A brand’s success depends on authentic relationships and good design over hype, says Rodrigo Bazan, CEO of designer label Thom Browne, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
“I tend to like less anything based on hype or cool, or the hot thing of the moment, because by definition that’s going to cool down at some point. So I still believe that the big things that are happening are led by a very, very strong design idea,” he explains.
It’s for the same reason that dressing rapper Cardi B for this year’s Met Gala in a larger-than-life ruby ballgown made sense for the luxury label, he notes.
The Thom Browne team does little PR and has no internal VIP team, meaning the relationship with Cardi, as well as sports superstars like basketballer LeBron James, happen organically.
Since launching in 2004, the brand has gained a loyal audience that appreciates its modern take on classic silhouettes. The designer’s discrete nature (he himself is not on social media) and timeless designs mean it has managed to stand out in a world of overconsumption and celebrity designers that rule social media, from Virgil Abloh at Off White and Louis Vuitton to Olivier Rousteing at Balmain.
Bazan explains how the brand is averse to overexposure and flashiness, instead focusing on creating more of these meaningful partnerships, from dressing Barcelona FC players off the field to creating bespoke tailoring with Barneys. As a result, it is steadily growing a business aiming to survive the influencer fatigue that is starting to pick up speed.
Join us to learn more from Bazan about what that means in practice, including how music and celebrity help fuel its success, why the brand believes in sportswear over streetwear, and just how its thinking about the balance of data and design today.
Sustainability has been a major talking point for the fashion industry over the past couple of years. In this year’s State of Fashion report, radical transparency was highlighted as one of the major trends retailers should be implementing. Butfollowing rising concerns of greenwashing, from misleading PR-led campaigns to the increase of fake news, consumer trust is at an all-time low and brands are having to work harder to prove their authenticity in the matter.
The Gen Z generation is particularly pushing for this change, with 90% believing companies should take responsibility to address environmental and social issues. Meanwhile almost three-quarters of Millennials are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, demonstrating how there is tangible value in transparent produce. In order to regain their consumers’ trust, brands must therefore be explicitly open with information regarding data protection and how sustainable their supply chains truly are.
Technology is playing a major role in helping promote transparency, from blockchain helping shed light on the supply chain, to holistic e-commerce interactions. Here, we highlight some of our favorite examples of brands disrupting the space by going that extra mile in regards to transparency:
Patagonia is one of the pioneering brands when it comes to sustainability, fully disclosing its textile mills, factories and farms through its website. The ‘footprint chronicles’ is a visual map showing information about the supply chain including the numbers of workers, gender mix and items produced there. Patagonia was the first outdoor brand to be certified to the Advanced Global Traceable Down Standard for maintaining excellent animal welfare standards for birds.
As a result of its ongoing efforts, Patagonia was identified as one of the leading brands on Fashion Revolution’s most recent Transparency Index, receiving a score of 64%.
Nestle is the first major food and beverage company to utilize the use of blockchain technology, allowing consumers to trace the origin of their food. The company is aiming to eventually reach full supply chain transparency, with this move shedding light on 95% of its annual sourcing of raw materials.
Products will have a QR barcode that when scanned, provides consumers with Tier 1 information on product, such as harvest date, farm location, packing date, as well as information on how to prepare it. To determine the feasibility and viability of the technology, an initial pilot scheme testing the traceability of milk will be created first, with plans to expand into palm oil production.
As it stands, only 33% of consumers trust the food system. Following the Tesco horsemeat scandal in 2013, consumers have become increasingly skeptical of where their food has come from, particularly when it comes to meat produce. In the US, Walmart is addressing this by developing the first beef supply chain. The system, which took 2 years to develop, follows a previous blockchain pilot on lettuce and spinach, which aimed to reduce contamination rates, following an increase in vegetable-related illnesses.
In the UK, retailers are only required to disclose where the garment was made, but this year to increase its transparency, H&M made the decision to go one step further by sharing specific details about their individual suppliers. Consumers can now access information on the production country, supplier name, factory name, and even the number of employees in that factory. H&M is setting the bar in the industry by allowing consumers to make informed decisions when purchasing, helping them to shop responsibly.
For H&M’s sister brand Arket, sustainability has been a primary consideration from its inception. Beyond showcasing suppliers, the brand also aims to design long-lasting garments, while informing its customers on how to care for them and prolong their lifespan.
Volition is democratizing the beauty industry with products designed from crowdsourced ideas that are voted by the general public before making it into production. The brand uses scientific ingredients to deliver safe and effective products, from skincare to bath and body. Volition gives all of its products the ‘safe science’ seal of approval, catering to the 42% of consumers who feel they do not get enough information on ingredient safety.
Following consumers request of non-toxic but highly effective products, Volition’s experts created a blacklist of harmful ingredients, giving consumers peace of mind about what they are putting onto their skin.
Department store Selfridges is doubling down on its Buying Better labels, which aim to aid consumers in their purchasing choices. The labels highlight sustainable product attributes, such as vegan, forest-friendly or supporting communities. The labels are part of the retailer’s commitment to ensure that 50% of its products are better for people and the planet by 2022. Currently, over 3000 products across homeware, fashion and beauty feature the labels, helping guide consumers away from the disposable, fast fashion mindset.
Skincare brand Drunk Elephant may be new to the market, having launched in 2014, but it is already catching both the eye of consumers and major beauty conglomerates alike. Consumers have gone wild for its transparent, no-nonsense approach to skincare. The products are based on biocompatibility, and use clinically-effective natural ingredients. Each product listed on its website has a detailed breakdown of all the ingredients and their purposes, creating a holistic user-friendly experience. 72% of consumers want brands to explain the purpose of ingredients and Drunk Elephant is leading the with their holistic product breakdowns.
As a result of this education-led approach, and its popularity with younger consumers, the brand has recently been acquired by Japanese giant Shiseido for $845million.
How are you thinking about sustainability? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.
The success of Stadium Goods comes off the back of unprecedented consumer desire for sneakers and the need for a rich brand experience in which to buy them, says the platform’s co-founder and co-CEO, John McPheters, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
“For me the light bulb was that demand had never been higher. It was continuously growing, there were more and more people that wanted to buy our products, but there wasn’t a rich experience that consumers could go to to buy that stuff that was trusted, where they knew what they were getting, where they could really hang their hat on the brand experience and the presentation.” he explains.
As a result he and his partner, Jed Stiller, set about creating a site that is focused on consignment – meaning it resells existing sneaker stock as well as broader streetwear – but it only does so with unworn and authentic styles. That focus on trust is the key, he says.
Only launched in 2015, the site was acquired by ecommerce marketplace Farfetch in 2018 for $250 million. Very few emerging businesses have seen such rapid growth. It’s now considered such a market leader, it recently announced a partnership with auction house Sotheby’s to sell 100 of the rarest, most coveted sneakers ever produced.
The site’s explosion aligns with the growth of sneaker culture worldwide. Expected to hit nearly $100bn in global sales by 2024, sneakers are outpacing much of the rest of the industry, including that of handbags. As a result, they have become the new ‘cash cow’ and awareness driver for all manner of brands, not least those in the luxury space, wheresuch products are used as entry to otherwise more aspirational price points.
In all parts of the market this has resulted in ‘cult’ or ‘it’ sneakers to own as a result. A rare pair of Nikes today can easily sell for as much as those from Gucci or Balenciaga as a result. This means it’s increasingly a race, with some limited edition styles going for $10,000 or more.
In this episode, recorded live at the British Fashion Council’s annual Fashion Forum, we chat to founder John McPheters about the cultural relevance of such products, the evolving role of exclusivity and desire in luxury today, and just how what he’s doing is really about teaching the industry to give up control.
Future technologies will not only help curb the counterfeit market, but act as vehicles for brand storytelling, said Graham Wetzbarger, chief authenticator of second-hand e-tailer The RealReal at SXSW.
The advent of technologies that combat fakes may have hit strides over the past few years, but the problem is far from being tamed, he said. Even though the USA counterfeit industry experienced an 8% uptick in seizures at border control from 2016 to 2017, it is becoming increasingly difficult to target illegal goods from navigating from country to country. At present, only 10% of counterfeit goods are seized, and the industry retains $1.7 trillion in value globally, said Avery Dennison’s director of digital solutions Julie Vargas in the same session.
The challenge is outsmarting counterfeiters, who are operating in a much more granular manner, Wetzbarger noted. While in the past goods would arrive in large quantities via shipping containers, they are now coming in via airmail through local courier services. Illegal goods are also produced and retailed through a variety of channels, from very real looking, but fake e-commerce websites, to the dark web and last mile counterfeiting.
For young and label-hungry consumers in cities such as Seoul and Moscow, buying fakes is the most viable option when import taxes are too high, or there is little to no access to on-trend labels such as Off-White and Vetements, said Wetzbarger.
Tapping into the digitally-savvy behaviour of these shoppers, counterfeiters are becoming influencers in their own right and gaining a loyal following on social media. Hypebeast online publication Highsnobiety now runs Counterfeit Culture, an online video series that explores the culture globally – an indication that beyond supporting an illegal trade, fake goods are now becoming a social currency among a niche group of consumers.
Beyond traditional tools of authentication – such as inspecting the material and construction of goods – Wetzbarger also stressed the importance of introducing tags to not only tell the product’s story, but also act as an extension of the brand. In this matter, new technologies such as blockchain are starting to emerge to enable brands to have more control of tracking and developing content for individual goods.
“There’s a secret sauce to always staying one step ahead of counterfeiters. When talking about the secondary economy it’s not a perfect science, but technology can help with that,” said Vargas of Avery Dennison.
The deployment of blockchain will also go hand-in-hand with a consumer need to be constantly connected and informed about the provenance of their purchases. Wetzbarger suggested that handbags, which are the largest product category on The RealReal platform, could tell the story of previous owners if they chose to participate, for example. He also talks of a future in which a Clueless-type of digital closet, where connected labels can track what garments the consumer has, how often they are used, and what items are missing in their style repertoire.
As recently seen by Stella McCartney’s announcement of collaborating with The RealReal to authenticate and officially sell her label’s merchandise, there is a strong element of sustainability attached to buying from the circular economy. For consumers, it means having another home for an item that may no longer be to their taste, but still holds quality and meaning. For labels, it is continuing the lifecycle of a brand and strengthening its value, said Wetzbarger. “Brands are getting behind this because they want their products to hold equity.”
Adding a digital ledger on the blockchain to every product could have a myriad of benefits not only to first-time buyers, but to re-sellers, therefore. “How interesting would it be if a product was always telling data?” concluded Wetzbarger.
It’s relatively unique to be the former global executive creative director of an advertising agency (Wieden + Kennedy), turned president of brand creative for a major global retail group (Fast Retailing, owner of Uniqlo) – but that’s exactly what gives John C Jay, who also previously worked at Bloomingdale’s, such distinctive insight.
Speaking at the Cannes Lions International of Festivity last week, he shared some of his learnings on modern day communications in the fashion and retail space. Connecting to culture, choreographing physical spaces, launching collaborations, looking boldly to a future using data and technology, and underpinning it all with authenticity, were all referenced.
“Brands need to be worthy. We’re so busy today; there’s so much noise that no brand is going to be a part of your life if it’s not worthwhile,” was one of his key messages. Read on for the rest…
On connecting ideas to culture
“I focus not on campaigns, but connections,” Jay said with relation to finding the relevancy in local culture, or indeed current day pop culture, for any given brand he’s worked on. He emphasised how important it is to really do this properly. “Agencies are notorious for skimming the surface of culture: taking picture research of a neighborhood, sharing that in a conference room and feeling like they’ve tapped into [it],” he explained to the largely advertising crowd. “You’ve got to put the effort in and really really get to know the culture.”
On narrative spaces
This view of culture also carried over to the physical spaces a retailer owns. Jay explained how Uniqlo is turning its stores into rich playgrounds for cultural exchanges. Its latest London store has two floors dedicated to bringing the creative culture of the British capital to customers, for instance. “Agencies need to be choreographers for brands in physical spaces,” he explained in a call for the industry not just to focus on creating impacts via communications, but becoming designers of narrative in the retail environment. “This philosophy – collaboration with local communities – is more and more a part of our strategy going forward,” he added.
On valuable collaborations
“With our collaborations, we don’t choose by fame or how many hits [the individual] has, or friends they have; it’s really about values. It has to be true to them and true to us. We have to agree on what the values are. A lot of people we choose are not the most famous brands in the world,” Jay explained. Uniqlo has recently worked with graffiti artist Kaws, for instance, launching a line of t-shirts that Jay referred to as “extraordinary in terms of sales”. It has also had two very successful collections with Christophe Lemaire, former artistic director of Hermès. That partnership felt so true, Jay said, that they were “finishing each other’s sentences”. Lemaire has recently been announced as the new artistic director of Uniqlo’s R+D centre in Paris and the new Uniqlo U line, as a result.
On a tech-enabled future
Jay put any retail tech naysayers to rest with a bold statement on the importance of data and technology looking ahead. “Get on the boat or you’re never going to be a part of the future,” he said. “Data [particularly] is another way to be creative – it’s another way of finding insight. We have to adjust our mindsets to accepting there’s no foe part to it.” The new Uniqlo R+D centres will be very much dealing with technology, he added. “We’ll be looking at the issue of how to bring the physical and virtual together into one storytelling space.” A campaign run by Uniqlo in Australia called UMood, was also referenced. This neural project saw consumers wear a headset that could read their brain activity and help them choose suitable t-shirts as a result.
On authenticity at scale
Underpinning all of these lessons came authenticity. It’s this, said Jay, that has to be at the heart of everything a brand is trying to do, particularly when looking to growth. “I would argue that authenticity is the only way to scale, because brands will change and evolve, but [with authenticity] values will stay the same. It takes a lot of effort, but you just have to enjoy it.”
“Smoke and mirrors in marketing is over; it’s really over,” said actor Will Smith at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. He was referring to the idea that you used to be able to put “piece of crap movies” out there and get away with it; that you could promote them with loads of trailers featuring explosions in them in order to hide how terrible they really were, but that today’s speed of accessibility has transformed that.
“Now [the audience] only has to be 10 minutes in and they’re tweeting about how terrible it is,” he explained. “They know instantly and they know in real detail.”
It’s a basic lesson highly applicable to the sort of content work as well as the product that brands, including those in the fashion industry, push out today. Getting away with crap is a lot less possible, and rightly so.
What has to happen instead, said Smith, is a shift from focusing on product to focusing on people; on putting their needs first. “I consider myself a marketer. My career has been about being able to sell my product globally. But the power is now in the hands of the fans, so you’ve got to be authentic. The only choice I have is to be in tune with their needs, not try to trick them into seeing Wild Wild West,” he joked in reference to one of his not so successful films. “You have to have integrity or you get shot down in a second.”
He said by having a deeper understanding of people, the product created is going to be more successful. “It’s about making a product that considers the audience first – and considers how to improve their lives [even if that is just about making them laugh],” he explained.
It’s very hard to reverse engineer the other way, he added, because why you did it is already baked in. “If you did it for reasons that are less than noble then it’s going to be a part of the product, or the content or service, and people are going to know it.”
He referred to Apple products as the perfect example of getting it right, because Steve Jobs didn’t care about anything other than creating products that would blow our minds. “That feels like love. People can tell when you’ve considered them in your equation and Apple knows how to do that.”
In essence his message was about thinking of the purpose right from the start. “The reason why you’re doing it has to be the core of the story if you want it to relate to people.”
Zach Duane, CEO of Victoria Beckham sat down at Decoded Fashion in London yesterday to share insights on how he believes the brand has managed to gain credibility in the tough celebrity designer space, how VB is viewed in China, and exactly why he thinks the whole see-now, buy-now model can’t work for everyone.
Here’s a recap of the highlights…
“There was obviously huge cynicism around Victoria in the fashion world to begin with. We wanted her to be taken seriously as a designer, so we tried to learn our craft and convince through the collection and the value of the product. From day one every media outlet was following our steps, so it was a very public journey from the beginning. It therefore worked to be very open. Victoria is very like that anyway; she’s prolific on Instagram. But it’s not contrived. The content we share is very natural and real even though the concept behind it is a strategy we have – it’s always carefully considered.”
“We know it’s not ok to film a highly produced and polished video and push it out three months later and assume that’s going to be a relevant story. You have to be a bit raw these days. It’s not that it’s dumbing it down, it’s just that people are so used to seeing stuff so constantly on social that it’s fine to post iPhone photos, or mash a collage together. It’s the idea that has to be right – as long as it’s relevant to your brand. The world has moved in that direction in my view. There are some things we do that are much higher production value – like our look books or our show – and it’s fine to have a mixture like that. We’re not, and we don’t pretend to be, a heritage brand. If you’ve got a history of crafting leather goods, or a designer that founded the house in the 50s, then maybe you have to take a certain approach. But for us, in the lifespan of fashion, we’re a new thing, and we’re not shackled by the rules of the past. We’re doing what’s relevant now.”
On a welcoming store environment
“From day one Victoria had a global audience. Spice Girls were a global phenomenon and everyone was interested in her. So we now try to cater to everyone – our current customers, future customers or people just interested in us and what we’re doing. In our first store on Dover Street we really made sure that everyone who came in would feel very welcome. And I really mean that. We headhunted and Victoria and I personally interviewed every single person for it. Our store manager Lin [Aima Hellem], got the job because when asked what she would do if 200 Spice Girls fans come in, she said she would give them the best tour of the store possible. It shouldn’t be a closed space – a student who wants to come in and understand Victoria’s vision should be as relevant as someone spending £10,000.”
On perception in China
“We don’t ship to Asia which is a slight anomaly, but we do trunk shows there; e-commerce pop-ups basically. What we’ve learnt from China is that our shopper is much younger, and she didn’t know Spice Girls at all. She knew Victoria was famous, but she thinks it’s because she’s a designer. So the way we treat them is so different to someone who has lived and breathed that journey with Victoria. Those insights are so important for merchandising, for comms direction and more. With China we don’t have to focus on the credibility part. It’s about immersing [consumers] in the collection, getting them to understand the theme of the season. It’s much more of a fashion-focused educational process. If we’re talking about new clients in other markets like America however, then it’s about going back to basics a little bit. We have to tackle the fact they may think of Victoria as a Spice Girl first; so it’s about credibility and then about getting them into fashion later.”
On the see-now, buy-now movement
“The media is always looking for headline problems for headline solutions. But whether we’re showing in February and shipping in August is a basic issue – there are much bigger problems around things like international shipping and so forth. What Burberry is doing makes total sense for them – it’s a retail business, they sell predominantly through their own stores. If you’re going to spend millions of pounds on amazing shows, you may as well do it when collections are in store so you convert those consumers. But for emerging brands, it’s just impossible. Your business is predominantly a wholesale business. Your show is a trade show; it’s to buyers and editors. They’re coming to have a view and see what resonates with them, and if it does then they come and place their orders. In terms of what the consumer accesses – the answer is not ‘one size fits all’. Our ready-to-wear line needs to be reviewed; it needs that industry perspective and buy-in, that’s the nature of it. But with our Victoria Victoria Beckham line, then it’s different. We’ve done a show in Korea for instance, we’ve partnered with an artist, we’ve done events in London as it hits the store – so we’re constantly connecting with the consumer with it; it’s just a different rhythm. You have to be specific about who you’re trying to talk to, why you’re trying to talk to them and what the message is.”
On never standing still
“We were very humble at the beginning. Victoria really felt, and she still does to this day, that she had to earn her place in fashion. She’s always challenging herself. From a creative standpoint, that is a constant in our business – never stand still, constantly push yourself. We’re always questioning whether the business model we’ve got is innovative enough too. Could we be doing more? It’s that push to prove ourselves that has kept us driving forward.”
Nike is upping the storytelling ante as part of its #betterforit women’s campaign and taking to YouTube with an eight-part scripted series. A direct bid to reach millennial women, the branded content follows two sisters involved in a bet to make more friends on the one hand, and get fit on the other.
Margot vs. Lily as it’s called, was created by Wieden & Kennedy Portland in collaboration with the team behind the indie film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
It speaks to the success being seen in long-form video content elsewhere on the web – from the very existence of Netflix down to extended plays across platforms including YouTube of course, as well as Facebook (thanks largely to that autoplay feature).
It’s on that note the brand has tapped into the notion of narrative – creating something for viewers to invest in and want to come back to. As Kerri Hoyt-Pack, VP of Nike Women’s brand marketing globally, told AdWeek: “We wanted to surprise and inspire her through story, and we knew that longer form would give us something where we could get a little richer in bringing the story to life. It’s also a format that clearly women around the world today value. Connecting to this longer-form original programming just made sense for where she is.”
In terms of the tale itself, Hoyt-Pack said the key focus was to make it relatable and therefore authentic to the audience. “[The series is] about strength and power and confidence, and I think you see that in both characters. But it’s also about vulnerability and uncertainty… As a brand, that’s something we’re really proud to showcase, to invite our consumer into that experience, to be relatable. But it’s also just an expectation of this generation today. It’s a deeper, richer meaning that obviously resonated really well with [last year’s “Better for It” ads], and it’s something we’ve just put more depth in here,” she added.
This is a branded series all the same, so expect to see Nike merchandise throughout, but it’s not a heavy sales pitch, which helps. The accompanying Nike.com/betterforit site is where that part of the campaign sits, pulling in specific Nike+ workouts from the show, as well as directing to product.
The first episode hits YouTube today, Monday February 1. You can watch the trailer above.