Leah Hunter has made a career out of seeing into the future. As the AVP of Idea Couture, a strategic innovation consultancy out of San Francisco, she advises some of the biggest brands in the world on emerging ideas. She has worked with everyone from Heinz to Banana Republic. We first met Leah underneath a flame-thrower at Burning Man, then caught up again at SXSW to chat about Depeche Mode, Appalachia, thrifting, and socially responsible fashion.
What were your earliest fashion influences? How did you become interested in style?
I grew up in deep Appalachia. If you think of the Hunger Games, I grew up deep in District 12. Big overalls, coal mining, all of that. There was no such thing as fashion when I grew up, which turned out to be to my benefit. I created my own influences. Sassy was the first magazine I ever had, and it was hard to get. So, I would vintage shop and cobble together looks. I’d find beautiful Pucci-esque dresses, and clothing from the ‘40s from my grandmother’s closet. I sort-of got to steer my own ship.
Trend Hunting is part of your job. What trends are you looking out for in 2013?
So I run the San Francisco office of an innovation consultancy. There are a few things I’ve been seeing that cut across all the industries we work with (health, media, fashion, retail). Collaborative consumption is a big one. Clothing swaps are exploding. Thrift shopping is huge. Hell, Thrift Shop is one of the biggest pop songs going right now.
I just met with a friend who heads up one of the divisions of Levi’s. She was just on a buying trip to Tokyo. There’s a store that has just adopted a new model. Traditionally, merchandising for large department stores is done in silos. Clothing on the 2nd floor, cookware on the 5th. They’re doing it in a way that has heretofore only been done in small boutiques. It’s like a retail mashup. They’re selling glasses next to shoes next to cookware right next to stuff for your kids. They’re doing it in huge stores.
A lot of fashion designers who are very creative dress very simply. There are so many icons who just wear a black turtleneck every day. What’s the relationship between style and creativity?
When I’m hiring someone, I look for two things: do you have the qualifications for the job, and do you have an eye? Having an eye doesn’t necessarily mean having the technical proficiency to create a look. I don’t think of someone’s outward appearance as an indicator of anything, what I care about are their influences and what makes their eyes light up.
Any upcoming designers that particularly interest you?
I like people who are doing things that are socially responsible. Sourcing your materials in a socially responsible way is just the right thing to do. I was at Fashion Week in New York a few weeks ago, and went to a show by Made By Voz. The work was beautiful. They had black liquid silk cowl-neck shirts, super-tight cigarrette pants, beautifully woven knitwear. You would have never known that all the clothing was made in a small village in South America, and that the proceeds from the clothing was going back to the village and supporting this community. They aren’t able to produce quite as much, but they are able to do amazingly constructed pieces that give back to people and make them money. I think that’s pretty badassed.
What blogs and magazines do you read that influence your style today?
I don’t read a lot of fashion blogs, but I get a lot of style influence indirectly. I look for things around architecture or other areas that are adjacent to fashion. The Selby, of course.
What advice would you give to your 14 year old self?
At 14 I spent the entire summer in my basement bedroom listening to Depeche Mode, really depressed that this boy didn’t like me. I wanted to be goth-y and didn’t quite know how. All I could do was tape-record Depeche Mode from a radio station very far away. I would tell that person that it’s gonna get better. But first you have to leave your bedroom. I’d also tell them that it’s alright to be quirky. It’s to your benefit. The people who stand out in the world are the ones who are willing to take risks.
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