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“The courage to …” The talks of TED@Tommy

At TED@Tommy — held November 14, 2017, at Mediahaven in Amsterdam — fifteen creators, leaders and innovators invited us to dream, to dare and to do. (Photo: Richard Hadley / TED)

Courage comes in many forms. In the face of fear, it’s the conviction to dream, dare, innovate, create and transform. It’s the ability to try and try again, to admit when we’re wrong and stand up for what’s right.

TED and Tommy Hilfiger both believe in the power of courageous ideas to break conventions and celebrate individuality — it’s the driving force behind why the two organizations have partnered to bring experts in fashion, sustainability, design and more to the stage to share their ideas.

More than 300 Tommy associates from around the world submitted their ideas to take part in TED@Tommy, with more than 20 internal events taking place at local and regional levels, and the top 15 ideas were selected for the red circle on the TED@Tommy stage. At this inaugural event — held on November 14, 2017, at Mediahaven in Amsterdam — creators, leaders and innovators invited us to dream, to dare and to do.

After opening remarks from Daniel Grieder, CEO, Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe, and Avery Baker, Chief Brand Officer, Tommy Hilfiger Global, the talks of Session 1 kicked off.

Fashion is “about self-expression, a physical embodiment of what we portray ourselves as,” says Mahir Can Isik, speaking at TED@Tommy in Amsterdam. (Photo: Richard Hadley / TED)

Let fashion express your individuality. The stylish clothes you’re wearing right now were predicted to be popular up to two years before you ever bought them. This is thanks to trend forecasting agencies, which sell predictions of the “next big thing” to designers.  And according to Tommy Hilfiger retail buyer Mahir Can Isik, trend forecasting is, for lack of a better term, “absolutely bull.” Here’s a fun fact: More than 12,000 fashion brands all get their predictions from the same single agency — and this, Isik suggests, is the beginning of the end of true individuality. “Fashion is an art form — it’s about excitement, human interaction, touching our hearts and desires,” he says. “It’s about self-expression, a physical embodiment of what we portray ourselves as.” He calls on us to break this hold of forecasters and cherish self-expression and individuality.

Stylish clothing for the differently abled fashionista. Mindy Scheier believes that what you wear matters. “The clothes you choose can affect your mood, your health and your confidence,” she says. But when Scheier’s son Oliver was born with muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disorder that makes it hard for him to dress himself or wear clothing with buttons or zippers, she and her husband resorted to dressing him in what was easiest: sweatpants and a T-shirt. One afternoon when Oliver was eight, he came home from school and declared that he wanted to wear blue jeans like everyone else. Determined to help her son, Mindy spent the entire night MacGyvering a pair of jeans, opening up the legs to give them enough room to accommodate his braces and replacing the zipper and button with a rubber band. Oliver went to school beaming in his jeans the next day — and with that first foray into adaptive clothing, Scheier founded Runway of Dreams to educate the fashion industry about the needs of differently abled people. She explains how she designs for people who have a hard time getting dressed, and how she partnered with Tommy Hilfiger to make fashion history by producing the first mainstream adaptive clothing line, Tommy Adaptive.

Environmentally friendly, evolving fashion. The clothing industry is the world’s second largest source of pollution, second only to the oil and gas industry. (The equivalent of 200 T-shirts per person are thrown away annually in the US alone). Which is why sustainability sower Amit Kalra thinks a lot about how to be conscientious about the environment and still stay stylish. For his own wardrobe, he hits the thrift stores and stitches up his own clothing from recycled garments; as he says, “real style lives at the intersection of design and individuality.” As consumer goods companies struggle to provide consumers with the individuality they crave, Kalra suggests one way forward: Start using natural dyes (from sources such as turmeric or lichen) to color clothes sustainably. As the color fades, the clothing grows more personalized and individual to the owner. “There is no fix-all,” Kalra says, “But the fashion industry is the perfect industry to experiment and embrace change that could one day get us to the sustainable future we so desperately need.”

Tito Deler performs Big Joe Turner’s blues classic “Story to Tell” at TED@Tommy. (Photo: Richard Hadley / TED)

With a welcome musical interlude, blues musician (and VP of graphic design for Tommy Hilfiger) Tito Deler takes the stage, singing and strumming a stirring rendition of Big Joe Turner’s blues classic “Story to Tell.”

The truth we can find through literary fiction. Day by day, we’re exposed to streams of news, updates and information. Our brains are busier than ever as we try to understand the world we live in and develop our own story, and we often reach for nonfiction books to learn to become a better leader or inventor, how to increase our focus, and how to maintain a four-hour workweek. But for Tomas Elemans, brand protection manager for PVH, there’s an important reward from reading fiction that we’re leaving behind: empathy. “Empathy is the friendly enemy to our feeling of self-importance. Storytelling can help us to not only understand but feel the complexity, emotions and situations of distant others. It can be a vital antidote to the stress of all the noise around us,” Elemans says. Telling his personal story of the ups and downs of reading Dave Eggers’ Heroes of the Frontier, Elemans explains the importance of narrative immersion — how we transcend the here-and-now when we imagine being the characters in the stories we read — and how it reduces externally focused attention and increases reflection. “Literature has a way of reminding us that the stranger is not so strange,” Elemans says. “The ambition with which we turn to nonfiction books, we can also foster toward literature … Fiction can help us to disconnect from ourselves and tap into an emotional, empathetic side that we don’t often take the time to explore.”

Irene Mora shares the valuable lessons she learned being raised by a mom who was also a CEO. (Photo: Richard Hadley / TED)

Why you shouldn’t fear having a family and a career. As the child of parents who followed their passions and led successful careers, Irene Mora appreciates rather than resents their decision to have a family. Society’s perceptions of what it means to be a good parent — which usually means rejecting the dedicated pursuit of a profession — are dull and outdated, says Mora, now a merchandiser for Calvin Klein. “A lot of these conversations focus on the hypothetical negative effects, rather than the hypothetical positive effects that this could have on children,” Mora explains. “I’m living proof of the positive.” As she and her sister traveled the world with their parents due to her mother’s job as a CEO, she learned valuable lessons: adaptability, authenticity and independence. And despite her mother’s absences and limited face-to-face time, Mora didn’t feel abandoned or lacking in any way. “If your children know that you care, they will feel your love,” she says. “You don’t always have to be together to love and be loved.”

What you can learn from bad advice. Nicole Wilson, Tommy Hilfiger’s director of corporate responsibility, knows bad advice. From a young age, her father — a professional football player notorious for causing kitchen fires — would offer her unhelpful tidbits like: “It’s better to cheat than repeat,” or, at a street intersection, “No cop-y, no stop-y.” As a child, Wilson learned to steer clear of her father’s, ahem, wisdom, but as an adult, she realized that there’s an upside to bad advice. In this fun, personal talk, she shares how bad advice can be as helpful and as valuable as “so-called good advice” — because it can help you recognize extreme courses of action and develop a sense of when you should take the opposite advice from what you’re being offered. Above all, Wilson says, bad advice teaches you that “you have to learn to trust yourself — to take your own advice — because more times than not, your own advice is the best advice you are ever going to get.”

Fashion is a needed avenue of protest, says Kaustav Dey. He spoke about how we can embrace our most authentic selves at TED@Tommy. (Photo: Richard Hadley / TED)

Fashion as a  language of dissent. From a young age, fashion revolutionary and head of marketing for Tommy Hilfiger India Kaustav Dey knew that he was different, that his sense of self diverged from and even contradicted that of the majority of his classmates. He was never going to be the manly man his father hoped for and whom society privileged, he says. But it was precisely this distinct take on himself that would later land him in the streets of Milan and Paris, fashion worlds that further opened his eyes to the protest value of aesthetics. Dey explains the idea that fashion is a needed avenue of protest (but also a dangerous route to take) by speaking of the hateful comments Malala received for wearing jeans, by commenting on the repressive nature of widowed Indian women being eternally bound to white garments, and by telling the stories of the death of transgender activist Alesha and the murder of the eclectic actor Karar Nushi. Instead of focusing on society’s response to these individuals, Dey emphasizes that “fashion can give us a language of dissent.” Dey encourages us all to embrace our most authentic selves, so “in a world that’s becoming whitewashed, we will become the pinpricks of color pushing through.”

Returning to the stage to open Session 2, Tito Deler plays an original blues song, “My Fine Reward,” combining the influence of the sound of his New York upbringing with the style of pre-war Mississippi Delta blues. “I’m moving on to a place now where the streets are paved with gold,” Deler sings, “I’m gonna catch that fast express train to my reward in the sky.”

We should all make it a point not to buy fake goods and to notify officials when we see them being sold, says Alastair Gray, speaking at TED@Tommy in Amsterdam. (Photo: Richard Hadley / TED)

The deadly impact of counterfeit goods. To most consumers, the trade in knock-off goods seems harmless enough — we get to save money by buying lookalike products, and if anyone suffers, it’s only the big companies. But counterfeit investigator Alastair Gray says that those fake handbags, CDs and watches might be supporting organized crime or even terrorist organizations. “You wouldn’t buy a live scorpion because there’s a chance it will sting you on the way home,” Gray says. “But would you still buy a fake handbag if you knew the profit would enable someone to buy the bullets that might kill you and other innocent people?” This isn’t just conjecture: Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, the two brothers behind the 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris that killed 12 people and wounded 11, purchased their weapons using the proceeds made from selling counterfeit sneakers. When it comes to organized crime and terrorism, most of us feel understandably helpless. But we do have the power to act, Gray says: make it a point not to buy fake goods and to notify officials (online or in real life) when we see them being sold.

Is data a designer’s hero? Data advocate Steve Brown began working in the fashion industry 15 years ago — when he would have to painstakingly sit for 12 hours each day picking every color that matched every fabric per garment he was working on. Today, however, designers can work with visualized 3D garments, fully functional with fabric, trim and prints, and they can even upload fabric choices to view the flow and drape of the design, all before a garment is ever made. Data and technology saves the designer time, Brown says, which allows for more time and attention to go into the creative tasks rather than the mundane ones. The designer’s role with data and technology is that of both a creator and a curator. He points to Amazon’s “Body Labs” and algorithms that learn a user’s personal style, both of which help companies to design custom-made garments. In this way, data can empower both the consumer and designer — and it should be embraced.

A better way to approach data. Every day, we’re inundated with far more data than our brains can process. Data translator Jonathan Koch outlines a few simple tools we can all use to understand and even critique data meant to persuade us. First: we need transparent definitions. Koch, a senior director of strategy and business development at PVH Asia Pacific, uses the example of a famous cereal brand that promised two scoops of raisins in every box of cereal (without bothering to define exactly what a “scoop” is) and a company that says that they’re the “fastest growing startup in Silicon Valley” (without providing a time period for context). The next tool: context and doubt. To get a clearer picture, we need to always question the context around data, and we need to always doubt the source, Koch says. Finally, we need to solve the problem of averages. When we deconstruct averages, which is how most data is delivered to us, into small segments, we can better understand what makes up the larger whole — and quickly get new, nuanced insights. With these three simple tools, we can use data to help us make better decisions about our health, wealth and happiness.

Conscious quitter Daniela Zamudio explains the benefits of moving on at TED@Tommy in Amsterdam. (Photo: Richard Hadley / TED)

An introduction to conscious quitting. “I’m a quitter,” says Daniela Zamudio, “and I’m very good at it.” Like many millennials, Zamudio has quit multiple jobs, cities, schools and relationships, but she doesn’t think quitting marks her as weak or lazy or commitment-phobic. Instead, she argues that leaving one path to follow another is a sign of strength and often leads to greater happiness in the long run. Now a senior marketing and communications manager for Tommy Hilfiger, Zamudio gives us an introduction to what she calls “conscious quitting.” She teaches us to weigh the pros and cons of qutting a particular situation and then instructs us to create a strategy to deal with the repercussions of our choice. For instance, after Zamudio broke off her engagement to a man she had been dating for nine years, she managed her heartbreak by scheduling every minute of her day, seven days a week. “It takes courage to quit,” says Zamudio, “but too often it feels also like it’s wrong.” She concludes her talk by reminding us that listening to our own needs and feelings (and ignoring society’s expectations) can often be just what we need.

Lessons in dissent. Have you ever presented an idea and been immediately barraged with a line of questioning that feels like it’s poking more holes than it is actually questioning? Then you’ve probably engaged with a dissenter. Serial dissenter Andrew Millar promises these disagreements don’t come from a place of malice but rather from compassion with an aim to improve on your idea. “At this point in time, we don’t have enough dissenters in positions of power,” says Millar. “And history shows that having yes-men is rarely a driver of progress.” He suggests that dissenters find a workplace that truly works with them, not against — so if a company heralds conformity or relies heavily on hierarchy, then that place may not be the best for you. But even in the most welcome environment, no dissenter gets off scot-free — each needs to understand that compromise, or dissent upon response, and thinking you’re always right because you’re the only one to speak up are things that need to be mitigated to be successful. And to those in the path of a dissenter, says Millar, know this: when a dissenter speaks up, it can come across as criticism, but please do assume it stems from a place of good intent and connection.

Gabriela Roa speaks about learning to live in, and embrace, chaos, at TED@Tommy in Amsterdam. (Richard Hadley / TED)

Embrace the chaos. As the daughter of an obsessively organized mother, Gabriela Roa grew up believing that happiness was a color-coordinated closet. When she became a mom, she says, “I wanted my son to feel safe and loved in the way I did.” But he, like most toddlers, became “a chaos machine,” leaving toys and clothes in his wake. Roa, an IT project manager at PVH, felt terrible. Not only was she falling short as a disciplinarian, but she was so busy dwelling on her lapses that she wasn’t emotionally present for her son. One day, she remembered this piece of advice: “Whenever you experience a hard moment, there is always something to smile about.” In search of a smile, she began taking photos of her son’s messes. She shared them with friends and was moved by the compassion she received, so she started taking more pictures of her “happy explorer,” in which she documented her son’s creations and tried seeing life from his perspective. She realized that unlike her, he was living in the now — calm, curious and ready to investigate. The project changed her, ultimately bringing her back to playing the cello, an instrument she’d once loved. “I’m not saying that chaos is better than order,” says Roa. “But it is part of life.”

Present fathers: strong children. Dwight Stitt is a market manager for Tommy Hilfiger, but he identifies first and foremost as a father. He speaks passionately about the need for men to be involved in their children’s lives. Reminiscing about his own relationship with his father — and how it took 24 years for them to form a working bond — Stitt shares that so long as life permits, it’s never too late to recover what may seem lost. He has incorporated the lessons he learned from his father and amplified them to reach not only his children but also other people through a camp and canoeing trip. Conceiving of camp as an opportunity to foster love and growth between fathers and children, Stitt says that “camp has taught me that fatherhood is not only vital to a child’s development, but that seemingly huge hurdles can be overcome by simple acts of love and memorable moments.” He goes so far as to explain the emotional, academic and behavioral benefits of working father-child relationships and, in between tears, calls on all fathers to share his goal of reducing the alarming statistics of fatherlessness in whatever form it comes.

How magic tricks (and politicians) fool your brain. Ever wonder how a magic trick works? How did the magician pull a silver coin from behind your ear? How did they know which card was yours? According to magician and New York Times crossword puzzle constructor David Kwong, it all boils down to evolution. Because we take in an infinite number of stimuli at any given time, we only process a tiny fraction of what’s in front of us. Magic works, Kwong says, by exploiting the gaps in our awareness. We never notice the magician flipping our card to the top of the deck because we’re too busy watching him rub his sleeve three times. But the principles of illusion extend beyond a bit of sleight-of-hand, he says. Politicians also exploit us with cognitive misdirection. For instance, policymakers describe an inheritance tax (which only taxes the very wealthy) as a “death tax” to make the public think it applies to everyone. Kwong then demonstrates a few fun tricks to teach us how to see through the illusions and deceptions that surround us in everyday life. He finishes his set with some sage words of advice for everyone (magic lovers or not): “Question what seems obvious, and above all, pay attention to your attention.”