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Events fashmash Startups technology

Investing in fashion start-ups: What VCs are looking for

#FashMash at Soho House - talking investing in fashion start-ups
#FashMash at Soho House

We recently held a #FashMash breakfast event at Soho House in London featuring three venture capitalists talking to the fashion and technology start-up space. Among them were Antoine Nussenbaum (AN) of Felix Capital, Tracy Dorée (TD) of Kindred VC and Suzanne Ashman (SA) of LocalGlobe. Here, we look at some highlights from the discussion, including what technology they’re seeing impacting the fashion industry and exactly what they look for in the businesses they invest in.


#FashMash: Given everything happening in the world right now, is it a good time to start a business?

TD: I think people start businesses because they have to solve a problem, because they can’t think of doing anything but that one thing, and I don’t see that type of macro trend of the uncertainty of Brexit or Trump or anything else that’s happening in the world affecting a great quality entrepreneur of getting started.

SA: I think it’s also easy to overstate kind of how the political turmoil over the last year has somehow impacted the funding landscape, because certainly at a really early stage we are backing entrepreneurs for five, seven, 10 years time. So, actually Brexit didn’t impact our investment cycle at all, we still made 25 odd investments last year… When we look back at our portfolio over the last 20 years we find that some of the best businesses were built in 2000 post the dotcom crash and 2008’s credit crunch, because people are looking for something new.


#FashMash: What technology are you seeing out there impacting fashion?

SA: I’d say the thing I’m seeing most of at the moment is the intersect between augmented reality and fashion. At the moment the vast majority of pitches that we’re seeing are very deep tech teams that have interesting products but not an end product that a consumer would actually wear – style is bottom priority and tech is top priority. I think the quality of those teams will improve over time as technical founders realise they need to work with someone with relevant domain experience to create a product that a consumer might want to wear. I got pitched an augmented reality t-shirt company and you know, it looks great, but at the moment it’s a t-shirt for 14-year-old boys. I can see over the next 12 months in this particular space that we’ll just see better and better things coming through.

TD: I also think we’re seeing less friction within payments thanks to mobile. People are designing experiences from a really mobile-first perspective. The first wave of online retail kind of looked like people were taking a warehouse and putting it online and it’s just a horrible sort of catalogue of walking through merchandise. But now people are really designing experiences for the platform on which they’re being delivered. I think the challenge with funding a B2C business, where you’re taking a new approach with your unique perspective, whether that’s to do with visual search or it’s to do with augmented reality or it’s to do with payments, any unique edge that you’ve got, is that you have to be able to show that the brand is going to have some type of longevity.


#FashMash: Which start-ups or new brands do you think are doing a good job and starting to prove they’ve got longevity?

AN: There’s a brand in France, which is great, called Sézane. The founder characterises exactly everything we’ve been talking about, to be extremely focused on the customer relationship and to be very true about what she’s building. It started off as a lifestyle business and grew into something very authentic with the customers.

SA: The brand I’ve seen recently that I think is executed super well, is Heist Tights – anyone that uses any form of social media will have seen their adverts. The founder there is also really interesting – he is super impressive and he’s all about the numbers. It helps if you can help us out by having some of the kind of standard metrics that we expect to see around a really strong repeat rate… Certainly things in the fashion space that we see, we really like people to have not just a product but some early numbers when they come to speak to us. From a tech perspective, I also think Hullabalook is an interesting example of two founders without a base in fashion, who have ultimately built a software enabler for e-commerce.


#FashMash: So beyond the numbers, what are you looking for in the start-ups that come to you?

TD: In whatever industry we’re looking at, we’re looking for this weird mix between the ability to think creatively, to have a unique insight, or a different perspective on something that people assume to be true. So that’s a creative vision piece with the ability to really get shit done. And to employ both sides of the brain is really hard. I’m excited for the businesses that use technology to make an existing workflow more efficient and that’s going to differentiate them in the long term.

AN: We see a new wave of people, of entrepreneurs, trying to create these companies that would connect better with, have a more authentic relationship with their customers. And from our end, we actually wouldn’t focus on the top line metrics looking at the business, but actually we would focus on something quite authentic being built in the relationship with the customer. It is not so much about the topic but about the interaction. It’s about how engaged the customers are and how engaged you are as an entrepreneur with your audience and your customers.

SA: At our stage, it’s really all about the team, it’s a little bit about the products, a little bit about the market but ultimately we’re backing a group of people as individuals to get through the next five years and overcome the many hurdles that stand in the way from where they are now to building a really big business.


#FashMash: Do you have any advice for start-ups on working with established retailers?

SA: As a start-up working with a big organisation, the one competitive advantage that you have as a small business, is speed and that’s the one reason why sometimes you have the opportunity to win against the big guys. Finding the person that’s going to really champion you within a retailer and help you navigate the maze of hierarchy and different workflows and different divisions is also so important.

TD: Two words of warning on working with really big clients: First, don’t end up doing work that is not core to your business. It’s very easy to want to work with X brand name and actually what they want you to produce is way off your product roadmap. If you think it’s going to be a massive distraction, that isn’t going to help you in your medium term vision, it’s tough to walk away and say no. The second thing is pricing. We often see start-ups working with larger brands offering heavily discounted products and it can be really hard to renegotiate that once you move from a pilot phase through to a longer-term relationship. So have that tough discussion about pricing up front.

This discussion has been edited and condensed.

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Editor's pick fashmash social media

10 tips and tricks for getting the most out of your Snapchat strategy

Snapchat
Snapchat is gaining serious traction in the fashion industry

With 150 million active daily users worldwide and 25-34 years olds as its fastest growing demographic, Snapchat is increasingly an appealing and pivotal part of social media strategy for fashion brands.

The problem is, with a severe lack of discoverability on the platform (there’s no search nor content surfacing), gaining traction isn’t the easiest task unless you’re spending money on ad products with the company. The same goes for the lack of metrics on hand; meaning building out what that content plan should look like isn’t a terribly straightforward one.

A paid-for strategy might well be for you, of course, and is in fact all that Snapchat itself will support. Burberry, ASOS, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, John Lewis and more, have all done so, working across the three ad products available (Snap Ads, which appear between Stories and Discover content, Sponsored Geofilters, which are location-specific overlays on images and videos taken, and Sponsored Lenses, which are augmented reality additions to selfies taken by users).

But underpinning that, needs to be a strong organic content plan – an understanding of the ways in which to get the most out of the platform year round, and use your other channels as a basis to push followers to it. At our recent #FashMash Bootcamp, a masterclass dedicated to Snapchat, we put forward 10 tips and tricks to get the most out of it, as well as lots of examples of brands to learn from within the fashion industry already doing it well.

Snapchat
Our Snapchat-themed #FashMash Bootcamp underway and documented on… Snapchat

1/ Tell stories

The key thing to recognise with Snapchat is how transient the content is. Arguably that affords you the ability to throw bits and pieces up and not worry too much. But more to the point, it means you need to make a big impact in a short amount of time to convince users to return. Storytelling is critical therefore. This is a storytelling platform. You need to think about what you’re creating along those lines accordingly. Even if your content is a basic behind-the-scenes view, does it have a beginning, middle and end? Storyboard out what that looks like before you start in order to capitalise on it to its greatest extent.

In terms of what the content should be, think around providing some seriously unique access – exclusivity beyond what you offer on other channels. Burberry has done this well, so has Agent Provocateur; both of them recognising this is not a place to copy and paste the same assets. The other critical consideration is around humour. Snapchat is all about entertainment. It’s playful, funny and whimsical, which may be an entirely different direction for your brand, but it’s a critical way to think in order to win on this platform. You want your content to have an “I would screenshot that” moment and being emotionally engaging is the secret sauce to making that happen.


2/ Get creative

Use the tools on hand within the Snapchat platform. The very heart of this app is the fun and frivolous nature of its messages sitting hand-in-hand with that humorous storytelling vibe – from the quirky illustrations you can add to the emojis, bitmojis, lenses and filters. Be native to the platform by integrating them into what you send. It will instantly lift your work to be more in line with what users expect to see. Gucci is a great example of a brand that has played with it in this way, thanks largely to its partnership with street artist GucciGhost, aka Trouble Andrew, last fashion week. But also check out the likes of Sophia Webster, ASOS and Primark.

If you’re up for advertising spend, your next best move is indeed a Sponsored Lens or Geofilter. The former tends to drive engagement, the latter is good for reach. Fashion has heavily experimented with both, the likes of Chanel through to Ugg creating entertaining and quite unexpected lenses, while River Island introduced filters to 280 of its stores.

Snapchat
Gucci on Snapchat

3/ Don’t overproduce it

If there’s one thing that Snapchat isn’t about, it’s a polished, beautiful, laboured-over image. Forget that. It’s raw, candid and in the moment. It’s effortless, but rough around the edges. Again, if you want to feel like you organically fit alongside what a user is viewing from their friends, you don’t want your content to feel like an advert. Amateur is the aim.

Valentino is a great brand in this space, sharing real and regular insights into what all goes on in its showrooms, without feeling too stuffy or produced. Art direction is fine, but it needs to feel native to the platform. Remember it’s shot on a smartphone, which almost instinctively leads to an insider view and a fly-on-the-wall style, so embrace it.


4/ Pick your personality

Another part of treating the platform natively, comes in thinking about how your content is presented. It almost goes without saying that video is critical, but where Snapchat sits differently to most other channels is that success is frequently found in having someone’s face on show within that. Users are used to a very personal view from the interactions and the selfies they have from friends; the augmented reality Lenses only push this further. If you’re approaching this as a brand therefore, it’s about hiring people that can achieve this for you. Are you working with an influencer (see point 7) or can your own team step up as personalities?

Everlane is the prime example here. It uses the platform as its primary social media channel, anchoring each and every post with insights from its candid and personable team members, Red Gaskell and Isadora Sales. They have come to represent the brand, making their stories and what they talk about, must-view content. It works within a feed of friends otherwise, and makes you feel as though you do indeed, know them yourself.


5/ Mix it up

The beauty of Snapchat is indeed the fact that it’s content so readily disappears, giving you the ability to experiment and see what works for you. Such ease of creation also provides the ability to mix up the type of content you produce, however. As with any channel, too much of the same thing gets repetitive. Think about how you can ensure a variety of content to keep it interesting for your team to produce and your viewers to watch – from the subject of them particularly, to whether they are stills or videos, and indeed include any of the creative tools in point 2.

Warby Parker is a particularly strong example of a brand posting regular and very varied types of posts. At this point in time, the industry at large, is leaning most heavily towards posting about product, followed by lifestyle and events, as per the below chart from L2. Can you think outside the box on this and lean towards ever-greater storytelling compared to your competitors, weaving in that piece around humour from point 1?

Snapchat
L2’s view on Snapchat content type by fashion brands

6/ Engage your community

To truly embrace the candidness of Snapchat, it’s important to engage your community. This isn’t a one-way channel, but rather an opportunity for authentic conversation. It’s about messaging far more than broadcasting. Encourage followers to send you Snaps by asking them questions in your story, invite them to screengrab certain posts you put up, and of course take that view into the real world with on-the-ground activations tied to your Snapchat feed.

Bloomingdale’s for instance ran a scavenger hunt with different geofilters placed around their stores that users had to send selfies of themselves with to win certain prizes. On an even simpler basis, rumour has it the team at Everlane send at least a selfie back to every Snap they receive.


7/ Work with influencers

As with so many other platform, working with influencers is a sure-fire way of authentically gaining traction and relevance with new audiences. It’s more important than ever with Snapchat however, where discovery is distinctly limited, as noted. For users to find you, they either need to know your exact username or have taken a picture of your Snapcode. Using influencers is therefore a smart route of enabling wider reach as well as engagement.

This is something the likes of Rimmel has done with Cara Delevingne and Tommy Hilfiger with Gigi Hadid. The latter has posted about the brand on her own account to drive new traffic to it, as well as hosted the occasional takeover on the Hilfiger channel around key events like fashion week. Treat those partnerships as you would on any other social network – make decisions based around what and who aligns with your brand, not just how many numbers they might extend to.

Snapchat
Gigi Hadid on Tommy Hilfiger’s Snapchat

8/ Think about timing

Ensure you create a rhythm of posting. The whole purpose of Snapchat is to foster FOMO (fear of missing out), meaning you need to give your viewers a reason to return on a regular basis so they feel like they really are missing something if they’re not there. The ephemeral and transient nature of this platform provides the perfect opportunity to do so. Consider having weekly segments like Everlane does with its #TransparencyTuesday campaign and Chubbies does with its True Thighs fictionalised series – both go-to campaigns that viewers know to tune in for.

At this point in time, the fashion industry is otherwise largely focused on delivering content around fashion weeks or other events. Given there’s no back catalogue for users to flick through, that’s often a wasted opportunity. That’s not to say it’s essential to post everyday, but it’s only by regularly being present that you get seen here.


9/ Connect to commerce

All the aforementioned tips around storytelling, personalities and dialogue still stand, but on Snapchat, product reveals and showcases also have a big part to play. Consumers reportedly want to see your stuff, but the question then stands as to how you connect that engagement through to conversion? There is of course no direct route for links to e-commerce pages, nor any metrics around anything you’re putting out (unless you’re paying for ad products, as explained), but there are ways to start seeing uplift if you approach it creatively.

Think outside the box with your content strategy if conversion is a key objective. Can you drive codes through Stories that shoppers can bring into stores, giving you an anecdotal mode of ROI at least? Or could you share direct product codes within your posts, as Ann Taylor LOFT and Revolve have both done? Everlane has even experimented with Snapchat Discover publisher Sweet recently to test the idea of shoppable content via screenshots and emails.


10/ Spread the fun

As noted, discovery on Snapchat is really hard. There’s also no way to know how many followers you have or have gained with a campaign, unless it’s a paid one. Your number one job with any content strategy on the channel is therefore to look at broader means of getting people on board. You should be pushing your Snapcode out to further social platforms, as well as the real world, but more than that, cross promoting what you produce in order to drive awareness around the content itself.

Everything you post can be saved, reuploaded and shared elsewhere; teased and pushed accordingly. Fendi has even used its Snapchat Tour campaign as an opportunity to create an entire series on its own website, letting something that was once 24 hours long, live on long thereafter. Influencers come in again here too in order to help push numbers, but if you have a big following on the likes of Facebook, you might also want to think around some paid promotion on mobile using the “snapchat.com/add/username” link to drive awareness and direct click-throughs to the app and your account.

These tips and tricks were compiled with the help of Karinna Nobbs – our partner in crime for #FashMash Bootcamp. Head over to Forbes for further insight into 10 fashion brands particularly nailing their Snapchat strategy.

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Editor's pick fashmash mobile technology

Augmented reality in fashion and beauty: problem solving, experimentation and the need for quality

augmented reality
Augmented reality was the theme of our latest #FashMash L!VE event

Technology initiatives in the fashion and beauty industry are too often for the sake of it, rather than built around problems that needs to be solved, said Jonathan Chippindale, CEO of creative agency Holition on a panel about augmented reality (AR) at #FashMash L!VE this week.

He called on the industry to consider its use of AR as well as virtual reality (VR) as solutions, not just a means of PR. By doing so the tech will be much “stickier”, he said, meaning people will keep coming back to it.

His latest initiative with Rimmel London is one such example. “Get the Look” is an AR make-up tool that allows users to try-on different cosmetics based on the looks of others they like – that might be a friend or a picture of a celebrity. It then serves up relevant colour-matched products accordingly.

“We were very struck by how difficult it is for girls and women to explore new looks without actually walking into a shop and trying on make-up. If you do that using AR, then you can experience [them] very easily,” he explained.

Elodie Lévy, global digital marketing director at Coty Inc, which owns the Rimmel brand, said the goal behind using the tech really had to be about servicing consumers. Before even deciding what that tech would be therefore, they had to understand what the consumer wanted and needed. “It was really important for us to be grounded in consumer insights to make sure that this app would have utility, otherwise we’d have been pretty sure people would’ve downloaded it and dropped it,” she said.

augmented reality
The #FashMash L!VE panel: Rachel Arthur, founder of Fashion & Mash; Jonathan Chippindale, CEO of Holition; Elodie Lévy, global digital marketing director at Coty Inc; and Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency

One of the particular insights observed surrounded the shift in the consumer journey for buying make-up today. “What we had before is glossy advertising in a magazine, where the model was wearing the look and this was aspirational enough to go to the store to buy the same look. Over the past few years we’ve seen a drastic change in the consumer’s habits, where the sources of info have completely changed. Now it’s all Instagram looks, Pinterest, YouTube… and consumers record or screengrab them on their phones, then they go to the shop and they try to guess.”

To solve that issue, as well as help them see what make-up suits them as an individual, AR proved the most beneficial technology to use, she explained. Today, 60% of consumers return to the app, rather than the industry average of 20%.

In spite of this, Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion, urged the audience to consider the fact that there also needs to be experimentation in the industry in order to help move it forward. “I don’t believe we have to always justify the use of technology as if we always have to solve a problem. I think if you look for a problem to solve, you end up with something that is almost predictable. There are times when experimentation just needs to happen; we need to put technologies through trial and put them into market,” he commented.

Within a university context, compared to say a corporation like Coty, he is of course afforded more in the way of opportunity to experiment, to test and see what certain technologies can do for the industry. But without that, we wouldn’t be able to get them ready for mass consumer adoption, he urged.

augmented reality
One of the guests trying out Hololens’ mixed reality during the #FashMash event

His latest project, focused on mixed reality (essentially a next generation augmented reality), saw designer Martine Jarlgaard London’s collection showcased during London Fashion Week in hologram form using Microsoft’s Hololens headset.

That was achieved by the whole collection being scanned using DoubleMe’s Holo Portal to turn it into a volumetric 3D mesh. Unlike with virtual reality, which isolates you from the environment you are in and instead transports you to another when you have the headset on, this technology superimposes the holograms on top of your natural surrounds. In other words, you can still see the room and the people around you, meaning the collection could be explored by walking around it and up close to it as if it really was in front of you.

“This is early stage technology, so when you put it on I think you can see the limitations of Hololens, but to actually have a full scale hologram in front of you is quite exciting. To watch people’s reactions to it, is really exciting. When you have no point of reference and you see something coming alive in front of you, the application of that at fashion week for one, but also you can imagine in a retail environment, is also really exciting,” he explained. “Ultimately for consumers, we’re beginning to explore where this technology could allow us to create a new couture. Would consumers be able to walk into a space and begin to collaborate with designers on creating the product together, in real time?”

augmented reality
#FashMash guests trying out Holition and Rimmel London’s Get the Look augmented reality app

In all circumstances, the speakers agreed that the quality of the technology and the user experience was key, no matter the stage it’s at.

“Quality is absolutely everything,” Chippindale said, “Brands are not going to be interested in ‘that’s where the tech is, and that’s all you’re going to get’, they want it absolutely as photo-realistic as possible. If you can get that; get people believing that the make-up they’re trying on they’re actually putting on, the shoes that they’re wearing are real, then I think there’s a really interesting possibility to blur that digital and physical world.”

The biggest issue at the moment, he said, is that the hardware just needs to get better. While there are various headsets being developed, and others like Magic Leap, rumoured to be able to start moving all of this forward, the majority of experiences are still held through the 2.5 inches of our mobile phone screens.

“We need some major technological hardware breakthrough to liberate the power that AR can have in making our lives better. It’s not around the corner yet, but if we can unleash AR from our phones, that’s when it becomes interesting,” Chippindale added.


Additional reporting by Bia Bezamat. Thank you also to Huckletree for hosting the evening, to Nuva for the flavoured water refreshments, and the tech companies who came in and showcased their work, including Holition, DoubleMe and Exzeb.

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business Comment Events fashmash

Redefining legacy: why fashion brands need to focus on meaning and values to win

FashMash Live
#FashMash Live

The way the fashion industry approaches innovation today is akin to leaving the house without trousers, said Pia Stanchina, former industry manager for fashion and luxury at Google, now independent start-up advisor and consultant, at the inaugural #FashMash Live discussion held at Huckletree in London last week.

It’s an oft-used analogy, but one that seems highly appropriate to a market primarily driven by PR headlines over lasting returns. To explain it in more depth, Stanchina said: “Most fashion brands think of innovation the way that women think of earrings – they do the sort of things that are really jingly and sparkly, offering short term wins, when what they need to do is think of the sort of strategy that’s like the trousers of the outfit – the long term business objectives. The point is, you can leave the house without earrings, but you can’t without trousers.

“Most brands are leaving the house without trousers… they’re saying look at this amazing campaign that we have, but actually there’s no real meaning to it and it’s not unlocking any sort of value for the brand.”

Of course the fashion industry is not alone. A recent study from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising showed that campaigns with a short-term goal grew from 7% to 33% between 2006 and 2014. This idea of short-termism, where the aim is to activate sales over less than six months, is considered significantly less effective than those with long-term, brand-driven growth in mind.

Coupled with that increasingly narrow view is the advent of ad blocking. Nowadays, consumers are increasingly able to tune out and turn off. The most recent survey from the IAB UK, for instance, shows 22% of British adults online are currently using ad blocking software – a rise from 18% in just late 2015.

In other words, advertising at large is currently focused primarily on quick wins and doing so in such a saturated market that the audience is increasing looking for ways not to have to receive them.

The average consumer sees 6,000 brand messages per day, Wendy Clark, CEO of DDB Worldwide North America (and former CMO of Coca-Cola) said at this year’s Cannes Lions. “If that’s the case,” she added, “more [content] is not an option. It needs to be more good.”

FashMash Live
Rachel Arthur, Nicolas Roope and Pia Stanchina speaking on the #FashMash Live panel

In an age of too much noise, marketers need to be thinking about the sort of long lasting messages that achieve cut through, she added. They need to be building legacy in order to create brand equity. So they need to be thinking about trousers, more than earrings, to return to Stanchina’s reference.

And if trousers are strategy and legacy, then the belt to them has to be relevancy, and that’s also something often missing in fashion marketing.

“Most people in luxury brands today haven’t really thought about what makes them relevant anymore, it’s always harking back to where they came from, and not to what people who buy from them actually care about today,” Stanchina explained.

She used the example of heritage – something that many brands have latched on to in order to try and achieve storytelling. We see countless videos of craftsmanship in the ateliers of big fashion houses, showcasing the little hands, or “les mains”, at work for instance, she explained. But this is becoming a tired view, not to mention something that doesn’t work for digital as much as the industry seems to hope it will.

Take Chanel’s couture show in Paris just last week, which was set inside its atelier, showcasing the couturiers as they constructed the garments. “It was probably an amazing experience if you were there… really magical,” Stanchina commented. “But if you were watching it on Instagram, it was really dead. It was a complete anti-climax. It didn’t translate well to digital at all.”

Stanchina also talked to the idea that luxury has long traded on friction in order to create desire – from limited distribution to high price points. Both of those things would have once been considered pillars of the industry (along with craftsmanship), she said, but they’re crumbling away; they’re not relevant anymore. What is, of course, is still that sense of desire, but it has to be done in a way that is more meaningful, she added.

When it came to meaning and value, Nicolas Roope, who joined the discussion from creative agency Poke, where he serves as both ECD and co-founder, said this has to be baked in from the start in order to be successful with digital today.

“The reason [brands like Ted Baker, Reformation and Redbull] are digital first is not because they sat down and decided they were going to be digital first, it’s because they have that natural spirit and they’ve built their business and the way they operate around it. They were perfectly ripe for becoming digital because they were already clear about what they stood for from the start,” he explained.

Indeed the technology, or setting the platforms up to enable full digital integration, is the easy part, he added. “The hardest thing is to help [brands] to understand being digital first is about having clear direction; something to offer that’s really valuable and that’s defensible.”

Stanchina agreed, adding for those just starting out in the industry: “We’re in a very specific moment in time when starting a company is easier than it ever was before, but it’s also the most competitive time it’s ever been to do that. [Success] is about understanding what it is your company is doing, what you create, what makes you defensible and different in the marketplace, why there’s a need for your company in the first place, and then really going after it.”

For those back in established brands, Roope noted how difficult it can be to drive change or indeed value tied to digital if there isn’t yet full leadership support internally behind it.

In a bid to seek a pair of trousers that have long lasting value, over that pair of sparkly earrings, he advised brands to try and find a middle ground – a low risk environment and some steady gains to prove the change you can effect through innovation done in the right way. “Most organisations are very respectful of success, so how do you get to success in the smallest, cheapest, most risk free way is your aim, and once you have it think about how to celebrate it and build momentum around it to move it upwards,” he added.

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e-commerce Editor's pick fashmash mobile social media Startups technology

Dublin’s Web Summit launches first ever content series dedicated to fashion

FashionSummit_WebSummit

Dublin’s Web Summit, a technology conference that has grown to become one of the most important in the space, is officially associating itself with the fashion world for the first time this year. The event, which will run from Nov 3-5, will launch its first Fashion Summit in a bid to “showcase both the evolution and integration of fashion and technology that is all around us today”.

A standalone one-day conference, it will have a dedicated main stage with four focused tracks covering fashion design, wearables and lifestyle products, e-commerce platforms and marketplaces, and fashion and social media. It will also feature exhibiting start-ups.

The issue with fashion as a focus during technology conferences is always about whether the content is based on fashion for the tech crowd, or tech for the fashion crowd. This looks like a smart combination of both, as useful for brands as it is for start-ups aiming to work with the industry. The challenge will be ensuring the content is fresh enough (aka less remarks about Burberry as a digital pioneer please, and a stronger look to the future) to truly appeal to and inspire the leaders the event is likely to pull in.

In more detail, the fashion design stream will explore areas including rapid prototyping and 3D printing, who has been successful in digital couture, and how designers can be consistently innovative in introducing breakthrough materials. The wearables content will look at where the industry is moving over the next five years, whether convergence with the fashion industry is pivotal to success, and which start-ups and big players are necessary to know in the space.

In e-commerce platforms and marketplaces, the summit will turn to which models can be used to create successful commercial operations, how best to attract retailers and designers if you are one of the platforms, as well as touching on the role of mobile. And in fashion and social media, the discussion will surround which platforms will have the best organic reach a year from now, how social media affects buying decisions, who is doing a great job in this space, and the role bloggers and vloggers continue to play.

Speakers announced so far include Matt Drinkwater, head of fashion innovation at the London College of Fashion, Liza Kindred, founder of Third Wave Fashion, and Sonny Vu, co-Founder and CEO of Misfit. On the main speaker list, there’s also Michelle Peluso, CEO of Gilt and Robert Gentz, founder and co-CEO of Zalando.

Other summits throughout the week are dedicated to subjects including marketing, music, data, health, investors, food and more.

At last year’s Web Summit, Fashion & Mash launched the first ever Irish edition of #fashmash in partnership with Moët & Chandon. As the only official fashion event of the week, the evening highlighted the growing need for greater collaboration between the worlds of fashion and technology. As Michelle Sadlier, head of innovation and social media at Hunter, said: “The future of the fashion industry is about the power of connections, communities and collaboration.” It looks like the arrival of Web Summit 2015 will help us get that one step closer.

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business Comment Editor's pick fashmash

Fashion takeaways from Ben Horowitz book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things

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The inaugural #fashmash book club was held in London earlier this month, with a group of digital individuals from the fashion industry meeting at the all-new Library private members club in London.

The book in question for this first get-together was leading venture capitalist Ben Horowitz‘s The Hard Thing About Hard Things. The aim wasn’t just to dissect the chapters and share our impressions on each of them, but apply them (and their learnings intended for the world of tech start-ups) directly to what they mean for the fashion industry, enabling a broader discussion on business strategy as a result.

What ended up was quite a critical look at what needs to shift in our industry. Here then are some of the takeaways – a series of considerations designed to be thought-starters rather than fully formed arguments.

“Dogs at work and yoga aren’t culture”

Culture doesn’t make a company, but once you’ve nailed the product, it’s an essential part of building and maintaining it, Horowitz suggests. This isn’t about team drinks or gym classes as the easy option, but an ethos that determines who you are both internally and externally. In fashion, an obvious example is Zappos. As a brand that stands for customer service, it inducts all its employees no matter what level they’re starting at into that way of thinking with a mandatory four weeks training in the call centre.

Much of the industry comes with a significant heritage in tow, however – 150 years for a department store here, 168 for a designer brand there – which make cultural shifts, if necessary, all that much harder to achieve. In the most traditional of senses, the biggest barrier is still that feeling of fashion living in an ivory tower.

Despite a move at large to new ways of thinking thanks to digital, there remains very much a culture industry-wide of there only being one voice, a focus on the idea of that being ‘the way things have always been done’, and significant barriers to internal innovation as a result. Even some of today’s youngest and most successful online companies are beginning to battle with this as their teams grow and become increasingly siloed seemingly overnight. Tweets and Facebook posts planned three months in advance aren’t uncommon, especially in certain European cities, neither are rigorous sign-off processes that make simple tasks significantly more laborious than they need be.

“Create a culture that rewards, not punishes people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved,” writes Horowitz. For culture to evolve in fashion, the starting point is still internal communication, development of trust and a willingness to become more open, our members suggested.

“Technological advances have dramatically lowered the financial bar for starting a new company, but the courage bar for building a great company remains as high as it has ever been”

Courage, as with risk or failing fast, is a common concept for those in Silicon Valley. For fashion however, as with many other industries similarly based on cumbersome legacy systems, it remains somewhat foreign, despite words like “disruption” regularly being banded about off the back of association with new business models, like that of Warby Parker. For a young designer entering the market otherwise, there is little choice but to follow the established distribution model or not be in with the chance of getting picked up from a buying perspective.

The closest the industry at large comes to consistently courageous activity is instead with a constant obsession with the shiny and the new. But is this to our detriment?

Take seasonal collections. The fashion cycle is becoming increasingly transseasonal; fast fashion ever the norm, even at designer level where there can be anywhere in the region of 12 collections per year nowadays. The sustainability of that is another discussion, what’s interesting here rather is what’s happening to seasonal campaigns alongside. From the highest fashion house to the most basic high street brand, we are still obsessed with twice yearly print ads (with the addition of the odd film alongside) that focus on the newness of the product. What’s lacking then is a reflection on the continuity of the brand.

Fashion is so obsessed with its visual representation, it forgets to portray bigger ideas that help maintain and entice a customer base. Sir John Hegarty of BBH gave a great example of the value of this at Cannes Lions this year by comparing Nike and Reebok. The former launched its strapline “Just Do It” in 1988 – a brand identity in three words that it has kept ever since. Reebok in the meantime, has changed its message near on every year, which is perhaps why so few of us can remember any of them. It’s hard to believe the two had equal market share at that point in time in the 80s.

Shiny and new is also seen with our focus on introducing buzzy technology concepts. Are the high profile, often gimmicky (though duly press-worthy) initiatives seen around fashion weeks worthwhile? As Horowitz writes: “It’s quite possible for an executive to hit her goal by ignoring the future.” In other words, it’s all very well pushing a piece of innovation tied to a specific initiative at a point in time, but is it something that fundamentally fits authentically with the business so it impacts down the road efficiently. True courage lies in building blocks that shape the future.

“When you are a start-up executive, nothing happens unless you make it happen”

There is of course an enormous place for innovation in the fashion industry when done right. It’s important to note the difference between innovation and technology here – in fact some of the most successful examples in our industry are those businesses innovating in areas that aren’t hugely press-worthy. Those figuring out how to decrease e-commerce return rates, or strategising on updating those aforementioned legacy systems to an all-new omnichannel approach. Behind-the-scenes work initially, but innovation that absolutely impacts the future.

This fits with the fact an increasing number of new job roles are being created with retailers in so-called innovation labs. What we’re accordingly starting to see is a big focus on how to actually make things happen.

In the recent WGSN Google Hangout on this very subject, John Vary, innovation manager at John Lewis, and Will Young, director of Zappos Labs, highlighted the necessity of the role of ideas managers in their organisations. Having an innovation team is all very well, but someone needs to execute on those ideas for them to be at all worthwhile. Importantly, these tend to be very different skill sets.

As Horowitz outlines in a chapter about leadership, there’s a big difference between knowing what to do, and doing what you know. Some people lean more heavily towards setting the direction, while for others enjoyment comes from making the company perform. All businesses, fashion included, do of course need both.

“You should strive to hire people with the right kind of ambition”

It mightn’t come as a surprise the #fashmash book club, though spinning off from a network that’s more evenly split, was entirely comprised of women on this first occasion. It’s also not surprising then that everyone in the room picked up on the fact Horowitz consistently referred to the CEO and executive subjects in his book as ‘she’ and ‘her’ throughout. It’s interesting in itself that that stands out as being so different when you read it. For a fashion crowd, however, it also sparked yet another conversation.

Despite the female association, this is an industry still dominated at the top level almost entirely by men. When Angela Ahrendts was the CEO of Burberry, she was one of only three females on the FTSE 100, a loss the UK mourned on her move over to Apple. But one the fashion industry did too. Technology as an industry is battling a lack of women at exec level, but has the fact so few have studied computer science or engineering, frequently to blame. That’s certainly not an issue in our world.

More disappointingly however, this is an industry that still operates under a very stereotyped “mean girls” sensibility, especially in increasingly competitive organisations where egos play a significant part.

With Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In as the go-to reference, not to mention this Pantene ad from the Philippines that went viral worldwide after Sandberg herself shared it, women already have to deal with being perceived as ‘bossy’ or ‘selfish’ compared to men being seen as ‘powerful’ or ‘dedicated’. Bitch is another frequent term referred to. So why aren’t we supporting each other more?

Horowitz defines ambition as a particularly interesting game. “When hiring a management team, most start-ups focus almost exclusively on IQ, but a bunch of high-IQ people with the wrong kind of ambition won’t work,” he writes. He emphasises the importance of distinguishing whether candidates see the world through the “me” prism (their own personal success) or the “team” prism (how the company will win). “Nothing motivates a great employee more than a mission that’s so important that it supersedes everyone’s personal ambition,” he adds.

In closing…

Safe to say, and no doubt this isn’t new to hear for most readers (nor is it unique to this industry), fashion needs a bit of a wake-up call. We’re very good at resting on old laurels, tired ways and the way things have always been done. But increasingly these traditional means don’t match a modern world or a modern consumer. This book is a great example of what the industry should know, what they should look at, and where they should learn from. In general for those managing, hiring, training or firing, there’s also some very practical insights to glean as well.

Do check out Horowitz’s book on Amazon here. And keep up with the #fashmash hashtag on Twitter too to see what titles we’re looking to dive into next.

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Luxury brands must shift from interruption to relevance, says Google

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The fashion industry needs to focus in on relevancy and personalisation in order to better reach today’s luxury consumer, said Pia Stanchina, Industry Manager of fashion at Google UK, during last week’s #fashmash event in London.

While your average consumer expects to now get what they want, when they want, where they want, the same is doubly true when applied to luxury, she explained to the crowd of 75 guests – heads of digital and social media from across the fashion industry, including designer brands, retailers and relevant technology companies – who were celebrating the relaunch of Fashion & Mash at the all-new Google Glass Basecamp.

She referred to luxury consumers as “more mobile, more demanding and more connected” than ever. The stats back it up: luxury consumers have 2x the smartphone penetration of the average consumer, and 75% of them now research luxury purchases online, according to a study from Google in September 2013 called ” How wealthy shoppers buy luxury goods: a global view”.

In fact, mobile searches in most retail categories are set to overtake desktop searches in mid-December in the UK. But for luxury searches, mobile is due to overtake desktop in just the next week or two. “These consumers now expect to be able to access information at any time and from any device,” Stanchina said.

In spite of this, the luxury industry is still incredibly hesitant to facilitate it. “While no one will argue with the importance of protecting a luxury brand’s equity, a brand is only valuable as long as it is relevant,” argued Stanchina. She outlined mass retailers as having had a more experimental approach in helping them stay up to date with changing consumer behaviour. Macy’s, John Lewis, Tesco and Argos have all set up incubators and labs to test and develop new tech in-house, she said. It’s in this space we’re seeing true omnichannel strategies emerge.

For luxury meanwhile, there remains real caution around taking any missteps when it even comes to communications with customers. This is particularly the case when you look at the seasonal campaign work put out.

“On social, we instinctively understand that as the name implies, it is a forum for engagement. And yet, when it comes to the main communications that most brands produce, these will still be one-way broadcast-style flighted campaigns on TV, in the press, outdoor and online.

“And while we know our customers don’t live in a flighted world and don’t all have the same history with our brand, they all get the same message. The customer that has invested in a piece every season for the last 10 years, sees the same image as someone considering their first purchase from us,” Stanchina explained.

She called for brands to move towards an “Always Ready” approach – shifting from the sometimes on, sometimes off, activity of flighted campaigns, to being ready to interact with consumers at any point that is most relevant for them. Tailoring those interactions then becomes the critical part.

“Digital marketing technology allows us to understand exactly what the previous interactions were that a customer had with us and tailor our communications to deliver the natural next step in the conversation,” she said.

Luxury brands should be taking advantage of this to push relevant messages about products they know consumers love, rather than relying on generic ads showcasing their entire lines. They should also be responding to search queries with personalised answers based on both the content and the context of the question, said Stanchina, referring to whether said consumer is on a mobile, has been to the brand’s site before or has seen a display ad for the product they’re researching.

She added: “As Tom Ford – a man who knows a thing or two about luxury and brand building – has stated, ‘Time and silence are the most luxurious things today’. So let’s not interrupt our consumer’s time or break their silence, unless they are actually asking us to or we have something highly relevant to say to them.”

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Fashion & Mash celebrates relaunch at all-new Google Glass Basecamp

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If you hadn’t yet noticed, Fashion & Mash relaunched this past week to a new responsive design, in a bid to truly surface the great content we do around the subjects of fashion and technology and that remaining tagline of “where designer meets digital…”

We’ve got a new logo, new layout, bigger pictures, simplified navigation and more. In fact the only thing that hasn’t changed is the content itself.

This site was founded in 2011 by Rachel Arthur – a British business journalist and senior editor at leading online fashion trade publication and trend forecaster WGSN – as a go-to place for easily digestible updates on digital strategy, social media marketing, the latest fashion film releases, who’s doing what on mobile, start-ups to know about and more.

You’ll now notice that very easily broken down across the top of the page into dedicated categories. You’ll also see the flow of content becoming increasingly rapid as more contributors come on board to help us out (drop us a line if you want to get involved!) Be sure to check out the search functionality too – this site now has an archive of over 700 articles tracking the evolution of the industry, from the early days of Ralph Lauren’s architectural mapping or Burberry’s Tweet Walk, to all things new in social commerce or the wearable tech world.

Alongside the website is an exclusive global network uniting pioneering minds from the fashion and tech space, known simply by its hashtag #fashmash. Meeting quarterly in various cities worldwide, the group is made up of heads of digital and social media from across the fashion industry, including designer brands, retailers and relevant technology companies. It’s run by Rachel and by Rosanna Falconer, head of digital at Matthew Williamson.

Last night marked our summer special event co-hosted by Google, with over 75 names from the industry meeting in the all-new Google Glass Basecamp in London (the store’s inaugural event no less). Check out some of the photos from the event below, as well as via the #fashmash hashtag across social. An enormous thank you goes out to Google for organising, to Danielle Copperman from Model Mange Tout for supplying us with deliciously healthy canapé treats, and to Rosanna for her now infamous #fashmash cakepops.

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