Luxury clothing rental platform Rent the Runway is leveraging years worth of consumer feedback to launch a range of new clothing lines driven by data.
The “Designer Collective” lines will feature 10-15 items of clothing and be developed alongside prominent US-based designers, such as Jason Wu, Derek Lam and Prabal Gurung, with prices averaging on $350.
Rent the Runway’s business model allows customers to rent expensive designer pieces for a fraction of the retail value. Once clothing is returned, customers are asked to fill out surveys about their fit and style preferences.
“We have millions of data points that our customers provide about wear rate, where they’re wearing the clothes, fit by style and sizes, demand by hem line, sleeve length, demand by geo region etc, and all the feedback is funnelled to our designers,” a spokesperson for the company told FashionUnited.
For designers, this means access to an entirely new audience. “A reality of our business is that we sit at a luxury price point, which isn’t accessible for everyone. Partnering with RTR allows us to connect with a younger customer,” designer Prabal Gurung told BoF. “We’re able to start a relationship with this client … and when she does rent the piece that really resonates with her, that she can’t bring herself to return, we’ve seen it convert, and that’s a beautiful success.”
While some designs will be developed from scratch, others will simply feature adjustments exclusive to the platform’s customers. For example, Gurung’s first line will be entirely based on his main collection, but in colors and prints that respond to RTR’s customer feedback.
Speaking at NRF’s Big Show earlier this month, Jennifer Hyman, Rent the Runway’s co-founder and CEO, said: “Data is such a fundamental piece of what we do. We’re exchanging a massive amount of it [with designers] on how their products are being worn, what events they’re being worn to, and how their products or dresses last over time,” she says, adding that this helps brands iterate their designs to better suit customer wants and needs. “The data we have in renting clothing over time is so important to the manufacturing of clothes.”
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“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 recording, live 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.
Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.
Depop has opened a physical outpost in NYC that aims to strengthen its connection to the community by offering advice on how to sell.
The store features a photo studio where sellers, or the marketplace app’s trained professionals, can photograph their items against clean backgrounds, as well as receive hands-on advice on how to brand an online store and how to navigate the postal system.
“The whole purpose of the space is to strengthen our connection with our community, and to experience Depop in real life,” said Maria Raga, Depop’s CEO, to i-D magazine. “Different styles, different subcultures, and introducing different designers in a new light is really important to us. It’s fun for our community too because they get to be inspired by the possibilities of what they can do with their Depop shops.”
To reinforce that purpose, the store is not fully stocked, but rather currently carrying a curated selection dedicated to NYC called Depop Loves New York.
At the moment, shoppers can find items by the likes of seller Venus X, who recently closed a vintage store in the city, and Luke Fracher, who provides a selection of rare shirts from local sports teams like the Yankees and the Mets, by Fracher. Meanwhile NYC-based designer Sandy Liang reworked vintage pieces, while Queens-based artist Slumpy Kev painted on vintage Levi’s and Dickies garments.
“Our community is just a little sponge of very thirsty entrepreneurs, and creative entrepreneurs at that,” continues Raga. “I think it’s just getting that first taste of what it is to make your own wealth, while having fun and creating your own brand.”
This is Depop’s second physical outpost, with the first one opening in Los Angeles in March. The store holds a similar purpose to its newest iteration, and is also inviting top users to host their own pop-ups within the space.
Depop’s foray into brick-and-mortar, as well as its core purpose of giving its community the tools and exposure to succeed, serve to further emphasise how brands can enable the young shopper’s behaviour of having a ‘side hustle’, and increasingly seeing themselves as entrepreneurs.
Stores with little merchandise but a loud message are also an effective marketing strategy for making use of physical spaces that don’t need to sell, but act as gateways to online experiences. Last year, Nordstrom launched its Local concept tapping into service and convenience over merchandise per square foot.
How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and 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.
During spring/summer 2016’s round of fashion weeks held this past September, Hunter applied its usual experimental attitude to Twitter-owned live-streaming app Periscope. The British brand known for its wellington boots launched a campaign that saw live gigs taking place in the back of a customised vehicle. Exclusive access was provided to different artists who performed in the build up to the brand’s Hunter Original catwalk show.
While the initiative was a relatively quiet one given it was such a new platform, it made an enormous amount of sense for a brand that is entrenched (quite literally) in festival culture. It almost felt like a promise to who it could become; a nod to its authentic connection with music. Consequently it said it would carry the campaign through to 2016 with further gigs hosted on the way to the biggest festivals around the world.
Yesterday, the brand then announced it would be moving away from the traditional fashion calendar, no longer holding a London Fashion Week show and instead focusing wholeheartedly on exploring and amplifying this festivals opportunity.
It’s a decision that makes a great deal of sense. While fashion weeks are enormous marketing opportunities, and Hunter always did an incredible job of pulling in big names to ensure maximum press exposure – from Anna Wintour and Stella McCartney (wife of creative director Alasdhair Willis), to Paul McCartney, Rita Ora, and Salma Hayek – they’re increasingly an exercise in frustration for the consumer.
At risk of preaching to the converted, here’s how it goes: brand spends big budget on fashion week show, invites big guests, does cool innovation piece to gain extra column inches and encourage consumer engagement. Consumer tunes in to said show because unlike in history, digital means everything is in real-time and accessible to them to fawn over as though they were in attendance themselves. They fall in love with it, and want to buy, but alas, they can’t.
While the communications side of the model has sped up, the backend hasn’t changed. The nuts and bolts of the industry remain as slow as ever, and while numerous brands have promoted exclusive ‘buy now’ items from the runway, most of the time a consumer has to wait circa six months before they can actually get their hands on the product.
The issue with that in today’s immediate and connected culture, of course, is that come next season when the respective items are suitable to wear, consumers are already onto the next idea, and less interested in purchasing what they would have been when they were truly captured in the moment. It’s an ROI conundrum.
Needless to say, changing it is no small feat, particularly off the back of board meetings that lead with the line: “Because that’s the way it’s always been done”. But many are slowly but surely looking to kick that setup and come up with something else instead.
According to Hunter, it’s a time that feels right to move the needle on how it engages with its customer and how it excites the industry. Says Willis: “Hunter has been on an incredible journey these past two years, gathering real momentum as we set about transitioning this 160 year business. During this massive transformative period we have delivered four brand-defining Hunter Original shows at LFW. Using this success as a strong tail wind, and continuing our commitment to innovate, now is the time to push things further. At this time within our industry, the moment is right to change things up and, as a brand, Hunter can do just that.”
It will hold multiple global customer-facing moments during 2016, according to a statement. Detail is yet to emerge, but safe to say real integration with festivals, as well as shifting the model in terms of when and how consumers have access to product will be the priority.
On top of that, comes of course the global aspect – Hunter believes standalone stores are instrumental to its growth towards a lifestyle brand and numerous new openings are planned as a result.It is hoped the success of its first flagship on Regent Street in London, will be quickly replicated by its Tokyo store opening in March 2016, and then its further plans in New York and Hong Kong. There’s also a joint venture with Itochu in Japan and significant investment being placed in multiple languages for its e-commerce site.
Turnover during 2014 increased for Hunter by 17% year-on-year to £95.7m, with pre-tax profits of £15.4m, up 5% from 2013. This doesn’t therefore feel like a change that’s coming in the face of negative results as it has perhaps been for others (neatly spun into a positive news story), rather a bid to stay on top and keep performing to the advantages the industry can offer when approached in ways that work better. It’s also perhaps a straightforward admission that money can be more efficiently spent than the vanity project fashion week shows so often become.
As the brand’s head of innovation and social media, Michelle Sadlier, posted on Twitter yesterday: “Taking risks, always innovating…so proud that Hunter has the agility and ability to do something epic like this!”
It’s nice, for once, to see that idea of “agile”, as we so often refer to the new wave of direct-to-consumer fashion start-ups, actually being played out in what is fundamentally one of Britain’s most treasured heritage brands.
Matthew Williamson is to close its flagship store in London and refocus on a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business based on instantly-shoppable collection releases.
The announcement from the 18-year-old British company might mean a big shift in strategy (presumably resulting in job losses alongside), but it’s a restructuring that makes sense. The new business model will see six collections presented a year to suit what the label calls the “buy-now-wear-now mentality” of today’s consumer. A showroom will be opened in central London in place of the store, operating as an appointment-only boutique for online shoppers.
The ready-to-wear industry today is debilitated by fast fashion retailers, but also by the ever increasing speed of our digital communications cycle. Where a six-month time lag between the reveal of the new season’s line and its arrival in stores once made sense, now it doesn’t. The social media hype of fashion week season – whether it’s a live-stream, a sneak peek on Snapchat, or a highly perfected Instagram shot – is all very well, but by the time that collection comes around, consumers have all but forgotten the excitement they once felt. Numerous businesses are trying to figure out how to address that challenge.
As highlighted by Fashionista today, Williamson isn’t the only brand to be downsizing and restrategising accordingly, nor will it likely be the last. Over the years Tibi has shifted towards an “advanced contemporary” label releasing new collections in store now about once a month; both Marc Jacobs and Kate Spade have recently announced the closure of their lower-priced contemporary lines; and Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor & Rolf have stepped out of ready-to-wear altogether to refocus on couture and fragrances. Elsewhere we’ve seen the likes of Tamara Mellon also launch an eponymous line based on monthly deliveries and a similar buy-now-wear-now concept.
“Over the years, the industry and consumers have changed and we’re keen to address and respond to that. The aim is to refresh what’s there, and to create a lifestyle brand that we’re truly proud of both creatively and commercially,” said Williamson and the company’s chairman Joseph Velosa in a joint statement.
It’s a big opportunity for the company. While the closing of the store suggests it wasn’t performing, and the overall shift in strategy makes it clear the business is struggling, e-commerce sales at Williamson are reportedly up 290% year-on-year since 2014, only serving to highlight the fact this is a shopper increasingly willing to buy online. The idea that luxury products – Williamson’s colourful dresses typically retail upwards of £1,000 – don’t sell on the internet is of course now a giant myth.
Williamson also has a strong social media following for a small brand, with just shy of 100,000 followers on Instagram, followed by 43,000 on Facebook and 30,000 on Twitter. Its greatest success story has been on Pinterest, gaining a huge 963,000 followers in less than four months since launch.
Rosanna Falconer*, newly-promoted business director at the company, formerly communications director and the one responsible for the brand’s digital strategy, is heavily focused on channels that drive referrals and conversions on the website. Of the new plans, she added the company would continue to focus on bringing a “personal, offline experience” to its e-commerce customers. The showroom will be accompanied by the launch of a new website in early 2016 that will offer free shipping worldwide and same-day delivery in London.
At a time when established brands in the fashion industry are facing an ever-competitive landscape ripe with start-ups who have the ability to adapt at a far faster pace, those willing to demonstrate the fact they too are relevant by being brave enough to make such strategic decisions, might just be the ones who have the staying power.