Rank #1: Yoox Net-a-Porter on nailing the basics of e-commerce
There's little point in looking at all of the innovation surrounding e-commerce today, if you don't first have the basics in place, Paolo Mascio president of online flagships at Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, explains on the most recent episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.
"If you can't get the fundamentals right, forget about artificial intelligence," he says. "Really, execution is the key word. It's very easy to mess up with your customers ... A bad customer experience is even worse than not giving [them] an experience at all. It's better not to open Russia or China if you can't serve them in the proper way. Discontent spreads... which is setting the base for a failure in the future as well."
Both Yoox and Net-a-Porter are businesses known for their innovative approaches to e-commerce – the former for supporting brands on running their own operations, and the latter for its first-rate customer experience. While together they're focused on maintaining their market leading position, many of their partners and clients by comparison represent an industry still getting to grips with how to handle multichannel commerce.
Mascio references the shift to convenience, or of frictionless customer experiences in an omnichannel world, as the foundation of e-commerce expectations today. But it's service, he says, that can be the key point of differentiation for brands – especially those in the luxury space – comparative to multi brand retailers.
Underneath that, what's driving brand growth and loyalty today, is data, he notes. "Data is one of the fundamental things around which, not only our company, but the brands themselves are going to build their future."
This is the big shift still taking place in luxury, he adds. "Most brands up to a few years ago thought they were all unique, now they're all struggling to distinguish themselves in the digital space."
"For decades the brands have built their success around their collections, around the designers' names, and the designers' abilities, around advertising, but they haven't tracked down what the customer's behavior was," he explains, noting that today, it's the customer that has the biggest voice.
Those who can understand their customer and use analytics to better serve them, are the ones who will win. On top of that, and only then, comes the next step forward, he explains. Personalization, for instance, is something Mascio is watching closely. Artificial intelligence (Yoox Net-a-Porter is working with IBM Watson), is going to be the facilitator that transforms how people shops for the very reason it enables the brand to manage customers on a one-to-one basis at scale, he says.
In terms of the user interface, another area he's keeping an eye on, is that of voice technology. "I believe voice controlled systems [will] play quite a fundamental role in the future," he says. "It will take time... but then there will be a need for a brand to evolve their interfaces, so that customers can use voice to search for products in a much easier way."
Rank #2: NET-A-PORTER on personalizing the customer experience
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.
Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent 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.
Rank #3: Brian Solis on rewiring the connected generation
Living in such a connected world is damaging our ability to think creatively, says Brian Solis, a world-leading anthropologist and futurist, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
By being constantly online, we are constantly distracted, he suggests. He refers to this particularly applying to "Generation C", where the C stands for "Connected.
"We all live in a similar lifestyle. And when you live that lifestyle, you're rewiring your brain. You're speeding it up; you're moving faster, you're becoming less patient, you're becoming incredibly narcissistic. The world literally revolves around you," he explains. "You have followers, your friends, you feel like you need to constantly feed that system, but you're also feeding off the system. So you might find yourself endlessly scrolling for no good reason whatsoever."
Solis experienced this himself: after writing seven best-selling books, he struggled with distraction while trying to write this eighth.
Getting caught up in cycles of sharing and consuming social media is one of the main reasons why people get less and less creative over time, he suggests. "The real problem is that I'm placing greater emphasis on what happens on this screen than I am in this moment right now. That means that I'm not placing value in the people that I'm around, or the places that I'm at, which means that becomes forgettable."
But his quest to understand society's digital realities, behaviors and expectations did indeed end up inspiring a new book after all. In Lifescale, he reflects on how we ended up opening ourselves up to so many distractions and what changed to make people value this way of living – points that he also touches on in the podcast.
In this conversation, recorded with the Current Global's Liz Bacelar at our Innovation Mansion at SXSW this year, Solis explains his techniques to taking control over tech, shares how brands can be more authentic by being more empathic; and reveals what the key is to transforming us into the leaders of the future.
Rank #4: How Equinox services the luxury wellness consumer
The mass appeal of 'wellness as a lifestyle' may be something trending with consumers today, but it's a mindset that's been central to Equinox since its inception in 1991, says Vimla Gupta, CMO of the premium fitness brand, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.
Equinox has paved the way by offering consumers support and service beyond typical gym classes by understanding how their fitness behaviors have always been a pivotal part of their lifestyles. In doing so it's become not just a 'gym' brand, but an entire lifestyle group that will even open its own hotel in New York in 2019.
Its success comes from the fact it quickly understood that with the rise of the internet, consumers were going above and beyond normal exercise behavior to better understand their needs and goals. "What we seek to do as a brand is intrinsically understand our consumer and what her needs are; what drives her," says Gupta. "And what we are seeing is the consumer has a PHD in everything; unlimited access to information."
Modern gym-goers, Gupta says, are information-obsessed and think of every step of the journey, from understanding their nutrition and dietary needs, to researching the efficacy of the latest workout and even what sportswear they wear. This pushes brands like Equinox to become the vehicles to satisfy their learning needs and provide them with an experience that will correspond to their high performance expectations.
At the heart of Equinox's interaction with its clients is the need to keep innovating by introducing services and technologies that help maximize the potential in their consumers lives, she adds. Technology in this case acts as an engagement and recommendation tool through leveraging individual data, such as the recent launch of a digital coach – or a bot – to its 10-year-old mobile app, which learns from a user's activities and helps them stay on track.
During this conversation with Liz Bacelar, founder of TheCurrent, Gupta also divulges more on what tech means for the Equinox gym experience, how the company is evolving from fitness to lifestyle and retail, and its upcoming plans to keep enabling clients to live their best lives.
Rank #5: TheCurrent Debate: Is there real value in CGI models?
CGI models are having a moment in luxury fashion right now, but it's up for debate as to whether they hold true value for the brands embracing them, according to the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent.
Co-hosts Liz Bacelar and Rachel Arthur, who discuss various technologies pertinent to the industry every month on this show, bring opposing viewpoints to the table.
CGI or virtual models have been used in fashion advertising campaigns to an increasing degree over the past few years, with big name brands including Louis Vuitton, Prada and Balmain all employing them. Some of those involved, including one called Lil Miquela, and another named Shudu, have generated enormous buzz and impressively large social media followings as a result, as though they were indeed influencers in their own right.
Most recently, Lil Miquela featured in UGG's 40th anniversary campaign, blending in seamlessly alongside two real-life influencers as though she were a natural part of the cast. For the unsuspecting onlooker, it's not immediately clear she's not.
One of the questions raised during the episode is whether such a move is merely about gaining from some of the hype such models currently present, or if they can in fact drive ROI for the brands making use of them long term. Rachel presents some interesting statistics that show how engagement of for CGI remains significantly lower than any example of a 'human' influencer, but Liz counters that view with the argument that what we're looking at here is a form of artistic expression.
The duo also dive into what such flawless representations of women mean for beauty ideals in the era of fake news we currently live in, as well as the notion that we may all have a CGI or avatar version of ourselves in the future, not least the real life influencers who could ultimately gain increased revenue opportunities for themselves, even posthumously.
Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent 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.
Rank #6: How Naadam is driving the sustainable cashmere industry
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.
"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.
Rank #7: Misha Nonoo on pivoting direct-to-consumer
"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 Live recording 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.
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.
Rank #8: How Google Zoo is thinking about machine learning
There's a very simple filter that comes with working at Google, and it's about putting the user first, says Tomas Roope, creative lead at Google Zoo, the tech giant's think tank focused on pushing the limits of creativity through technology.
Talking to Rachel Arthur in a live recording of TheCurrent Innovators podcast from the FashMash Pioneers event in London, he says: "They way we think is always user-first. Are we really solving something for somebody here? ...At Google we're about solving problems at scale."
That attitude should be applied to every business, including those in the fashion and retail vertical, he explains. The Zoo is a small team that is designed to be a conduit between creative agencies and Google's own products, its engineering teams and its data. The result is all manner of both creative and technology-driven projects for different industries, from a coded couture dress for H&M's Ivy Revel brand, to an advertising campaign redefining what masculinity really looks like today from Axe.
While Roope admits some are more PR or headline-driven than others, his process, whether the result incorporates buzzworthy terms like augmented reality, artificial intelligence or beyond, always comes back to whether the solution is something that answers a consumer need. "What shifts the bottom line is making things more relevant, and making them simpler. [It's about answering] what do people really want?" he asks.
Anchoring much of that work these days however, comes data. "[At Google], we have seven to eight products that have over one billion users monthly, and so we have a really great understanding of what people are doing... and what they're thinking," he explains.
That insight is what informs the work his team does as a result, while machine learning (ML) then takes it to the next level, Roope notes. He refers to ML as an area that's not yet being explored to its full potential.
"We're in the middle of two massive revolutions – one of which is still the smartphone coming from 10 years ago, and now the rise of machine learning." He refers to this as not only a powerful and extraordinarily interesting tool that allows you to fix problems in a way you couldn't have done before, but as the most exciting underpinning to the future we're currently building.
It's completely reshaping what our world looks like, and what opportunities there are for brands in it as a result, he explains.
To get there, he says experimentation for all industries – including fashion and retail – is key. "F or me, you're not going to sit and discover the future by dwelling on it... it's all about test and learn," he explains.
As to where it will take us, he adds: "There's a great quote by Bill Gates that says we tend to overestimate what's going to happen in two years, but underestimate what will happen in the next 10. If you look back 10 years, we didn't have smartphones, but in two years nothing's happened. Only when we look over a good chunk of time do we see how much it's changed."
Rank #9: L’Oréal on creating personalized touchpoints through beauty tech
L'Oréal is on a mission to marry technology and beauty in order to enhance their customer's lives, says Guive Balooch, global vice president of L'Oréal's Tech Incubator on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast, hosted at SXSW 2018.
At the core of that purpose is the team Balooch runs, which works as an R&D lab for beauty tech. "When we started about five years ago, our goal was to make sure we could find the link between personalization and technology and find a way to get consumers the right product for them," he explains.
Since its inception, the team has developed products such as a connected hairbrush, a UV sensor worn on the nail, the first example of an augmented reality make-up app, and most recently, an on-demand system called Custom D.O.S.E. for SkinCeuticals, which dispenses serum personalized to the customer's skin needs in under a few minutes.
Technologies such as AI and machine learning have conditioned consumers to become more demanding than ever in finding products and experiences that are relevant to them on a granular level, Balooch explains. But if you look at the beauty market today, off the shelf products simply cannot respond to the plethora of demands that individuals have, he suggests, especially when looking at skintones. This is where a product like Lancôme's Le Teint Particulier comes in, in which consumers have a consultation that includes a skintone scan before generating a tailor made foundation for them.
That's something consumers have been demanding for some time, but the tech and science until recently has just not been possible, Balooch explains. Today we're at a real inflection point however, meaning customization is only going to get better.
As is the case with all of L'Oréal's beauty tech launches, the goal is to enable brands under the group's umbrella to target consumers at a one-to-one level, removing any frustrations that arise during the shopping experience, while allowing beauty associates to focus on the human side of the interaction. For Balooch, this innovation mindset will push new or long-established beauty products to start adapting to change, thus becoming smarter over time. This means evolving the experience they offer the customer by leveraging more individual data, encouraging co-creation, and even coaching consumers themselves to become smarter about how to use their products.
"In 10 years time there's no question to me that every person will have the ability to have the perfect product for them. I think that there will be much more co-creation – that we're moving towards an era where the people are becoming the companies," he notes.
Beyond developing a made-for-me final product, attributes of efficacy and seamlessness are always top of mind when launching new connected technologies, from the production process to the design of the hardware and software itself, Balooch says. When partaking in the D.O.S.E experience with SkinCeuticals, for instance, consumers are able to watch as the machine prepares their personalized serum from beginning to end. This not only helps create an emotional experience for the recipient, but does a good job at communicating the process in a transparent way.
For L'Oréal, that marriage between design and technology is key for customer-facing experiences. "Design is not just a secondary piece of what we do today with technology. [It] can actually fuel the tech itself," says Balooch, who believes for an integrated experience, technology needs to be both beautiful and warm. The future, he believes, is a balance between such creative and engineering teams.
Rank #10: How Walmart creates growth with design
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 company, all came down to this focus on elevating the shopping experience for the changing customer of today.
Rank #11: Dirty Lemon on feeding a constant need for newness
"We're operating under the thesis that billion dollar brands will not exist in the future," says Zak Normandin, founder and CEO of Iris Nova, the company behind wellness drink brand, Dirty Lemon, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
"I know Dirty Lemon isn't going to be popular in a few years. And I want to already have three type of products in the pipeline that we're launching right now, because consumers are very transient in their decisions to buy products," he explains.
Dirty Lemon launched in 2015 and quickly gained the type of cult following that only brands born online manage to achieve. It did so through a mixture of being at the right place, at the right time – in this case, right in the middle of the wellness boom – and carefully crafted branding that positioned it as a lifestyle offering, rather than just a product.
But Normandin, a CPG entrepreneur at heart, has much bigger plans than creating fleeting frenzy around a single product line. From inception, his Instagrammable bottles could only be bought online, with purchase being completed via text message. In 2018, it launched the Drug Store, an unmanned retail concept where customers could pick up a Dirty Lemon drink and simply walk out, texting to complete their purchase as they did so. This innovative retail model, alongside a stream of new product launches happening over the next few months, demonstrates Normandin's ambitions to keep reacting to customer needs and behaviors before they move onto the next hot thing.
During this conversation, recorded at this year's SXSW at the Current Global's Innovation Mansion, Normandin also share with Liz Bacelar the new products launching under the Irs Nova family, what the retail experience is doing to inform future product development, and how Coca Cola is not only one of the brand's biggest investors, but also its competitor.
Rank #12: Departing Neiman Marcus exec Scott Emmons on how retail innovation is failing
Internal teams can no longer deliver the results needed to drive the industry forward, says Scott Emmons, departing head of the Neiman Marcus iLab, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. Responsible for setting up one of the most established retail innovation programs in the world, Emmons is now bringing his insights and expertise to TheCurrent Global as he joins as the company as the chief technology officer.
He joins at a time where he believes internal labs should be replaced by a more open approach to innovation, where collaboration is key. "You've got to build better partnerships that go beyond the four walls of the retailer. If everything happens within those four walls then what you keep doing is the same thing over and over again," says Emmons, who launched the lab in 2012. "Because you're not bringing in fresh ideas, you're not bringing in fresh approaches to retail. You continue to iterate the things which you're good at."
During his time at Neiman Marcus, Emmons was responsible for introducing innovative technologies to its stores such as smart mirrors, new fitting room technology, 4K touch table lookbooks and a clienteling tool that better links a customer's online to offline behavior, while arming associates with the tools to better serve them 1-2-1.
Speaking to CEO Liz Bacelar, Emmons outlines why innovation executives have their hands tied and how innovation is often stalled by internal culture. They also discuss a solution to unlock rapid change in retail.
Rank #13: 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.
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.
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.
Rank #14: Shoes of Prey on beating the odds in the customization market
For the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators, Liz Bacelar chatted to Jodie Fox, co-founder and creative director of online custom-made shoe platform Shoes of Prey, about the company's eight-year evolution and how they plan on changing the way women buy and wear shoes.
For Fox, the brand's success in offering customized shoes at on-demand speed, lies in owning the whole manufacturing process, which is where a lot of other similar companies fell short during the customization boom in 2010, she says.
In its early stages, selling the idea of building a factory that would do one shoe at a time was met with a lot of negativity. The company now employs 200 people, however, most of which are based out of their own factory in China, and can have a pair of shoes in the customer's hands in under two weeks.
The importance of creating a company anchored in technology means that as fashion evolves and becomes more embedded with tech, Shoes of Prey is at the perfect standing, Fox explains.
"One of the things we as a brand are really lucky not to have is legacy (...) Traditionally fashion is a very creative environment and I do believe that there is that desire to be innovative, but the way we get those ideas into market is still very broken. And that's one of the key places that technology can power to simply be fashion," she says, stating that fashion and technology shouldn't be mutually exclusively as they can both leverage one another.
As a consumer, Shoes of Prey offers over 10 trillion combinations of a shoe's design, which include changing heels, silhouette and colour. Although the company began by offering a blank canvas, it soon realized the importance of striking the balance of giving consumers choice, but not overwhelming them. For this process, the input of a team of designers has been crucial in creating a controlled yet flexible shopping experience.
The platform also enables shoppers who once considered customization cost or time-prohibitive to see it as a tangible choice, particularly for those who fall outside the standard shoe sizing sold across the West, a group which Fox states 77% of women are part of. For the founder, it is surprising that shoe sizing has remained untouched for so long, which means consumers have become accustomed to the fact that wearing certain shoes – such as heels – won't always be comfortable.
Fox, who alongside her two other co-founders has raised 30.6 million for Shoes of Prey since launching in 2009, says success has come from leveraging a simple rule of innovation: by being an industry outsider (in her case, with a background in law) she was able to find a common problem, and create an unbiased solution for it.
"One of the reasons why Shoes of Prey managed to make a difference is probably naivety, and not being indoctrinated in the expertise of manufacturing in the industry," she says. "You can't let expertise get in the way of an idea."
Rank #15: Stefano Rosso, CEO Diesel, North America.
Disruption, courage and innovation are the pillars around which Only the Brave, or OTB, the parent company of fashion brand Diesel, are built. But they’re also words that Stefano Rosso, CEO of the brand in North America, lives by as he faces the challenge of rebooting the denim business in the US. In the 1970s, his father, Renzo Rosso, the iconic founder of the brand, disrupted the jeans industry by building a fashion empire focused entirely around the message that different is cool. Today, Stefano is maintaining that view of challenging conformity, all the while tackling how it looks in the digital era. TheCurrent’s Liz Bacelar sat down with him to talk about how Diesel lost its way, what it’s doing to get back in the game, how luxury can survive the tech revolution and whether virtual reality is (possibly) the future of the industry.
Rank #16: LEVI’S ON THE RISKS OF THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
"[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 theinnovative 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.
Rank #17: How Havaianas is using collaborations to take over the world
"Collaborations to me, are a love affair," says Eno Polo, US president of Alpagartas, the parent company of the world's most popular flip flop brand, Havaianas, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
Collaborations are at the core of both the brand's success and its wide reach, but in order to become successful, they need to remain authentic, he explains. "It has to be two-way. I think a lot of brands out there force collaborations, they pay for collaborations. But if you pay for going out with a girl, I don't call that a love affair. I'd rather it be a natural feeling – she likes me, I like her – and we go out together. That's what I call a true collaboration, and those are the ones I think are most successful."
Havaianas shot onto the international stage when French designer Jean Paul Gaultier accessorized his models on the New York and Paris catwalks with the flip flops in 1999, instantly turning them into an object of desire. What followed was a series of fashion brands wanting to collaborate with the now-iconic brand, hoping to borrow some of the color and freshness that only a Brazilian label could bring to the table.
Today, Havaianas produces over 250 million pairs a year, or 10 pairs a second, and is Europe's number one sandal brand.
Beyond its ambitious expansion plans across the globe comes a mounting pressure for the brand to tackle the issue of sustainability, which may well still be in toddler stages in its native country, but is steadily becoming a business imperative elsewhere.
For Polo, the fact that the company is scaling its retail footprint and office count across Europe and the US means there is a growing internal pressure to become more sustainable. The brand is doing so by focusing on employee welfare, but also wants to tackle and own the fight for sustainability at the beaches where its products are so ever-present.
During this conversation, Polo also talks through the company's history from catering to Brazil's working class to hitting the beaches of Ibiza; the importance of creating a retail experience that puts a smile on the customer's feet; and why creating such a simple product allows the brand to remain fun.
Rank #18: Away luggage on going beyond the VC hype
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.
"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.
"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 ton 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 'oh we actually need these stores so now we're a retail company and not a tech company'. They've raised too much cash, they've burned too much cash," she explains. "We saw a lot of this stuff happening in the industry and from the beginning Steph and I were like, this is not how we are going to run this 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.
Rank #19: Farfetch on the store of the future
The store of the future is about solving the problems of today in an innovative and meaningful way for the customer, says Sandrine Deveaux of Farfetch, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.
Speaking to guest host, Rosanna Falconer, at a live FashMash Pioneers event in London, the managing director of the e-commerce company's store of the future division, explains that her focus in not just on new technology for the sake of it, but on creating better shopping experiences driven by personalization.
Following the announcement of Farfetch's Store of the Future concept in April 2017, Deveaux has been building a series of beta tests in place in Browns East in London, Thom Browne in New York and Chanel in Paris. But the result doesn't mean big flashy screens or variations on augmented reality, as she is so often asked about.
Instead, it's about better servicing the customer; understanding what they want when they walk into stores thanks to data, but also making things like the payment experience a much more seamless one.
She says the store of the future is really about offering the experience of Apple, but the convenience of Amazon, so as to keep in line with increasing consumer expectations.
And so the end goal,for her team, she says, is to provide brands and boutiques with full visibility around customer behavior and customer intent, mirroring what's possible online in the offline space.
"85% of customers, we don't know anything about them. So that's what the store of the future is really getting to – it's about how we leverage the platform we have with Farfetch, and try to really look at online behavior and take that online behavior into an in-store context," she explains. This is something Farfetch calls "enabling the offline cookie".
On this episode, Deveaux also talks to driving disruptive innovation through healthy internal tension, how she's changing the way luxury brands think, and why the ultimate sales associate for the store of the future might just be a unicorn.
Rank #20: Why H&M believes collaboration is the key to transparency
H&M has a big goal: to become 100% sustainable and renewable while maintaining prices low and keeping quality up. It's a big ask with some short timelines to achieve it. The question is whether the second largest clothing retailer in the world can really ever be considered eco-conscious and sustainable while pumping out fast fashion? Is it all a contradiction? One thing we know for sure – millennial consumers seem to be more concerned about manufacturing practices and their effects on the environment than ever, according to Nina Shariati, who leads transparency for the H&M Group. She sat down with TheCurrent's Rachel Arthur in Copenhagen to discuss the brand's latest projects in this space, why transparency doesn't equal sustainability directly, and what its plans are to continuously push the boundaries to appeal more to consumers with an eye for the environment. ___________________________________________________ TheCurrent Innovators is a podcast about the leaders pushing the boundaries of fashion, beauty and retail. Hosted by Liz Bacelar and Rachel Arthur, each episode is a frank conversation about the challenges and opportunities faced by top brands and retailers around the world today through the lens of technology. The podcast, distributed by MouthMedia Network, has showcased the likes of Stefano Rosso, CEO of Diesel; William Tunstall-Pedoe, founder of the tech behind Amazon Alexa; and Nina Shariati, who is responsible for transparency at H&M.