Stephanie Horton, chief strategy officer for the luxury fashion brand Alexander Wang, will never have it all. Why would a woman as talented and ambitious as Horton settle for that?
To date, she’s already held posts as the New York Times’ marketing director for luxury brands, tasked with bringing in new revenue streams for the newspaper. She was also executive director of creative services and communications at American Vogue, overseeing a team dedicated to promotions, events and all client advertising, and was head of global communications at Shopbop (owned by Amazon.com), with responsibility for the development and execution of Shopbop’s global communications and public relations strategy.
From Horton’s eagle-eye vantage point, it appears that we have only begun to glimpse the potential for customizing the client experience and for maximizing the profitability of digital luxury marketing. Horton is on a trajectory to reach the apex of the fashion business, and she’s not going alone: Today marks the launch of Fashion Tech Connects, a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring the next generation of black and brown women hoping to reach fashion’s highest executive ranks.
How does she do it? It’s all in a stylish day’s work.
When The Glow Up caught up with Horton, it was an early workday morning, featuring front-page fashion news: Horton and the board members of Alexander Wang had decided to break away from New York Fashion Week, a trending marketing move in the design community, Horton says. It’s exciting because “technology lets you break rules and frees designers up to do what’s best for their business.”
What’s best for business right now, and one of the biggest lessons learned from her term at Shopbop, is that all technological innovation needs to be “outward facing” and to “serve the customer, and add to the bottom line.”
According to Horton, “kitschy innovation” in business (akin to attention grabs on social media or kooky in-store experiences that don’t ring at the register) is a no-no.
“There’s a lot going on in AI [artificial intelligence] as it relates to CRM [customer relationship management] that helps me hone and practice my craft,” Horton says.
So how exactly did Horton, 46, whose luxurious, honey-blond locks are every bit as bright and sunny as her disposition, emerge from The Devil Wears Prada corporate crucible at Vogue to become one of the most powerful African-American female C-suite execs in the global fashion trade?
“Vogue is a performance-based culture. You have to come up with ideas, push them through and deliver at pace,” Horton says.
These are skills Horton sharpened under the tutelage of her first mentor, Alyse Myers, vice president of marketing at the New York Times. Myers pulled Horton into her office to compliment an idea she’d presented in a meeting and to find out if she had more ideas to offer. To which Horton, who was 30 at the time, replied that she only had the one idea. Myers advised her to “speak up more often,” Horton says with an easy laugh.
“There’s two ways you can take that—as a one-off or as something to run with,” Horton said, and she ran right through that open door, developing ideas and asking her mentor questions in order to learn how to secure her footing on the rungs of the corporate ladder.
“Since then, I’ve looked for that person in every job,” Horton said. “You know, Tom Florio, former publisher of Vogue, who mentored me and recommended me for my job at Alexander Wang.”
Horton, who gives as good as she gets when it comes to mentoring, is on the eve of her most personal and exciting project to date with Fashion Tech Connects.
Horton’s recipe for success? “An amazing team who you trust to deliver,” she said.
Fashion Tech Connects’ team players are co-founder Stacie Henderson, a former colleague of Horton’s who is now CEO of Keep.com, along with corporate partners Farfetch, Stitch Fix and Alexander Wang. The collective mission is to guide college-age women to careers in either coding and development or in the business side of the luxury-goods industry.
“These are all career paths that people don’t know about,” Horton says.
Hurdles of perception, such as “the stigma that the industry is impenetrable or that you have to be a fashion designer in order to find a job,” are at the top of Horton’s list of myths to be debunked. Internships are a critical part of the process for successful careers, and Fashion Tech Connects is there to provide qualified candidates with both education and, for those who rise to the top, entree into coveted fashion internships.
“If we look at the current landscape of technology and fashion leadership, there is an obvious lack of women of color,” says Horton, whose new executive role at Alexander Wang was reportedly the inspiration behind this season’s fashion show, featuring models dressed as an army of high-powered female executives.
If Horton has her way, squads of black female power brokers are about to be on the next runway to reality 2.0.