[The following post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]
I've read biographies about great American leaders since my early childhood. I can still fondly recall things I learned about Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, MLK and other icons of leadership. The quality that stands out the most is that they all led by doing, and doing first more often than not.
Think about it: Ben Franklin wasn't called "The First American" because he was following in someone else's footsteps. At 42 years of age, Teddy Roosevelt became the youngest president in the nation's history back in 1901. He later became the first president to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Another Peace Prize winner, MLK didn't recall anyone else's dream before sharing his own with the world in that famous speech.
So what does all this have to do with fashion?
Well, through my work in the past few years from launching a pop-up sneaker boutique and creating South by Southwest's fashion footprint with Style X to meeting hundreds of fashion insiders for stories and attending major events like New York Fashion Week, I've come to realize fashion is in a much-needed transition of leadership.
Technology and user-generated content is revolutionizing commerce. Global production capabilities are democratizing quality. Trends are changing more rapidly, but also gaining total reach through the Internet. These aren't the '90s anymore.
The old guard's first question -- whether it's mega-brand executives or esteemed fashion designers or prominent magazine editors -- is always, and I do mean always, "Who else is doing it?"
This is not the mentality of a leader. Instead, it's always about worrying about the competition, gaming the industry, following the trend, and targeting the masses.
The new guard's first question is much different: "No one else is doing it, why shouldn't we?"
It's all about the start-up mentality of finding a gap, creating a niche market, establishing a new trend or behavior pattern and targeting super fans.
From Apple computers to Christopher Nolan's Inception to the Toyota Prius to Twitter to PBS's Austin City Limits to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential election... the new guard and its start-up mentality has deeply impacted and, in most cases, trumped the old guard's approach to established ways of thinking.
It's 2012, and I'm proud to say that I know a handful of people in the fashion business that are a part of a new guard of leaders paving the way for groundbreaking changes to an otherwise stagnant fashion industry hoping for a return to 1990s consumer behavior.
[Author Note: I've invited these leaders down to Austin for Style X and couldn't be happier.]
Here are a few of them and the major industry trends they represent:
Lyst -- For Realizing Social Curation is the Future
Because I fully agree with Macala Wright from FMM; the future of retail will be curated.
Lyst.com is a social commerce website revolutionizing the fashion industry by providing users with a personalized way to discover and shop for fashion online.
"Our curated commerce model surfaces more relevant content and product recommendations for users to shop," said Hilary Peterson, VP of business development at Lyst. "We've been thrilled by the growth which has been driven by connecting more people with products they love."
Refinery29 -- For Understanding That It's Either Go Local or Go Home
Because we live in a global world, but we also live in cities.
"Refinery29's local point of view is a huge point of difference for us; so much of fashion and shopping is local these days from the latest street style bloggers to emerging designers and, of course, boutique owners," opined co-founder Philippe von Borries. "We are building the go-to platform to connect and mobilize consumers to the best in local style and shopping acting as a resource for our consumers and driving awareness and sales for local brands and fashion enthusiasts."
"We get social, and we get what it means to connect to our readers authentically. As a result, we put a lot of care and thought into brand integration and how that impacts the overall experience; ultimately, we prefer to integrate brands only in ways we feel positively add to/enhance our readers' lives," concluded von Borries.
Grungy Gentleman's Jace Lipstein -- For Having True 360-Degree Influence
Because in a sea of so-called fashion "influencers", there are only so many people whom really carry the cards.
"Content is my driving force. When producing thought provoking and substantial content is your complete focus, you will put yourself in a good place," said Jace Lipstein best known as Grungy Gentleman.
Lipstein added, "The most rewarding aspect of what I do is the talent that I am fortunate to constantly be surrounded by. My peers and their brilliance constantly rub off on me and my style."
NAMI's Sarah Nami Ahn -- For Following Her True Passions
Because if we've learned anything from the economic downturn, it's that following your true calling is better than sticking to what you know.
"Life is ephemeral, delicate, and beautiful... all things that were startlingly made aware to me with my brother's near-death (motorcycle) accident; I couldn't spend another moment not doing what I felt passionate about in life, to create art," said Sarah Nami Ahn, who left her Ph.D. in neurosciences behind to launch NAMI.
"My approach to fashion is unique having the background of science; design can be logical, a way of problem-solving to make the most beautiful garment you can with the given variables at hand," she added.
Tortoise & Blonde's Steven & Evan Weisfeld -- For Knowing Family, like Father, Knows Best
Because following in the footsteps of the Olsen Twins and Ari & David Goldberg who founded StyleCaster isn't a bad idea.
"With Tortoise & Blonde, I am able to set the same high standards in quality control by utilizing the years of experience I have in selling eyewear to my patients; the level of consumer confidence is increased knowing that a doctor is behind a company selling Rx eyeglasses, and when needed I can personally address any technical questions the customer may have," said CEO and optometrist Steven Weisfeld.
"I think of it as old meets new school; where my dad is the expert in optometry and fulfillment, I'm able to focus on marketing, strategy and social commerce -- it's a pretty good complement," added son Evan Weisfeld, who is driving the company's outreach to bands like Ra Ra Riot and Jukebox the Ghost.
PR Couture's Crosby Noricks -- For Creating a Network, Not Just a Distribution List
Because the PR industry still has its agency tentacles firmly wrapped around the fashion business, but the game has changed a bit.
"My approach is to strategically drive customer actions in support of business objectives by extend branding enthusiasm through interactive and engaging stories across multiple marketing channels," said Crosby Noricks who founded fashion and retail marketing hub PR Couture.
"Success today requires a commitment of time, resources and creativity to endear the social customer's brand loyalty for the long haul," she added. "We must capture her attention, delight her with information and provide her with shareable tools to demonstrate how her personality, lifestyle and values connect with those of the brand."