“In the world of apparel there are so many opportunities to evolve—and technology is the key to speed, sustainability and a closer connection to the consumer,” said Ann Buckingham, GM/SVP, Strategy, Operations and Customization at CreateMe
As a leader, Ann believes in a supportive approach, rather than a heavy-handed one. In a recent interview with Fairygodboss, Ann tells us how she seeks to uplift other women, her role in the tech industry and her leadership style. Read on for her insights.
Tell us about your job.
Our goal is to revolutionize the apparel industry through innovation, automation and, of course, creativity.
In the world of apparel there are so many opportunities to evolve—and technology is the key to speed, sustainability and a closer connection to the consumer. I joined this exciting adventure three months ago because I was inspired! CreateMe lives at the crossroads of technology, customization and fashion.
More and more, the customer craves personal engagement with a brand and its product. We’re here to push the boundaries of what’s possible, practical and profitable. We get to dream and experiment while harnessing the talent and tools of some of the most legendary minds in innovation. Every day is a practice in problem-solving and blue-sky invention. It’s exciting and unpredictable. The key to everything is the trust we have in each other as a team—and the experience and expertise at every level.
As a strategist, I’ve often played the role of a cartographer, mapping out adventures in innovation, reinvention and turnarounds. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to play that leadership role at Disney, Fox and Dreamworks. Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to be able to use both sides of my brain and define and drive both business and creative. To go from big picture or big problem to innovative solution motivates me. My love for product and the consumer experience inspires my take on everything from creative direction to product design to line development.
How would you describe your leadership style?
For me, leading means giving people the opportunity to learn, grow and experience. I hire for attitude and aptitude—if you’re brave, curious and committed, I want to give you as much experience and exposure as possible to help you define your path. A key element for me is support—from me as a leader and also from teammates. I really look to create a culture of collaboration, often pairing team members who might not traditionally work together. It can inspire exciting and innovative solutions.
I also want my team problem-solve together—it builds strength as a unit. And, I always want them to know that I’ve got their backs if something goes sideways. Experience, whether good or challenging, gives you perspective and insight. Failing and learning are part of experience.
Once you’ve experienced something, it’s yours to take with you—another arrow in your quiver. Mentoring for me is not heavy-handed but rather encouragement, guidance and the support necessary to nurture confidence. It’s mutual education: I learn so much from my team, too. I’m inspired by their creativity, fearlessness and work ethic. I’m proud to say that former members of my team are now leaders across the industry!
How have you used your role to help bring up other women?
I’ve always practiced formal and informal mentoring and coaching. Whether it’s from my alma mater or in the ranks of the everyday corporate world I make sure each organization knows I am a resource and an advocate for women. I’ve forged my path because of those who came before me—those who have listened and encouraged me to take risks.
I’ve felt a duty to women on and off my team to be a sounding board but also to help them build their network. Opening doors, making introductions and pairing women up on projects widens their networks and opportunities. Generosity, inclusion and kindness fortify your current work environment and pave the way for future opportunities. Two million women have dropped out of the workforce during the past year, and we must help one other find the way back in.
This is about taking the call, answering the email, sending the encouraging text, writing the recommendation, coaching, listening, caring and helping each other reposition for the next chapter. We will all be stronger for it: our company cultures will be safer and healthier, and our products will be more inclusive and reach more consumers if we’re more gender-balanced.
What advice do you have for women in tech?
Growth in any field is about having examples. Having a support system of women at all levels, has meant the difference between pushing myself and staying comfortable. Best advice I could give for women in tech that want to grow their careers is to build your bubble, a network of close confidants, smart champions and helpful contacts within the tech world and beyond. This system will help you rise and cushion the bumps along the way.
Pay it forward, too. Mentor and guide those coming up the ranks. Work to inspire, lead and welcome the next generation into the tech field. Between internships and on-campus events, you could be the difference in girls raising their hands in science class or opting out of STEM fields. And both you and that next generation of STEM women are essential to the future of our industry and the challenges ahead.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
My former boss, Jim Fielding, leads by the five Cs: Create, Collaborate, Connect, Communicate and Commit. He sees them as the foundation for a thriving and productive culture. You should always be doing all of them, and almost any challenge can be solved by harnessing their collective power.
What I love about the framework is that it requires engagement, involvement and care—all active. You can’t sit on the sidelines. Together, they’re a roadmap for any challenge in any field and wise words to live by.