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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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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.