Designing a Career in Fashion Tech

Hi everyone! Melissa Lim here, one of the '19J bloggers at INSEAD's Fontainebleau campus. NB for new readers (aka my friends and family): "'19J" is INSEAD-speak for "please let me graduate in July 2019 :)"

I was born in San Francisco, majored in Computer Science and Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley, and spent the first part of my career building AI, productivity, and education products at Microsoft. I've worked and lived in eight cities worldwide--so far!--most recently Paris, France.

Before classes officially start, I want to share how valuable INSEAD and the MBA application process has been to me even before starting the programme.

First of all, while the application is rigorous--I took the GRE three times until I was happy enough--it is also the first big step to self-discovery that one embarks on during this MBA journey.

A few probing questions I asked myself were, "When were the times I loved to create? What topics do I naturally gravitate towards? What would make me feel more fulfilled at work?"

My dad, who also works in technology, helped me to recall one of my earliest defining moments: when I was age 7, he gifted me my very first computer game, "Barbie Fashion Designer". Cute, right? Every evening, I would rush to my room, pop in the pink CD-ROM, and spend hours designing ready-to-wear pieces for my dolls, printing them out on fabric paper, and staging pretend fashion shows in front of my stuffed animal audience. I loved bringing an idea to life and later took this with me in establishing my career as a Product Manager.

Years passed. While I enjoyed building products at a large technology firm and learned a great deal about how to ship features to millions of customers, I yearned to work on something that I was personally passionate about - something that I would want to pour my heart and soul into.

Going back to the question, "What topics do I naturally gravitate towards?", I realised all my free hours were spent devouring the Business of Fashion, reading biographies of designers, attending expos, and yeah, okay, shopping too :) I wanted so much to be part of that world, but I was terrified that The Devil Wears Prada could become my reality.

While applying to INSEAD, I started contacting alumni and current students for "informationals", casual chats to learn about their careers and companies. I reached out to my personal network and to people in the Retail, Consumer, and Luxury Goods Club (RCLG) on LinkedIn as well as INSEAD's club site.

My tip to you: don't be afraid to cold-message people, as long as you make it friendly, personalised, and offer help in return if possible. I do it on a monthly basis, even when I'm not officially job searching.

During one of these chats, a woman at Lanvin advised, "You don't have to start on the sales floor. Your technology and international background make you marketable to brands wanting to go digital; once you graduate from INSEAD you'll also have the business knowledge to augment that." Aha! I thought. This is where I can provide unique value. I made a list of fashion tech companies I wanted to work at and started focusing informationals - and culture checks - there.

On April 1st, I officially accepted my spot in the INSEAD '19J class. Right away, I contacted alumni Stéphane ('16D) and Anni ('11D), who worked at the company at the top of my list. Within a week, I interviewed with the Managing Director and a month later, I took my first steps through the doors of Farfetch. The summer was nothing short of incredible. In addition to innovative "Store of the Future" projects, an inclusive culture, and amazing relationships - including more INSEAD alumni - I emerged with immense clarity that the intersection of luxury and technology is where I belong.

20 years ago, I was a little kid geeking out on a computer with dial-up internet. I never imagined I'd be able to make a career out of my two passions and I'm grateful to be at INSEAD to help pursue that further. I've already seen first-hand how valuable the network is and can't wait to get involved with RCLG courses, treks, conferences, and club events on campus.

If there's anything specific you'd like me to write about during my INSEAD journey, leave a comment below... and if luxury is also your thing, come join us at the INSEAD Global Luxury Forum on November 16th in Paris!