How To Humanize Brands: With Connie Chi, Founder And CEO Of The Chi Group
By Bethany Stout
Connie Chi is the Founder and CEO of The Chi Group, a branding agency humanizing and co-branding brands through experiences, working with global clients in fashion and beauty, hospitality, food, wine and spirits, events and entertainment. Connie has spoken at numerous conference and colleges about creating a brand, influencer marketing and co-branding for success. She’s also the host of The Brand Academy Podcast, which talks about trends in branding and marketing, secrets to co-branding and brand strategies that can help you level up your brand. Today, I got a little insight into how Connie got her start in fashion, icons she admires and more. Check it out!
What inspired you to start a career in the fashion industry?
In the 2nd grade, I thought it was the coolest thing to watch designers sketch beautiful designs from scratch, and I wanted to be a designer. After taking art classes, I realized I wasn’t an artist, so as an adult, I’ve found tremendous joy in being on the business side of fashion, where no sketches are needed.
Can you tell us an interesting story that has happened in your career lately?
This isn’t something that’s recent but definitely warrants the most interesting. I used to work in the diamond district in NYC, and my job was to open up boxes and check diamonds. One day, I accidentally threw out a $20,000 loose diamond and had to go dumpster dive in the entire building’s trash. When I found the diamond, I cried.
What do you think is more important to a brand, the logo or name? Why?
I think both are important but will only have any significance if you:
1). Create a story that’s compelling around your brand
2). Deliberately design the experience you want people to have when dealing
with your brand.
3). Really know your audience by getting inside their head
If you could collaborate with anyone on a fashion line, who would it be?
It would definitely be Alexander McQueen because his style is unique and also the fact that McQueen is a fashion legend.
What fashion icon has inspired you the most?
It’s a toss-up between the Supreme brand and Yohji Yamamoto. I love that Yamamoto is a fashion rebel is and boldly mysterious in his designs. Supreme, for their brilliant marketing and branding strategies.
What advice would you give a young professional just starting out their career in fashion?
Learn to get out of your own way and know when to hire someone to help. Starting out, you probably wouldn’t have the revenue to hire someone. But if you strategize well, there are ways around it. For example, offering an exchange of services with a company that you’d like to work with can lead to success.
The fashion industry is always changing to stay current on trends. Where do you see the fashion industry going in the next 5 years?
More fashion brands will be utilizing virtual reality, AI and voice to create unique experiences that are customized for customers. The “see now, buy now” concept is also a rising star; it’s something to watch for, as many runway shows are utilizing this idea already. Drone marketing will also be another avenue where fashion could potentially move into, as robotics become more mainstream.
If you could go back in time and give younger self-advice on your fashion career, what would you tell yourself?
I’d probably tell myself to get into personal growth. I can’t tell you how many times I failed and given up or even was afraid to take a small risk. Really nurturing your mindset and reading will help you get through the reality that the fashion world will be tough. It’s a competitive market, and you need to have the mental grit to accomplish what you want without that small voice in your head contradicting you.
What are your “five tips for success” for a career in the fashion industry?
Design a Brand Experience
I’ve seen this too many times. Brands coming into the marketplace don’t think through the kind of experience they want customers to have. It’s important to find a professional who can help you create a unique experience that customers can gravitate towards.
Instagram is Only a Small Part of Your Marketing Strategy
Many people starting out post on IG in hopes of getting noticed and forget that they still need to focus on the business side of fashion. Yes, there could be wins on IG but spend your time developing your business/brand. Use IG as a tool, not as your only source of generating leads.
Hire a Branding Agency
It sounds scary because so many agencies out there can charge a lot, but if you work with a more boutique agency, you’ll be surprised that the rates can be quite affordable.
Don’t Just Pick People’s Brain for Information
Networking can be a valuable tool. When you meet someone and you really admire their work, don’t try to just pick their brain or ask them to meet you for coffee. If they are really good, they would rather spend time on things that are going to help them grow. Instead, ask how you can work with them.
Collaborations and Partnerships Really Work
Find the right people or brands to partner with. In the beginning, we tend to say yes to everyone and work for free. This isn’t the best strategy to sustain your brand, so hiring someone to help you scour for the right co-branding opportunities and collaborations can save you time and money.