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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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Podcast product

Universal Standard on leveling the playing field for ‘plus-size’ fashion

“We really and truly believe that the plus size woman will never be serviced as well as she will be when there’s no such thing as plus size,” say Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler, co-founders of size-inclusive label, Universal Standard, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.

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Fashion tends to segregate women who are on the larger end of the spectrum, they say, and so they’re on a mission to level the playing field and make clothes for everyone. To that end, the brand, which had already gained a cult-like following for its size-inclusive clothing since launching in 2015, introduced an even larger range in 2018, from 00 to 40 – an industry first.

Understanding how women of all sizes shop has been key to the brand’s success, which last year also raised its first round of investment from the likes of GOOP’s Gwyneth Paltrow, TOMS’ Blake Mycoskie and Imaginary Ventures’ Natalie Massenet. They’ve also introduced collaborations with brands including J.Crew and as of just this week, Rodarte.

Much like many direct-to-consumer counterparts, the e-commerce experience is playing a major part in its popularity: all of its SKUs can be viewed at every size available within the range, making it easier for women to compare and make confident decisions; and its Universal Fit Liberty Program allows shoppers to replace their purchase, free of charge, within a year of completing it, should they go up or down in size.

During this conversation, recorded at the Current Global’s Innovation Mansion at SXSW this year, Waldman and Veksler break down the many product development challenges that come with the industry’s traditional fit formula; tell co-host Rachel Arthur what they’re putting in place to reduce hostility to women of larger size ranges, and share why their bold moves are shifting the way the whole industry approaches this market.

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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Podcast product

Heist’s Olympic designer on product innovation

You have to be bold and brave to do meaningful innovation, says Fiona Fairhurst, VP of innovation at underwear brand, Heist Studios, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global.

“We’re trying to make better products that make people’s lives better,” she explains.  

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The first product under the newly-appointed designer’s remit at Heist is shapewear that not only looks more aesthetically pleasing than existing alternatives in the market, but removes any stigma for women wearing it. Fairhurst’s background is in sport, a world built around product innovation focused on the importance of performance.

She rose to fame during the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 where, while working at Speedo, she introduced a bodysuit using biomimetic sharkskin technology that went on to help 13 out of 15 swimming world records achieved during the competition. It was also eventually banned from the sport because it gave competitors an unfair advantage.

Her background has enabled her to strike the balance between the emotional side of design and the material innovation that leads to better product performance. Much like getting swimmers to swap their small Speedos for full bodysuits, for Heist it is about getting women to trust their expertise. “We very much want to base everything on science, technology and the innovation – and also what the consumer wants, which for Heist is about women.”  

During this conversation with Rachel Arthur at a FashMash event in London, Fairhurst also explains what excites her for the future of material innovation, the challenge of scaling sustainability, and what game-changing product Heist is working on next.

Heist Studios’ new Shapewear

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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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.