because of COVID and everybody working remotely and things of that nature. The fact that Stars had thought about embracing this change nine years ago, made it such an easy transition COVID came in, there's no difference in the way that business, you know, it had it had to transpire. So, for me that I really believe it's just helping to stay ahead of the curve and embracing change. 

Bret Schnitker 05:09 

Yeah, I think, you know, you mentioned it's not all about technology, it's about mindset. And I think human beings generally, they don't really dig change that much, they get very, very comfortable. Yeah, right, exactly. And I think, you know, as the bigger the organization, you know, I came out of a really large organization, retail organization. And, you know, change was not something that or innovation was not something that was on the tip of their tongue, it was like, hey, if this is working, keep doing it till it doesn't. And in conversations that we've had with really large clients of ours, you know, I've had dialogue with buyers, and, you know, different groups, and, you know, art directors, and some of their conversation is, look, we're like the Titanic, that phrase has been used over and over again, we change so we change course, so slowly. And one of the things that we developed, you know, internally is, you know, keeping the entrepreneurial mindset within Stars, never too big to think that, hey, we can't change with, you know, and understand when changes happening around us and evolving with that type of thing. So, you know, you know, these big organizations are full of policies and procedures, you know, what do you think, you know, there's this whole conversation about environmental supply. And I, you know, the first thing comes to mind is, you know, recycling and all that stuff. That's not exactly what we're talking. 

Emily Lane 06:44 

Yeah, keeping your employees a part of the change, having dialogue with them communicating with them, it's a real opportunity, one, you know, change is confusing and hard, we all get comfy and safe and feel that, you know, okay, we feel the safety in this solid state, you know, being in a solid place in so I think that if you're setting the expectation that we're a company that innovates, we're always looking to better ways to do things. It's not because we want to spy on you. It's because we want to be able to provide you better resources to, to, you know, make your work life better, you know, communicating the intention behind the shifts, helping them be a part of it, Hey, guys, we're looking at embracing new 3D technology, there's three major companies out there, I'd love your feedback, let them be a part of that decision process be opening to like, to listening to their ideas, their input, you've hired great talent, believe in them. 

Bret Schnitker 07:55 

I think a lot of innovation, if you kind of look at that, you would it has this kind of pathway for kind of the newer members of a company, the younger members of company that really have seen innovation in their lifetime, or embrace it very comfortably to be involved. 

Emily Lane 08:13 

Absolutely, you know, I think that the more that you foster the voice of the people that you work with your employees more you foster that, the more ideas you're going to get in, you know, it's a creative part of the brain ideas. Encouraging an environment that supports those ideas, lets them feel safe to come to you ideas, lets a voice be heard. Everybody has to win in that. 

Bret Schnitker 08:44 

How do you wrestle with this idea of open communication and innovation, along with building this whole brand? Being a good brand steward, you know, we've talked about that before building this brand identity? You know, many times that seems like something put in place in stone, you know, this is who we are, this is who we will always be. That's our ethos. And when you when you kind of wrestle with that, and innovation, isn't there kind of a challenge with that? How do you how do you 

Emily Lane 09:14 

know, there has to be I, you know, again, I think this comes down to communication, it's making sure you have the right fit as you're building your team, or are they somebody that will be, you know, be a brand steward that fits within your environment fits within your culture well, and if you're providing them tools to continue to grow and and, and learn and be excited to be a part of the the change and evolution and you get good feedback from them, you know, in communicating the intention of the new The, the intention of the path that's being outlined for the future of the company. If they're apprised of all of that, and a part of all of that, then they'll be good stewards, as a of the company, a brand, like a company needs to evolve with the company. 

Bret Schnitker 10:05 

So part of the brand statement or part of the brand vision, or mission statement, sort of needs to include a phrase toward innovation, or evolution 

Emily Lane 10:16 

doesn't necessarily have to say we are an innovation, you know, or innovative company, but, but if you if you're a fashion company, yeah, and for three decades, you've been all about providing the hot, latest trends. And now all the sudden you're making a shift, because socially, it's not as cool to the consumer to be, you know, consuming trends at a rapid pace place that pace but rather, invest in products from a company that have a sustainable mission, for example, you know, finding the right way to weave that into your mission, and then start sharing that with your brand. Make sense? Do it alongside as, as you're embracing new, a new path or vision for your company, weave that into your messaging, it doesn't have to be a total brand overhaul, but start sharing messages pose, you know, hashtags, all those things, and weaving that in is slowly evolving your brand, much like you've said, Bret in the past. It's evolution, not revolution, you know, we're not going to turn off our brand one day that says, you know, we are this kind of brand, and then the next day, completely, something else. 

Bret Schnitker 11:46 

Most revolutions are bloody 

Emily Lane 11:48 

Yeah. Probably setting yourself up for complete failure, because you're, you know, going to abandon all the all of your people who are loyal to you. So, you know, introducing your brand evolution alongside with you communicating that internally and externally is going to be the way to go, 

Bret Schnitker 12:07 

I think a lot of brands are struggling with, with, you know, how do I retain this focus of my brand and realizing that the consumer base around them are changing rapidly? Yeah. And how do I engage with this next generation of consumer where values have changed? And we've gone from kind of a brand driven economy to a consumer driven economy? How do I have this handshake between the consumer and my brand equity that I've had for so many years? Some brands have been around for hundreds of years? So how do I, you know, how do I greet that? I guess that's probably a really important role of leadership. 

Emily Lane 12:42 

Yeah, I think so i think i think you have to be, you know, in addition to, you know, being a leader who's driving that message, throughout the organization, I think you also need to be really aware of, of the trends of the market, you know, and be intentional behind how you're going to make those little pivots on a regular basis to make sure that your company is aligned with what's happening in the marketplace. I think being open minded about it, and testing things out, you know, not every idea you have is going to be a fit, not not just because it's not a good idea, or it's just maybe not a good, good fit within, you know, the your company structure or whatever it might be just because you're trying something new doesn't mean it's going to work. I think being okay with failure is a really good approach. You know, there is this old adage, I don't know who said it, but if you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough. So being okay with failure being okay with trying initiatives and recognizing when it's time to say, this, just this particular thing isn't working for us. And in making sure to really have, you know, the pivot towards the direction that speaks to your strengths. 

Bret Schnitker 14:12 

Yeah, I think if there was this communication from leadership kind of bubbling on to all levels and encouraging a constant like you mentioned, communication, all levels, I would think that would provide better morale or more confidence when you do make mistakes, or you are going through this evolutionary change, or people might be a little more uncomfortable if it was like, Hey, here's what we're doing now. 

Emily Lane 14:36 

Yeah, no, absolutely. A re a lot of benefits to creating this really comfy space for idea sharing. And you know, that the morale you'd mentioned benefit within your company, you know, creating this space where people are a part of the conversation. Understand what where the company is going and they're engaged with that conversation provides a really positive atmosphere, you know, including resources for them to grow along the way, continued learning. Even if it's, you know, from from internal mentorship to even fostering their own interest outside of the organization, all of that just comes back in a really positive way. Because, again, you're, you're creating happy, healthy work environment. From that comes ideas. 

Bret Schnitker 14:45 

Being surrounded today, by a lot of really exciting people that have joined the organization, you know, I look at myself, you know, in this organization, and I think, look, I've just been around a hell of a lot longer, I made a hell of a lot more mistakes than the rest of them. So that, you know, I think that might be a little drop in the bucket of wisdom or skill set. But, you know, distilling that through the ideas, the fresh, new ideas, and really being open to accepting those new ideas, you know, we have found some amazing evolutionary changes in the organization, that's true, that I feel like paves us for, you know, the next couple months, as fast as innovations can go, you 

Emily Lane 16:23 

know, and when you when you create that safe space, space, sorry, when you create that safe space, for people to share their ideas and grow with you, you know, doesn't mean you have to utilize all of them, you know, and, you know, you need to make sure they're true to who you are and where you're going. But being creating this inviting space to have that rapport, when you start finding the right alignment with with those ideas, and celebrating them and acknowledging them and implementing them. You know, it gives those those people ownership over whether contributing to it, it helps them know that, you know, there's a definite sense of reward of, Oh, my God, I, I'm starting to think like you now, you know, from a mentorship standpoint, you've been in the industry for 30 years, most of the people in the company have not, you know, and so when they get that, that Attaboy, from you, wow, that's a great idea. You're right on the right track, the result of of that is awesome to see, you know, that people feel that they're doing a good job and know that they're on the path to having success in this in this space. So you're building loyalty you're building, you know, this really healthy work experience. And I think inviting people to be creative and explore ideas is a very, very good thing. 

Bret Schnitker 17:53 

Yeah. And I find even at my level, I, you know, and I, I love innovation, I love the next newest, best shiny object, I am sort of more of that visionary side than I am, kind of the number side is, you know, if you ask my CFO, he'll, probably sadly, but even at that level, the things that I've lived through in my life, I have to take, I have to take discipline to sit down and say, Okay, I'm going to let that idea from that person distill for a while and think about it in its context, for today, you know, and I think allowing, you know, leaders allowing themselves to take in this information and really think through, you know, the different aspects of those ideas that come out, allow for, you know, evolution to occur, because sometimes you're, you know, the first thing you think is you think, Oh, well, 10 years ago, I tried that, it's not necessarily so appropriate conversation 

Emily Lane 18:51 

we've had before, you know, I, it's, it's really important, you're right to distill those ideas. But it's also important to surround yourself with people that you you trust, that you feel are good at what they do have great ideas, and, you know, have had success, that you can help distill those ideas with your other mentors that are mentors for leaders. That's important, too, you know, and because what can happen is you can, you know, you can think about an idea too long. Two years, go by, would you like maybe a little faster in two years? For sure. Absolutely. You know, it's this interesting topic that I think everyone's talking about whether you use the term pivot, or innovate or evolve. It's, it's, I think, more important than ever to be dialoguing about that because whether or not a company's innovating or evolve thing, certainly the consumers doing that every day rethinking their platform, hey, I used to go shopping in the mall now I'm ordering everything and it's being delivered to my house. I mean, that amazing. Yeah, hello, COVID. We talked about that a lot, but, and hopefully someday we will, we will not talk about that. But it is a catalyst. And whether it's that or whether it's, you know, political conditions or global conditions or, you know, sustainable conversations, you know, we're always going to have these dialogues in these and these conversations and those conversations are going to elicit change, I think is a really good point, when you talk about, you know, problems are a catalyst for change. And just because they cause problems during the process, doesn't mean that in the end, it's a bad thing. You know, you you mentioned COVID, we can't help but not in this moment in time, you know, a personal experience taking a dog to a vet, right, rather than going into the vet. And being in the lobby  with all the other sick dogs, I'm in the car, I scan the QR code, and my, my, me and my dog, or in my own car with our own music, the dogs not stressed out, because it's not around other stressed out dogs. This is something that had to change to accommodate COVID situations that I see being a part of our future. Ongoing. And, and so you know, 

Bret Schnitker 21:27 

it's not going to be teladoc for dogs. 

Emily Lane 21:30 


Bret Schnitker 21:32 

are you feeling? I'm sorry, that's a bad joke. 

Emily Lane 21:35 

But I do think that, you know, there are there there is change this forced upon us. And, you know, thankfully, there's a lot of really, really smart people out there looking for solutions. And some of those are more rapid change. And, you know, as a company, you know, we've got to be always looking at what's happening, you know, globally, trend wise, all those things to be thinking about how should we be looking towards our future, but understand that, you know, all of the evolution, it can have a greater impact than just the environment that you're creating within your own space. You know, we've we've had some incredible conversations on the show, we had one recently with Lula Mena, who's a constant innovator. And you know, she is been able to change actual living conditions for women across the country. She's been able to revitalize revitalize Indigo in El Salvador use this once blog, like rich heritage tradition, now read blossoms, you know, so a lot of great things beyond yourself can happen by embracing this thing of innovation. 

Bret Schnitker 22:58 

Okay, well, thanks, Emily for giving a little bit more of a deep dive on this topic. That's I think I'm everyone's, you know, tip of their tongues. Do you have any amazing parting words? quote from somebody, leave everyone feeling so nervous about innovating out there telling them to relax, it's okay. 

Emily Lane 23:23 

I would say embrace the change now. And really make all of those around you that you trust and, and have built your company around, let them be a part of the conversation because they're there for a reason. and communicating the intentions of the future and working together in a collaborative way, is going to create a community that's going to build something really, really special together, 

Bret Schnitker 23:53 

except for Joe. Joe always has had ideas, so we're gonna leave him out in the future. 

Emily Lane 23:58 

I agree. No, go Joe. Joe, Joe. Joe, Joe. 

Bret Schnitker 24:05 

Thank you, Emily. I really appreciate the time. 

Emily Lane 24:07 

Thank you. 

Watch the episode:

Click below to watch the entire episode.

Disrupting Through Innovation