Michigan Fashion Media Summit Provides A Unique Virtual Experience

The University of Michigan’s Fashion Media Summit is bringing a unique opportunity for anyone interestested in the fashion, retail and media industries to meet professionals in the field from the confines of their own home.

The Michigan Fashion Media Summit, an annual event that focuses on the fashion, retail and media industries is taking place March 8 to March 10. While the event is usually held in person at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, this year the summit will be hosted virtually, featuring big fashion names such as Diane von Furstenberg, Peiman Raf, the co-founder of MadHappy, and Lindsey Metselaar, host of We Met at Acme Podcast. 

Credit: MFMS Instagram

The event aims to inspire and educate students by connecting them with industry professionals to shape the future of these industries. 

For an event built with the intention to inspire and connect by bringing people together, having to make things virtual presented some challenges, said MFMS co-presidents Kate Lowenbam and Juliette Sibley.

Credit: MFMS Instagram

Lowenbaum said the human component of being in-person is what has made past summits so special for her.

“There’s something so special about taking the entire day, for the most part people spend the entire day at the summit, and really just immersing yourself in the content,” Sibley said. “I think it really gets people inspired and people thinking. I think with the virtual format being spread across three days, on the one hand I think we’ll be able to attract a wider audience with that because people can pop in and out, but it doesn’t have the same immersification that you get when you spend an entire day delving into this type of content.”

The team has been planning this year’s summit since May 2020 to replicate their in-person event virtually. Last year their summit had to be transitioned online last minute, which ended up culminating in three to four conversations, Lowenbaum said.

The summit will have an opening keynote, followed by panels throughout the days, networking opportunities in the afternoons and activation activities sprinkled throughout.

The MFMS has partnered with Forbes as their official partner. 

Prominent individuals in the fashion industry attending the summit include Scott Zalaznik, senior vice president of digital at Adidas; Sharon Kanter, senior director of editorial and content strategy at Stuart Weitzman; and Nancy Berger, CRO of Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and Women’s Health. 

Sibley said having to conduct everything online has shown her the importance of communication, as she has had some difficulty connecting with her team throughout this process.

“I think there is just so much connectedness and charisma that we get from meeting in person,” Sibley said. “I’ve developed some amazing relationships and have gotten mentors that I will have the rest of my life and I think that is something that is hard to replicate in a virtual format.”

The organization meets weekly with all 50 members, as well as in smaller groups. Sibley said communicating in both an empathetic and clear way has allowed their team to get close and be most productive.

Effective communication has extended past just their team. Lowenbaum said the virtual element has made them become more intentional with their verbiage and mindful of their online presence, as they are communicating with their audience primarily over their website and social media.

Credit: MFMS Instagram

The switch to virtual, however, has allowed them to create some opportunities for themselves. MFMS has been able to extend their reach beyond the University of Michigan’s campus to across the globe. Driving or flying to attend the event in-person is no longer an issue as it has been in past years, and there are no financial barriers either, as the event is being offered for free, Sibley said.

Sibley said she also credits the online format for being able to get fashion icon DVF as a speaker, something she doesn’t believe would have happened had they been in-person.

Lowenbaum said this experience reflects some broader trends she believes she will see in the media and fashion industries as a whole.

“Technology will be harnessed — we’ve seen it change our world in the last how many ever years — but even more so, whether that be through the shopping experience or a hybrid of in-person and technology,” Lowenbaum said. “So much has happened in this past year and I think it’s awakened some empathy and compassion within the industry. To see how Gen Z affects that moving forward and how brands and companies will shift to that I’m excited to see.”

Planning this event has had quite a learning curve. The team adopted the mindset of looking at different ways to do things — they couldn’t just rely on the run-of-show techniques and ideas that they had developed the past three years. They hope their work serves as inspiration to the next MFMS teams to keep growing both their presence and their impact, Lowenbaum said.

Credit: MFMS Instagram

Planning the summit for almost a year now has been a rewarding experience for the presidents. They feel confident in what they have put together and are excited for everyone to experience it, Lowenbaum said.

“[The MFMS] really serves not only to the benefit of our team members in being a professional and personal development source, but also for our hundreds, and even possibly thousands, of attendees,” Sibley said. “It’s something really powerful to know that Katie and I and the rest of our team have worked countless and tireless hours to put on an event that really is bigger than each and every one of us.”

Click here to register for MFMS 2021!

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