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business data Podcast product Retail Startups

Making retail relevant

Physical retail traditionally exists in a vortex of information, which doesn’t make sense for brands these days, says Matt Alexander, co-founder and CEO of new department store Neighborhood Goods, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. 

The company’s inaugural space, which launched in Plano, Texas, in late 2018, carries a selection of new and established brands in an environment that is hyper relevant to both its location, and its customer, through the use of data. 

Alexander’s view? Success lies in information. “If you’re a direct-to-consumer, digital-native brand, you’re going to look at this world, and you’re going to say: ‘We should be able to capture a certain amount of informative data to dictate how we should run that store, and how we should merchandise [it]’.” he explains. “That’s what they do on the web all day long. The moment you land on any of their websites, they know a huge amount about you, and exactly how you’re interacting with that site. And they optimize around it.”

His brilliant phrase: it’s all about operating in an economy of relevance. 

It’s for this reason many legacy retailers are otherwise struggling, he explains. In a basic sense it comes down to them not creating the goods, services and experiences that they know for fact the consumer wants. There is therefore a lot for them to learn from D2C incumbents – from Everlane to Casper – who have placed this front and centre in their strategies. 

Join us for this episode as we also explore why experiential retail needs to go beyond just putting a ball pit in the store, how modern brands are using the physical space for entirely new reasons, and why Alexander believes legacy retailers may still have the ability to play catch up after years of ignoring consumer needs after all.

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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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e-commerce Podcast Startups technology

Warby Parker on why technology is the lynchpin to customer service

Technology can enable us to do great things, says Warby Parker co-founder and CEO, Neil Blumenthal, with regards to the brand’s meteoric rise in the direct-to-consumer space, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.

Speaking to Liz Bacelar at this year’s NRF Big Show in New York, Blumenthal explains how technology is critical to making customers’ lives easier.

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Warby Parker sees itself sitting at the intersection of three communities – tech, fashion, and social enterprise, he notes. It’s both a tech company and a retailer focused on creating products and services that tangibly impact consumers every day.

Warby Parker is one of Silicon Valley’s first so-called unicorns, a special group of startups that exceed expectations to pioneer within their own category by hitting over $1bn in valuation – including Airbnb, Uber and WeWork.

The nine-year-old company has paved the way to creating a great retail experience that transverses seamlessly between online and offline, and as a result, inspired the business model of many single-product focused startups known to consumers today – from suitcases at Away,  to footwear at Allbirds.

But from its scrappy beginnings hosting a showroom at Blumenthal’s New York apartment, to being one of the first DTC brands to launch a brick-and-mortar retail space, the eyewear company has had a razor sharp focus on treating the whole experience of buying glasses as a single product – from trial to wear.

From its successful at-home trial program to digital eye tests, Warby Parker works with a team of in-house technologists to constantly iterate its approach to better serving the customer. For example, after receiving feedback that it was inconvenient for customers to take time off work to get an eye exam, it developed a prescription app that pairs an iPhone to a second screen to test the user’s vision. Recently, it then deployed Apple’s new AR technology to launch a virtual try-on feature.

During this conversation, Blumenthal also shares how the brand has been built to resonate with multiple consumer segments, the importance of the social aspect of the company, and why he sees Amazon more as inspiration, rather than threat.

Liz Bacelar and Neil Blumenthal Warby Parker
Liz Bacelar and Neil Blumenthal

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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Editor's pick Podcast product Retail sustainability

Meet 5 disruptive direct-to-consumer brands

Ask any direct-to-consumer brand and the answer is clear: the death of retail is greatly exaggerated.

Throughout the year, the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global spoke to some of the top businesses disrupting the markets they’re in to uncover the secrets to their success.

The one thing they seem to have in common is finding an industry that has long been left untapped, and focusing on a single product category – whether it be shoes, luggage, underwear and more. But they’re also winning by bringing in strong elements of community, having a sustainable story at their heart and launching into physical retail.

Here are our top ones from this year’s podcast episodes:

HEIST
Heist’s Toby Darbyshire and Rachel Arthur

In April, TheCurrent Global spoke to Toby Darbyshire, CEO of UK-based hosiery brand Heist Studios, on how the brand is innovating such a traditional category. “It struck us that in the age of Harvey Weinstein, the fact that my wife, who is a pretty modern woman, walks into Selfridges’ underwear section and it says ‘listen love, put this on – one of sort of four or five societal normalized views of sexy – and then you can fulfil your purpose’. That seems like an industry at its fundamental that is both broken from a brand point of view but also totally out of kilter with the cultural discourse,” he said at the time.

Heist plans on fixing the industry by placing a large focus on its product development, which begins at the customer and how they feel about tights, to product innovation that takes cues from other industries, such as sports, to better understand the performance and wear of textiles. 

Listen here

CASPER
Liz Bacelar and Casper's Eleanor Morgan
Liz Bacelar and Casper’s Eleanor Morgan

Mattress brand Casper is arguably one of the category’s biggest success stories, said to be worth over $750m today, with plans to open over 200 retail locations over the next three years. Today, brands should be deploying three different tools to achieve a successful retail experience, said chief experience officer Eleanor Morgan: trial, service and entertainment.

The brand, which introduced the mattress-in-a-box experience to American homes and beyond in 2014, now paves the way for digitally-native brands that are transitioning from online to offline spaces. Its stores, most recently the Dreamery space in NY, don’t focus on inventory availability and convenience. Instead, the focus is giving customers the ability to enjoy moments with the brand, which involves more practical elements such as try-on and expert consultation.

Listen here

NADAAM 
Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam
Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam

Cashmere brand Nadaam has built its entire business on relationships, said founder Matt Scanlan. “There are fundamental shared experiences across the human experience that we don’t think about when we’re making clothing; that we don’t think about when we’re trying to look nice” he told co-host Liz Bacelar earlier this year. 

Since inception, Nadaam has focused on building a strong bond with the communities that trade raw materials that become its products. That was an important factor to establishing a more sustainable supply chain, and part of a plan to build the biggest platform he could in order to share his message. Consumers are ready for this, he said, which only helps drive his message forward. During the conversation, Scanlan also talked about why 100% sustainability is both fake and impossible, and the challenges of growing such a brand. 

Listen here

AWAY
Jen Rubio and Liz Bacelar
Jen Rubio and Liz Bacelar

Travel brand Away never wanted to be another Silicon Valley story that was showered with VC money and failed to deliver. In order to ensure longevity, it never pitched itself as a luggage company, but rather a brand aiming to make travel more seamless. Such was the approach that the business received its first round of investment before ever having a physical product.

These days, Away’s mindset of creating a lifestyle rather than a single-product brand is exemplified by a travel magazine called Here, several successful collaborations with everyone from model Karlie Kloss to basketball Dwayne Wade and a slew of physical stores that sell beyond the simple suitcase. 

Listen here

ALLBIRDS
Tim Brown of Allbirds with Rachel Arthur
Tim Brown of Allbirds with Rachel Arthur

Footwear label Allbirds was conceived on the idea of creating a simple shoe that had two main focuses: sustainability and comfort. The aim was two-fold because according to co-founder Tim Brown, people don’t buy solely based on a brand’s sustainability credentials, but whether the product itself does what it says on the tin.

During this podcast conversation, Brown also honed in on the importance of businesses taking a responsibility in ensuring a greener future, rather than expecting the consumer to do it themselves. He also talked about the fact the brand has been making strides in product development that aligns with its ethos of sustainability: it recently launched a new flip flop range made with renewable sugarcane soles, the “recipe” of which is open source so other industry names can join in.

Soon after the episode was initially published, Allbirds took its mission online with Meet Your Shoes, a platform that showcased the provenance of the wool and tree styles. For wool, for example, users can read the ‘sheep dossier’ and even pet individual sheep as they stroll across the screen in a video. 

Listen here

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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Editor's pick Podcast product Retail

How Casper is designing experiential retail moments

Liz Bacelar and Casper's Eleanor Morgan
Liz Bacelar and Casper’s Eleanor Morgan

Successful retail experience today is about trial, service and entertainment, says Eleanor Morgan, chief experience officer of direct-to-consumer mattress brand Casper, on the latest episode of The Innovators podcast by TheCurrent.

Speaking to Liz Bacelar at The Lead Summit in New York, she says the company really focuses on designing experiences that are optimized for those three things rather than inventory availability and convenience. What’s key is giving customers the ability to try out products, get consultation from experts in house and enjoy moments with the brand.

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Casper has grown from an online retailer to a brick-and-mortar business with 20 stores across the US, along with an innovative sleep bar. The Dreamery, as it’s called, is a new napping space in New York built around experiential aims. It offers nap pods in a peaceful lounge along with a Casper mattress where consumers can pay $25 for a 45-minute snooze.

It also serves as an extension of the brand’s aim to drive a cultural change around sleep. “The Dreamery is a provocation and a way to essentially say, it’s not only acceptable to take a nap during the day and take a break, but it’s celebrated, and we can actually build a community of people that really value this and feel like it’s a socially fun behavior,” Morgan explains.

Casper was founded in 2014 with the mission of bringing great sleep to more people. With the diet and exercise industries booming, the founders saw a gap where sleep was completely ignored. Today, Casper is worth over $750m and has plans to open 200 store locations within the next three years.

Morgan attributes much of the brand’s growth to staying customer centered and focused on data. The company opened 18 pop-up stores in four months to test consumer engagement before opening its first permanent location, for instance. Through feedback and reviews from its consumers, it has been able to understand what their needs are, how they purchase their products, and how to improve their shopping experience.

During the conversation, Morgan also talks about the secret sauce to creating successful pop-up stores, what a modern sleep community looks like, and where Casper will be headed in the future.

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Current Innovators 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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e-commerce Editor's pick Podcast Retail sustainability

Allbirds on why sustainability is a non-negotiable

Tim Brown of Allbirds with Rachel Arthur
Tim Brown of Allbirds with Rachel Arthur

It’s not incumbent on the consumer to change behaviour, but on businesses to take responsibility, says Tim Brown, co-founder of direct-to-consumer footwear brand Allbirds, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast, by TheCurrent.

Speaking to Rachel Arthur, Brown stresses that brands need to show leadership on the issue of sustainability, and not expect their customers to be the ones to do it for them. “People don’t buy sustainability, they buy great products,” he explains.

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Brown started his career as a professional soccer player in his native New Zealand, which he says is what got him understanding the comfort needs in footwear. It was when he met co-founder Joey Zwillinger, a San Francisco-based biotech engineer and renewables expert, that the idea of creating a shoe that focused on sustainability and comfort together began to take shape.

Fast forward to 2016 and Allbirds launched its very first product, a pair of wool sneakers. Word of mouth quickly spread about the shoe’s simple design, level of comfort and sustainable use of textiles: a winning combination of good product and good storytelling that is at the core of any DTC brand’s strategy, and as a result, so attractive to the Millennial shopper.

Allbirds in London
Allbirds in London

Two years on, the brand has recently announced a new round of funding worth $50m, now valuing it at $1.4bn. With the investment, Brown says, comes the pressure to deliver on the many things they have imagined for the future, with a focus on physical retail, international expansion, and constant material innovation.

The latter has already included everything from a collection using ethically-sourced Eucalyptus fibres and a new flip-flop with a renewable sugarcane sole. The brand has also just opened up its first flagship store in London, as its first international move.

During this conversation, Brown explains how DTC brands succeed by owning every consumer touchpoint, how the narrative of retail being dead is greatly exaggerated, and why, in line with the UN’s recent report on climate change, every brand should strive to be sustainable in 2018.

This episode was recorded at Entale’s studio in London. Entale is a new podcasting app that allows you to interact with exclusive extra content like images, links and maps as you listen to your favourite podcast. You can download Entale from the iOS app store 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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Podcast Retail

Misha Nonoo on pivoting direct-to-consumer

Liz Bacelar and Misha Nono
Liz Bacelar and Misha Nono

“The scariest thing [in the world] is doing something different and not having an example to follow,” says designer Misha Nonoo on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators.

Speaking at a MouthMedia recording, live at Spring Place in New York with TheCurrent’s founder Liz Bacelar, the designer discussed how she pivoted her contemporary namesake brand in 2016 to focusing on selling direct-to-consumer instead. “It was scary and I was doing something completely new, but at the same time it was very exciting,” she explains.

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Such disruption is something that has become second nature to Nonoo in recent years. In 2015, she was one of the first in the industry to forgo an official fashion week presentation and host an Instagram one instead. The next year, she returned to the platform with a see-now-buy-now presentation, which users could shop via influencer platform, rewardStyle.

For a designer who sees herself as an entrepreneur holding the reins for her brand’s success – and her personal happiness – switching to selling directly to the consumer was a very clear direction, she explains. That said, challenging the industry’s statusquo comes with a lot of hard work, which Nonoo does not shy away from.

“One of the most enlightening things that I was ever told was by Anna Wintour (…) she said to me ‘an overnight success is 10 years in the making’,” Nonoo explains. Seven years on, she feels she is just ‘making it’ now.

Time has also given Nonoo the confidence to know that a lot of the industry is based on smoke and mirrors. As a small, independent brand, she now feels confident in having the choice of what to subscribe to.

During this conversation, Nonoo also talks about the importance of building a business based on values, how fashion week has become obsolete, and the challenges of running an on-demand business.

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 product Retail Startups

Away luggage on going beyond the VC hype

Jen Rubio and Liz Bacelar
Jen Rubio and Liz Bacelar

Direct-to-consumer brands don’t often live up to the hype placed on them by endless amounts of VC funding and Silicon Valley fandom, says Jen Rubio, co-founder of travel brand Away, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Speaking to Liz Bacelar, founder of TheCurrent, at the British Fashion Council’s annual Fashion Forum in London, Rubio explains that from its inception in 2016, she and her co-founder Steph Korey (who she met while both working at Warby Parker), were careful not to run their business like a lot of other brands in the space.

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“If you go back in time a little bit, a lot of new brands and e-commerce companies were positioning themselves as tech companies and raising a lot of VC money at tech valuations that would never live up to the public market at how retail companies are valued, and then run into the trouble of needing these stores and claiming they are a retail company and not a tech one,” she explains. “We saw a lot of this happening in the industry and from the beginning Steph and I said, this is not how we are going to run our business.

After pitching Away as a brand aiming to make travel more seamless, as opposed to simply making luggage, the business famously received a first round of investment before even having a physical product, for instance.

From the lightbulb moment for the brand’s concept through to its launch, Away spoke to over 800 people about what elements would make the perfect suitcase. It is that open approach to constant feedback that it continues to focus on to this day – helping to inform its product collaborations, new features and color palettes, and even locations for pop-ups and permanent retail spaces.

In this conversation, Rubio also tells Liz how its first major hurdle – airline regulation that meant their smart suitcase was no longer allowed onboard – was an important opportunity to strengthen the relationship with Away customers; how retail landlords are finally giving non-legacy brands a chance; and why understanding your consumer is key to constant innovation.

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 sustainability

How Naadam is driving the sustainable cashmere industry

Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam
Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam

Building deep relationships with the communities trading raw materials is a key factor in establishing a more sustainable supply chain, argues Matt Scanlan of disruptive cashmere brand, Naadam.

Speaking to Liz Bacelar on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast, the CEO and co-founder of the company, opens up about how important it is to think about the human side of what we, as an industry, are doing.

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“There are fundamental shared experiences across the human experience that we don’t think about when we’re making clothing; that we don’t think about when we’re trying to look nice. That was eye-opening to me, and I try really hard to continually push that narrative for people,” he says.

His entire business was built first on relationships, he explains, which led him to want to support those he had gotten to know. In this case, we’re talking Mongolian goat herders.

His story of how he got there is a well known one – in short he spent a month with local communities in the Gobi Desert and then returned with $2 million stashed in plastic bags to buy tons of raw cashmere directly from them. Doing so allows those goat herders to earn 50% more profit.

Since then, his ambition to transform the cashmere supply chain alongside business partner, Diederik Rijsemus, has grown rapidly. Simultaneously, the consumer mindset on what sustainability is and why it matters is finally starting to take hold, he notes, outlining his drive to keep pushing this forward.

“All I care about is building the biggest platform to share my message which is a very simple passion around why I did it in the first place. The bigger the platform is, the happier I am. I just want more people to know that if you’re really thoughtful about sustainability it can foster innovation that lets you make products across a spectrum that are more affordable for the customer and better quality.”

Also in the conversation, Scanlan talks about why 100% sustainability is both fake and impossible, the challenges faced by growing and scaling such a brand, and why he now operates via wholesale channels as well as his direct-to-consumer model. The death of traditional retail is hyperbolic, he says.

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.