Fashion expert Tomio Taki spoke to Philadelphia University students and faculty on April 27 about his new book, Zennovation: An East-West Approach to Business Success, and his fascinating career in the fashion industry.
Taki has had a storied career in the international apparel business, taking over his family’s more than 250-year-old company, Takihyo Co. Ltd., at the age of 26 and guiding it during 50 years of unprecedented growth. He was honored with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Philadelphia University as well as the Leader of Innovation Medal at the University’s 2011 Fashion Show and Spirit of Innovation Gala.
In a conversation moderated by Natalie Nixon, associate professor of fashion industry management, Taki talked about his experiences in fashion and his thoughts on the future of the industry. In 1974, Taki became a partner in the apparel firm Anne Klein & Co. and later helped launch the career of Donna Karan when he appointed her as chief designer of that company.
After Karan flourished in her new role, Taki and his business partner called Karan into his office and fired her. “I said, ‘I have good news and bad news,’” Taki said. “‘The bad news is you are fired. The good news is you should report back to my conference room on Monday morning as the independent owner of a new company.’”
Donna Karan started her own company in partnership with Takihyo Co. in 1985 and the rest is fashion history; her Donna Karan New York and DKNY brands are among the most successful in the industry’s history.
Taki emphasized balancing creativity with business knowledge and leadership skills. “Everyone has some creativity, but you have to think about how you are going to enhance it,” he said. “If you want to create something interesting, think about finding a problem and then getting an answer.”
Taki recounted a story about meeting an executive at Sony. Shortly before running into the individual, Taki said he ran into someone carrying a boom box on the street and cut his head. He told his Sony friend that they should do something about the large boom boxes, and the executive said they were working on making smaller devices that people can carry around to listen to music. Soon after that conversation, Sony released the Walkman.