Google may be on its way to figuring out how to make its clunky wearable device Glass more attractive to consumers by tapping special-ops fashion marketing whiz Ivy Ross.
Ross, who has worked with top American retail brands like Mattel, Gap Inc., Disney, Coach and, most recently, online art retailer Art.com, will begin leading the Glass team May 19, the company said Friday. It is unclear how she may influence the tech side of things, but Ross' experience in turning around struggling brands like Gap around and her six-year tenure at Bausch & Lomb for Outlook Eyewear will no doubt help in advancing Glass on the fashion and wearability scale.
Ross' hiring signals a shift at Google -- long criticized for the product’s design flaws -- as the company based in Mountain View, California, attempts to make its product more appealing to the masses outside of the developer circle. The move comes just after Google reopened the sale of Glass to the general public. Previously, the $1,500 device sold out in a one-day flash sale in April.
In a letter from Ross to “Glass Explorers” Friday, the marketing exec said her goal is to answer “the seemingly simple, but truly audacious questions Glass poses” about technology in daily life.
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Among those questions: “Can technology be something that frees us up and keeps us in the moment, rather than taking us out of it?” she wrote. “Can it help us look up and out at the world around us, and the people who share it with us?”
Despite her limited tech background, Ross, having spent her career in design and marketing, could be the answer to repair Glass' reputation as a nerdy, niche gadget trying hard to be trendy.
Ross, a Harvard Business alum, most recently was chief marketing officer at Art.com, the largest online art retailer. Prior to that, she was senior vice president of worldwide product design for Mattel, from 1998 to 2004, and chief creative officer at the Disney Store, from 2007 to 2008.
Despite occasional sidetrips, her career has largely been sartorial, with a decidedly mainstream bent, including for Calvin Klein (1997-1998), Gap (for both Gap from 2008 to 2011 and Old Navy from 2002 to 2005) and Coach (1995-1997).
Her tenure in particular at Gap, a brand which was struggling to be cool in 2009, was reinvigorated when Ross lead the relaunch of its 1969 Premium jeans line. “Part of the issue is that we haven’t communicated to customers what we stand for and what they can expect from us," she said of Gap, rectifying the problem by simply reintroducing its core product, denim.
Ross' ability to transform a brand with an unfashionable reputation is clearly key to her new role at Google, but so, too, is her experience in the 1990s as vice president of design and development for Bausch & Lomb’s Outlook Eyewear. Ross can use her experience helping design eyewear to ensure Google doesn't overshoot the intersection of wearability and fashionability, making Glass good-looking but tedious to wear and use.