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business Podcast product Retail

Choosing authenticity over hype

A brand’s success depends on authentic relationships and good design over hype, says Rodrigo Bazan, CEO of designer label Thom Browne, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. 

“I tend to like less anything based on hype or cool, or the hot thing of the moment, because by definition that’s going to cool down at some point. So I still believe that the big things that are happening are led by a very, very strong design idea,” he explains.

It’s for the same reason that dressing rapper Cardi B for this year’s Met Gala in a larger-than-life ruby ballgown made sense for the luxury label, he notes. 

The Thom Browne team does little PR and has no internal VIP team, meaning the relationship with Cardi, as well as sports superstars like basketballer LeBron James, happen organically.

Since launching in 2004, the brand has gained a loyal audience that appreciates its modern take on classic silhouettes. The designer’s discrete nature (he himself is not on social media) and timeless designs mean it has managed to stand out in a world of overconsumption and celebrity designers that rule social media, from Virgil Abloh at Off White and Louis Vuitton to Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. 

Bazan explains how the brand is averse to overexposure and flashiness, instead focusing on creating more of these meaningful partnerships, from dressing Barcelona FC players off the field to creating bespoke tailoring with Barneys. As a result, it is steadily growing a business aiming to survive the influencer fatigue that is starting to pick up speed. 

Join us to learn more from Bazan about what that means in practice, including how music and celebrity help fuel its success, why the brand believes in sportswear over streetwear, and just how its thinking about the balance of data and design today.

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Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business Podcast

Ozwald Boateng on why creatives need to think like startups

Ozwald Boateng
Ozwald Boateng

Designers need to reposition their businesses as startups to tap into much-needed investment, says menswear designer, Ozwald Boateng, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

In conversation with Liz Bacelar at a Spotify event in Paris, Boateng, whose body of work propelled the craftsmanship of London’s Savile Row to international recognition, says he believes the creative world needs to learn from technology in terms of how it approaches funding.

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The fashion industry’s model of investors taking control of designers’ names early on is broken, he explains, saying that we can all learn from new direct-to-consumer businesses that have overcome this by approaching differently the way that they’re backed instead.

“What amazes me is when you see these young creative talents, still owning sizeable chunks of the business after raising so much money and getting these valuations of a billion plus – you kind of go, my god, can that really happen, it’s almost like a dream, but in the tech world, it’s the norm,” he notes.

“This creates a huge amount of independence and opportunity for the designer – you’re no longer forced to follow the rules, so that’s exciting. For me as a business, I’m looking at ways to take advantage of that.”

Conversely, he says the technology world also needs to learn from creatives. “I think if more designers looked at the world of technology and applied their creative to the tech, I am sure we would see some very interesting and groundbreaking ideas,” he comments.

He explains that designers are trained to always look forward, to spot trends and understand needs, so it’s something he believes would work exceptionally well when applied to technology.

“I would happily use a body scanner [for my made-to-measure suits], it makes a lot of sense. But there’s a lot of things I could add in terms of how I need the technology to work,” he notes.

“So I see a partnership. Eventually both [designers and tech companies] will see they need each other, and then they’ll just make it work.”

During the conversation, the duo also talk about his new uniform designs for British Airways, his time as creative director at Givenchy and the role of race and diversity in the industry.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Podcast Retail technology

How Tim Kobe shaped Apple and the future of retail

Rachel Arthur and Tim Kobe
Rachel Arthur and Tim Kobe

The type of experiences a retailer brings to their stores shouldn’t be determined by what the competition is doing, but ultimately what’s relevant to each brand, argues Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of strategic design firm Eight Inc, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Kobe is known as the designer behind the original Apple store, which arguably paved the way for what modern day customer experience in retail looks like. But his view is that too many brands are jumping on the “experience” bandwagon because their peers are, and not thinking about how important it is to be sincere to their values.

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“People have started to expect that the values that the brand is standing for, the thing its known for, is going to come through in the experience,” he explains. It’s only by doing so that will you create experiences consumers want to share, he notes.

He’s been doing that since he founded Eight Inc in 1989 and first worked with Apple, under the direction of late founder Steve Jobs, in 1996. His focus was on moving the store from “a transaction space into a culture space”.

Retail has of course evolved significantly since then, largely thanks to the evolution of technology, e-commerce and the mobile devices shoppers now carry everyday. But what hasn’t changed is human connection, Kobe explains.

“To me the human interaction supercedes all of the tech, all of the AI… I use the iPod as an example. No one remembers how much memory it had, no one remembers how many centimetres thick it was, or millimetres – what they remember is a 1,000 songs in your pocket. It goes back to, ultimately, any product has values if it delivers on human outcomes.”

It’s for that very reason, he argues that the future of retail has to be about the future of human interactions. “[It’s about] understanding what people are doing and how they’re interacting with one another… We have to get back to understanding a bit more about the most successful human interactions that you can create. Put the technology in the background, put it behind, but let the human interactions and that contact be the thing that we get smarter at, the thing that we get better at.”

In this episode with TheCurrent’s Rachel Arthur, he also talks about the idea of “monochannel retail”, which is all about using digital and physical spaces simultaneously, dives into his work in China with brands including Xiaomi and Lincoln, and explains just how brands can get past the format fatigue we’re seeing in stores worldwide today.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce Editor's pick Podcast Retail

How Walmart creates growth with design

Liz Bacelar and Dan Makoski, Walmart
Liz Bacelar and Dan Makoski

Design is all about helping shoppers live better lives, says Dan Makoski, vice president of design at Walmart, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Speaking to Liz Bacelar, founder of TheCurrent, during a live recording hosted by MouthMedia Network at Spring Place in New York, he explains how the enormous e-commerce redesign he has spearheaded for the world’s largest retailer, all came down to this focus on elevating the shopping experience for the changing customer of today.

“Design is best when it serves people. And all people need great design and that’s why I am excited to experiment with Walmart, which is this everyday brand, and see how design can make a difference,” he explains.

This intention to emotionally connect with the consumer through design came from the top, Makoski notes. The permission he was given to think about people’s hearts from the CEO, was a big leap for a commercial business of this size, he adds. But it’s that style of leadership, coupled with the smart investments the organization has been making in other e-commerce businesses, that is keeping it competitive with, and still more than three times the size of Amazon, in overall revenue.

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That’s not to say the company doesn’t still have a lot to do, however. Its online sales alone are less than a tenth of what Amazon makes ($118.57 billion vs. $11.5 billion respectively in 2017), making this redesign part of a big strategy to drive growth.

When Walmart bought Jet.com a couple of years ago, Makoski explains, there was a sense of courage and of charting new territory in the e-commerce space. The aim has to been to channel that focus on innovation through the design of the new website to create something for both the shopper and the business, to ultimately add value to each.

Dan Makoski“The conversation at Walmart has not been, let’s change ourselves. The conversation has been, we are the world’s largest company, we are the Fortune number one, our retail footprint is 1.5x the size of Manhattan. And, our customer base is not monolithic; it’s not just one type of shopper, so let’s bring in Jet.com, ModCloth, Bonobos, and let’s create a redesign of Walmart that now allows us to [have] a wider conversation,” he comments.

During the episode, Makoski also dives into the power of thinking about human language, how the retail giant is continuing to compete with Amazon, and just how his work assists large corporations to think about innovation in new ways.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.