When you start a business, you should always be thinking about what your end goal is, says Adam Brown, founder of luxury swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. In Brown’s case, it was the eventual acquisition by none other than Chanel.
Many founders pride themselves on being scrappy, and figuring it out as they go along. There is an element of truth to that approach – Brown spent the brand’s first two years in a storage unit in West London learning every aspect of the business, from pressing shorts to talking to customers on the phone.
But he knew from the get-go that one of the strongest tools he could have under his belt was finding the people he trusted to do the things that were beyond his expertise. That is a surprisingly rare trait for a founder, who often have so much emotional stake in the game that it is hard to let go of the control.
Brown, however, always knew he didn’t want to be a CEO with 300 stores across the globe. He also doesn’t consider himself a designer, but rather a curator. So his focus became the product, and creating a process to perfectly tailor swim shorts that fit every body shape, and could take you from the beach to a fancy dinner party. The brand filled a gap in the market and quickly created its own niche.
And in 2018, just at the right time, Chanel came knocking. The acquisition, says Brown, represents the perfect marriage of aspirations that both sides have for the swimwear brand, as well as the chance to leverage many of Chanel’s mature capabilities in brand positioning, sourcing, e-commerce, and so on.
During this conversation, Brown tells us just why the Chanel partnership is a match made in heaven, how they are looking to connect sustainability with the brand in a creative way, and just what is needed to make the luxury consumer forget the price tag.
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.
The most important question everybody needs to ask themselves relative to a more sustainable fashion industry is around cost and long-term thinking, explains Nicolaj Reffstrup, founder of Danish fashion brand, Ganni, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
“If you really want to do something, you need to look at the fabrics that you’re using and see if you can convert those to recycled fabrics, or at least organic fabrics. But that comes with a cost. So the biggest and most important question everybody needs to ask themselves, is literally how much are we spending on converting our company or our brand and our product towards a more sustainable future?” he asks.
Oftentimes, the immediate follow-up query to what is the cost, is who is going to pay for it. The majority of brands in the space – including those actively making moves towards adapting their business processes – are measured on short term returns. And yet sustainability is not an overnight fix. To make the changes that are really necessary throughout the supply chain is a big and long-term investment.
So how do we convince CFOs and shareholders that it’s worthwhile – that we have to take a hit now in order to benefit in the future. Or more importantly, that there is indeed a business case there to do it full stop?
Ganni is one exploring it from all angles. The fact it’s small and agile means it has more ability to do so, but it also means it relies entirely on an outsourced supply chain to drive the agenda forward. Power is therefore limited, but ambition is not.
Join us as we discuss with Reffstrup how the brand is flexing its muscle as well as making investments to drive towards a more sustainable future. We also explore how he’s watching innovation from other industries like food, the new rental business model he’s testing, and why he believes sustainability and fashion is a contradiction that needs to be faced by all brands.
The success of Stadium Goods comes off the back of unprecedented consumer desire for sneakers and the need for a rich brand experience in which to buy them, says the platform’s co-founder and co-CEO, John McPheters, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
“For me the light bulb was that demand had never been higher. It was continuously growing, there were more and more people that wanted to buy our products, but there wasn’t a rich experience that consumers could go to to buy that stuff that was trusted, where they knew what they were getting, where they could really hang their hat on the brand experience and the presentation.” he explains.
As a result he and his partner, Jed Stiller, set about creating a site that is focused on consignment – meaning it resells existing sneaker stock as well as broader streetwear – but it only does so with unworn and authentic styles. That focus on trust is the key, he says.
Only launched in 2015, the site was acquired by ecommerce marketplace Farfetch in 2018 for $250 million. Very few emerging businesses have seen such rapid growth. It’s now considered such a market leader, it recently announced a partnership with auction house Sotheby’s to sell 100 of the rarest, most coveted sneakers ever produced.
The site’s explosion aligns with the growth of sneaker culture worldwide. Expected to hit nearly $100bn in global sales by 2024, sneakers are outpacing much of the rest of the industry, including that of handbags. As a result, they have become the new ‘cash cow’ and awareness driver for all manner of brands, not least those in the luxury space, wheresuch products are used as entry to otherwise more aspirational price points.
In all parts of the market this has resulted in ‘cult’ or ‘it’ sneakers to own as a result. A rare pair of Nikes today can easily sell for as much as those from Gucci or Balenciaga as a result. This means it’s increasingly a race, with some limited edition styles going for $10,000 or more.
In this episode, recorded live at the British Fashion Council’s annual Fashion Forum, we chat to founder John McPheters about the cultural relevance of such products, the evolving role of exclusivity and desire in luxury today, and just how what he’s doing is really about teaching the industry to give up control.
“[The fashion industry] is 60% larger than it needs to be relative to the actual quantity of demand,” says Paul Dillinger, Head of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
He is referring to the fact six out of 10 garments produced every year are being discarded to landfill or incinerated within the first year of their production. The result is that those working in this world need to either think about how you can eliminate overproduction, or instead build new business models around only making and selling the four that are actually wanted, he explains, even if it affects business growth.
An alternative response to that concept is the so-called “circular economy”, whereby items are not discarded but put back into the system, which to overly simplify matters, enables businesses to continue with growth while aiming for lesser impact. But Dillinger believes such moves are merely providing brands with a guilt-free alternative to keep overproducing at a point when the technology for a truly circular system isn’t yet scalable. He instead refers to the idea of credible “circular industrial ecologies”, which are much more complex to operate and achieve.
“One of them is a corporate compliance officer selling a new shiny penny to a board of directors in the C-suite, and the other one is a studious and scientific approach to really tackling a real challenge,” he explains.
At Levi’s, Dillinger is otherwise looking at key areas like reducing the brand’s use of water. “I think people’s right to drink fresh water should be prioritized above a company’s right to access fresh water for production,” he explains.
In this conversation, hosted in front of a live audience at the Current Global’s Innovation Mansion at SXSW 2019, he explains what that looks like through the innovative work he’s been doing with hemp. He also gets technical with host Rachel Arthur about the many ways in which Levi’s is working to make its supply chain responsible in one of the most complex industries in the world.
Speaking live at a FashMash event in London, he explained that AI as it stands today, is a long way from what creativity is: “When you create a picture, it is done through desire, accident, failure, fear, love, and arousal. Predicting what I will do by how I did past steps is not a good way to create my next piece of art; it’s not a good way to simulate creativity.”
He was referring to the way in which AI looks back at past behavior in order to work out what is probable next. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t one day figure out how to do so, he noted, adding that he is working on new projects that will keep him on the frontline of it so as to have a say in what it could look like down the road.
Knight has built his career on pushing the boundaries of image making. He has photographed some of the world’s biggest celebrities and models – from Lady Gaga and Bjork to Kate Moss and the late Alexander McQueen. Almost two decades ago, he launched SHOWstudio, an online platform celebrating fashion film, and changing the way fashion was consumed through the internet.
Now his next act is understanding how technologies like AI and robotics will impact creativity, and how he can become a part of such a movement.
During this conversation with guest host Rosanna Falconer, Knight explains what the smartphone has to do with Shakespeare; how SHOWstudio broke the internet but created history with the first ever live streamed fashion show for Alexander McQueen in late 2009; and why he is an eternal optimist about the future.
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.
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.
Big issues such as sustainability, rising technologies and the changing role of the consumer were major topics of conversation in 2018, as evidenced by the top shows on TheCurrent Global’s weekly Innovators podcast.
Throughout the year, we explored far and wide what those leading the industry are doing to tackle some of the most pressing issues it faces today. Here, we highlight 10 of the most interesting conversations had as we look forward to 2019 and providing even more food for thought for our listeners.
Ian Rogers, chief digital officer, LVMH
Speaking to co-host Liz Bacelar at The New York Times International Luxury Conference in November, LVMH’s Ian Rogers rang the death knell for the chief digital officer, a role he himself holds. The title, he argued, is merely a transitional one as brands become accustomed to a future where there is a digital layer to every consumer interaction. He also talked about how it makes sense that luxury took so long to jump into e-commerce; why CEOs don’t need to know technology intrinsically; and what he’s driving at LVMH to keep up with the level of experience the customer expects online.
“We only have one planet, and the toll [the fashion industry] has on resources today is simply unsustainable,” H&M’s Anna Gedda told co-host Rachel Arthur. With that in mind, the Swedish group is pushing towards an ambitious goal of being 100% circular by 2030. The sustainability expert also talked about how collaboration in the industry is critical and the important role artificial intelligence will play in this field.
A leading woman in the STEM industries, Laurence Haziot, global MD at IBM, believes blockchain will have the same long-term impact that the internet has had on commerce. During this conversation, she broke down what this technology means for fashion, why she is bullish on the efficiencies it could drive throughout the supply chain, and how it’ll play a major role in sustainability and transparency.
“When you’re trying to do something that really creates an impact and is somewhat revolutionary, then you’ve got to put all the chips on the table,” said Tommy Hilfiger’s Avery Baker. For the chief brand officer, who has been with the company for 20 years, risk, authenticity and understanding your consumer are the keys to innovation. She also talked about how the brand has translated its American roots and values to a global audience, how it overcame the unexpected lull, and why magic and logic need to work together.
Lego seeks feedback from six year-olds, and often breaks into moments of play in order to shift siloed thinking. That, believes Martin Urrutia, is how the company remains focused on the relationship between the user and the brick. In this passionate chat, the head of retail innovation also spoke about the importance that technology and a knowledgeable staff both play in creating elevated retail experiences.
Direct-to-consumer luggage brand, Away, received its first round of funding without even having a product, which is a testament of how clear its vision was from the get-go. Co-founder Jen Rubio talks about how she built a brand based on making travel more seamless, how they overcame their first major hurdle, and why listening to customer feedback and constantly iterating is key to innovation.
The future of e-commerce may not be about a traditional website at all, but about existing on multiple other platforms, said NET-A-PORTER’s Matthew Woolsey. One of the luxury retailer’s most expensive sales, a watch, was completed entirely on WhatsApp, for instance. This shows the importance of a customer centric strategy, he explained, from what platform to use to how to integrate data and AI into every process.
“Design is best when it serves people,” said Walmart’s now former VP of design, Dan Makowski. He spearheaded the world’s largest retailer’s e-commerce redesign, explaining that it all came down to focusing on elevating the shopping experience for the changing customer of today. With so many brands now under its umbrella, such as ModCloth and Jet.com, there was a new focus on having a wider conversation in order to cater to different types of consumers, he noted.
Sandrine Deveaux, MD of Store of the Future, Farfetch
The store of the future will solve consumer problems in innovative and meaningful ways, said Sandrine Deveaux, MD of Farfetch’s division dedicated to such a cause. Technology, she said, should not be deployed just for the sake of it, but to create better shopping experiences driven by personalization. She referred to the experience of Apple, but the convenience of Amazon, and why she’s on a quest to change the way luxury brands think.
Guive Balooch, global VP of L’Oréal’s tech incubator
L’Oréal is on a mission to marry technology and beauty in order to enhance customer’s lives, said Guive Balooch, global VP of the beauty group’s tech incubator. From the connected hairbrush to the customized formulas or augmented reality makeup apps his team has created, the key is thinking about how to personalize all interactions and solutions for consumers, he explained. “In 10 years time there’s no question to me that every person will have the ability to have the perfect product for them,” he noted.
The future of e-commerce may not be about a traditional website at all, but about existing on multiple other platforms, expresses Matthew Woolsey, managing director at online luxury retailer, NET-A-PORTER, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent.
The company sees many of its big customers making purchases over platforms including Whatsapp, iMessage and WeChat, which have become their primary entry point to e-commerce through their relationships with personal shoppers, he explains.
“We want to be in the platform where our customer is engaging with content, seeing the product or speaking with the personal shopper. It’s about what’s best for her. We never want to be in a position where we are forcing or imposing a platform or methodology on our customers, because that’s the opposite of customer centricity,” he explains.
“It’s very easy to imagine a time when NET-A-PORTER doesn’t even have a website, in the traditional sort of desktop sense, and really what it exists as is more of a concierge, on-demand, service offering. I think that’s the future of where this industry is headed and it’s something we are really well suited for because we have that infrastructure, we have that service component but we also know a lot more about our customer than just what she is buying.”
Data is central to being able to personalize the experience for individual customers in this way, he explains, outlining how the company is constantly looking at how to give its personal shoppers greater tools through technology.
The company is currently experimenting with how it can use artificial intelligence to merge data between purchase history and fashion trends to give personal shoppers recommendations and ideas in advance that are personalized to the customer, for instance.
Eventually the idea is for this to be scalable across the seven million consumers NET-A-PORTER talks to, but hitting its EIPs, or extremely important people, is the core focus, given the fact this 3% of its customer base, make up 40% of its revenue.
Speaking with Rosanna Falconer at a FashMash event in London, Woolsey also reveals why the most expensive item ever bought via a messaging app is so significant, whether NET-A-PORTER would ever think about physical retail, and how to manage the modern day tension between algorithms and inspiration.