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data Editor's pick Retail technology

From relevancy to regulation: Why SXSW 2019 was the year of the individual ?

There was undeniably a continued focus on culture at SXSW this year, as what was once the behemoth tech festival aligned itself with broader societal shifts as well as the consumer itself.

Author Brene Brown set the tone by opening the first day of the event with a discussion on empathy and the simple notion of belonging and connection in a digital age. Now, this as a concept isn’t new for SXSW – it was our top takeaway from 2018 off the back of rising concerns around the ethics of artificial intelligence. But this year, it wasn’t said in the context of how we should build technology to behave, but instead really on how we as individuals can live better lives.

On the simplest end of the scale, that of course meant experiences – evidenced by the brand activations that continued to pop up around the city of Austin. Offering opportunities for people to have a great time, isn’t going anywhere. But on top of that was everything from politicians fighting for what society deserves through to an increased focus on wellness.

Underpinning all of it? How we create greater than ever relevancy for individuals in a way that is both fair and meaningful.

Smart wellness
Current Global's co-founder and CEO Liz Bacelar and Calm founder Michael Acton Smith
Current Global’s co-founder and CEO Liz Bacelar and Calm founder Michael Acton Smith

It’s easy to say wellness was a trend at this year’s festival – its presence was felt more than ever, from the huge volume of cannabis-related programming (60 sessions to be precise) to the second year of the wellness expo, which featured everything from breathwork 101 to a conversation on Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. There were also activations including the Real Self House, which offered free consultations with medical doctors and complementary treatments such as lasers and injectables.

Our Innovation Mansion also heavily focused on wellness, with speakers including Calm founder Michael Acton Smith, Dirty Lemon, Recess and Under Armour all playing a role. Where these conversations proved particularly interesting, was in the way connectivity played a role. This wasn’t so much about wearables, nor about that “quantified self” trend from years gone past – rather it was around how technology is more passively enabling me to find out more about myself to then achieve better results.

One key example was in L’Oréal’s announcement of its partnership with microbial genomics company, uBiome, which the Current Global’s Liz Bacelar explored with Guive Balooch, VP of L’Oréal’s technology incubator, on the SXSW main stage. This is about deepening its research into the skin’s bacterial ecosystem in order to develop more personalized skincare solutions for individuals. The end goal is quite literally prescribing products based on exactly what the science of our own bodies tell us we need. “When it comes to skincare, people often audition product after product to determine what works for their unique skin. At L’Oréal, our goal is to advance scientific research and leverage new technologies to change this relationship, by allowing deeper levels of personalization.”

Meanwhile, futurist Amy Webb dedicated a good portion of her trends talk to biometrics, not just for identification scanning, but predicting behaviors. “These are systems that take all biodata and are constantly learning from it in some way, she explained, referencing Pivot Yoga’s connected yoga pants, which monitor poses and correct users’ form while syncing the data to an app. It’s the first time behavioral biometrics made it into her trend report, she noted. She related such a trend to “Persistent Recognition Systems”, which are algorithms that use our unique features, like bone structure, posture, or facial expressions to recognize not only who we are, but our frame of mind in real-time and make personalized suggestions as a result.

In doing so, consumers often end up giving out more information than they realize, Webb added. At Walmart, a smart shopping cart could measure your temperature, heart rate, and grip strength. If the cart senses you’re angry, it can send a representative to help you out. Walmart is reportedly using this data to create a baseline of biometric information about individual users to drive better customer service.

Personalization
Atlantic Pacific for Amazon Fashion

Optimizing data about individuals is the million dollar question for brands. We hear this at every trade show, conference, festival and exhibition we go to around the world. We hear it from every client. How do I better get to know my customer? And how do I then ensure relevancy for them in order to drive my conversions upwards?

SXSW was no different. Amazon Fashion’s CTO, Tony Bacos, said relevancy is his number one goal. “We’re focused on helping connect people to the products that we know are going to delight them. Not just in their individual taste and style but in their bodies,” he explained. By that he meant thinking about how to drive personalized discovery when the challenge is the huge scale of Amazon’s catalog, and then how to solve fit and sizing issues. With the latter he referenced machine learning in order to map sizing from one brand to the next as well as understand the role consumer preference and buying history play. Virtual try-on, where users can visualize themselves in items, will play a role for Amazon in the future, he hinted.

“No one has nailed these things in fashion yet – both the opportunity to create better and personalized experiences online and to solve the fit challenge,” he said. “That’s why it’s an exciting category.”

Kerry Liu, CEO of artificial intelligence software company, Rubikloud, agreed the future of retail really is about relevancy, and about using AI behind the scenes to facilitate it. In the words of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, it’s about using tech to “quietly but meaningfully improve core operations”, he said. But more than that, it’s about optimizing decision making, which increasingly humans alone cannot do.

Walmart CTO Jeremy King, said it’s about efficiency, which ultimately means giving humans the tools to make better use of their time. As Marie Gulin Merle, CMO of Calvin Klein, reminded everyone: “Fashion is an emotional business; you still need people to shake the hearts of the consumers.”

Data regulation
Dennis Crowley from Foursquare

With a focus on data, of course comes conversation around privacy and increasingly, regulation. When the programming suggestions were submitted to SXSW last summer for inclusion in this year’s content line-up, top of mind were two major subjects within this: the GDPR regulations in Europe, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal with Facebook. Cue such continued debate come March.

Roger McNamee, early Facebook investor and one-time advisor to Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, spoke about the importance around regulation. “Users and society have not had a chance to debate whether companies should gather information and profit from people’s financial transactions, health data, or location,” he noted. An avid critic of Facebook today, he nonetheless understands the problem is endemic to a world where the most profitable business model is tracking people, using data to predict their behavior, and steering them toward the companies’ desired outcomes.

One company keeping a close eye on regulation is Foursquare, whose co-founder Dennis Crowley explained the company’s evolution from hyperlocal advertising to a business-to-business data play. “Now, Foursquare offers a base map of the world,” he said. But it refuses to sell data on individual customers in the process.

For Facebook, by comparison, the pressure around data privacy continues to heat up. Just before SXSW, Zuckerberg announced the platform will shift its focus away from public posts to encrypted, ephemeral communications on its trio of messaging apps. To McNamee, this supposed commitment to encryption and privacy reads like a stunt. “They’re not getting out of the tracking business. My problem with Facebook is not whether it’s end-to end-encrypted. It’s what are they doing with the tracking, what are they doing to invade my private spaces. I don’t want them buying my credit card history. I do not want them doing business with health and wellness apps to get all that data. I do not want them buying my location data from my cellular carrier.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren also took to the SXSW stage to address her tech regulatory proposal, announced the day before. This seeks to undo massive tech mergers that exist and introduce legislation that would prohibit marketplace owners from developing products for sale on their own platforms. “Amazon has a platform to sell you a coffee maker, but that company also sucks out an incredible amount of information about every buyer and seller. Then they can make a decision to go start a competing coffee making-selling outfit, and drive out of business everyone else in that space,” she said. McNamee revealed he’s now advising Warren as a presidential candidate for 2020, on her data regulation agenda.

For global brands, the role of data privacy is only going to continue apace. Regulation looks inevitable in the US, as it has been in Europe. The question is, how to balance that pressing consumer demand for personalization with the protection they equally expect.

Additional reporting by Larissa Gomes.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current Global 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.

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business Editor's pick sustainability Uncategorized

Patagonia is in the business to save the planet, says CEO Rose Marcario?

 

As climate change becomes real, Patagonia is striving to do more good, rather than just less harm, said its CEO, Rose Marcario, at NRF’s Big Show in New York yesterday.

“Patagonia is in the business to save our home planet,” reads the outerwear brand’s updated mission statement.

In the 90s the company’s strategy around sustainability was considered groundbreaking because supply chain wasn’t so much in the consumer’s mind, she adds. But with consumers being more informed than ever and climate change becoming increasingly tangible –  as the recent fires in California have shown – brands should strive to be much more proactive. 

The California-based company has been working on its activism for the past 35 years, but recently it has upped its efforts in speaking up for environmental issues, and supporting its consumers to do the same.

“The reality is we have been proportionally responding to what’s happening,” explains Marcario, rather than making a conscious effort to be louder. For example, it recently donated $10m from tax cuts it received from the Trump administration to environmental causes. It also openly backed two political candidates in Nevada and Montana who had sustainability at the core of their campaigns, and launched the Patagonia Action Works platform, enabling its community to give back locally. 

One could argue that being sustainable is a risky move. Marcario however believes the brand’s success has been a natural evolution, as it started as a catalog company in the 70s and therefore has always had a close relationship with the consumer. “For us it hasn’t been a big risk. We’ve been funding activism for three decades,” she adds, saying that so far the company has given over $100m dollars to grassroots environmental programs, partly because it knows how little funding goes towards environmental NGOs.

The future of the planet is not entirely bleak, however. Although some brands are still nervous to step out of their comfort zones, Marcario believes a lot of them recognize the importance of working together in order to address more transparent supply chains as well as wider activism. For example, Patagonia and 400 other companies recently participated in the Time to Vote campaign, which gave employees time off to vote on the midterm elections in the US. As for climate change, when President Trump pulled the country out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a lot of US companies vouched to remain in.

“Anybody who is running a business recognizes it is important to keep going, and the cautionary tale is: don’t just stop on the first level,” Marcario says. “Keep asking questions and go deeper.”

How are you thinking about sustainability? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners for your sustainability strategy. TheCurrent Global 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.

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business Campaigns Editor's pick

ComplexCon: Tommy Hilfiger on aligning with the cultural conversation since the 1990s

Tommy Hlifiger and Gigi Hadid
Tommy Hilfiger and Gigi Hadid

Tommy Hilfiger has always had culture and music at the forefront of how it communicates with consumers, said its namesake designer at ComplexCon this weekend.

The designer was headlining a conversation at the consumer-facing event held in Long Beach, California, alongside Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and 90s rapper Grand Puba. He used the opportunity to explain that incorporating artists and celebrities who are at the peak of the cultural conversation is core to the brand’s strategy, as seen by the highly popular collaboration with model Gigi Hadid, as well as racing driver Hamilton and Gen Z actress Zendaya (upcoming).

“Doing collabs is really part of the excitement I look forward to every day,” Hilfiger noted. But he believes that in order for them to remain authentic, the brand should only guide and execute their artist’s ideas. This is something he has always focused on.

Aaliyah for Tommy Hlfiger
Aaliyah for Tommy Hlfiger

Although the American brand is soon to be celebrating its 35th anniversary, it was the mid 90s and its popularity among hip hop artists that truly propelled it onto the world stage, Hilfiger explained. Pushing a contemporary aesthetic with an urban New York style of big logos and baggy clothes made the brand stand out among other American names that were expanding at the same time.

Grand Puba first referenced the then mid-sized brand in a 1992 single with Mary J Blige, titled “What’s the 411”. This soon caught Hilfiger’s attention, who started dressing more artists and eventually included singer Aaliyah in a 1995 campaign. From then, the brand featured hip hop and R&B performances on its runways, which Hilfiger cites as the beginning of its entertainment-based fashion shows.

The most recent iteration of this approach lies in the brand’s see-now-buy-now strategy, which has seen elaborate fashion shows taking place for the last several seasons in different locations – from Los Angeles to London, Milan and Shanghai, with the aforementioned current celebrities fronting each occasion.

“We believe consumers want immediate gratification and great experiences,” Hilfiger explained. “My idea is to disrupt and continue to break the rules.”

Earlier this year, Tommy Hilfiger’s chief brand officer, Avery Baker, joined us on the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent, to talk about how risk, authenticity and understanding your consumer are the keys to innovation.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Campaigns e-commerce Editor's pick Events film Retail sustainability technology

Cannes Lions 2018: the award winning campaigns to know

Trash Isles' official currency, 'Debris'
Trash Isles’ official currency, ‘Debris’

At this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the most awarded campaigns echoed the sentiment that consumers want to engage with brands with a higher sense of purpose.

Sustainability and the environment came out top in that regard, with two initiatives scooping five of the top prizes. But other concepts continued a broader marketing focus particularly relevant to those in the consumer retail fields, from playing with the rules of what conventional advertising looks like, to evolving the notion of online and offline commerce in new ways.

Here, we highlight the ones to know from this year’s festival:

Stories with purpose

The idea of purpose and its continuing impact on creativity isn’t new to Cannes Lions. While the big talk on stage this year was around how brands can stand for something authentic all the while driving true action, award winners throughout the week highlighted some particularly innovative ways to do so. 

The small nation of Palau took home not one, but three Grand Prix awards  (Direct, Sustainable Development Goals and Titanium), for Palau Pledge, for instance, a campaign that asked tourists visiting the Pacific Island to sign a pledge to protect its environment. Those arriving in the country now have their passports stamped with a pledge to be considerate of the environment they are visiting. The campaign extends further with a video playing on every flight arriving, and the nation’s Ministry of Education creating a program to educate their children on sustainability.

Meanwhile, Trash Isles, a campaign partnership between Plastic Oceans (a plastics pollution organization) and media company LADbible, also took home two of this year’s top awards – the Grand Prix for PR and for Design. It did so for its aim to highlight the problem of plastics in the ocean by registering the patch of trash as its own country, including a flag, (recycled) passport and currency, and then taking the concept to the United Nations.

The idea was that as soon as the area was registered as a country, people would start taking the problem seriously. Within the first week the country had 100,000 people signed up to become citizens, making it the 26th smallest country in the world – honorary citizens include former US Vice President, Al Gore, and Dame Judi Dench.

This notion of purpose and sustainability also trickled down to fashion where Lacoste won a Gold award in the Design category for the way in which it played with its iconic logo in a bid to help raise awareness about species’ conversation. The limited edition “Save our Species” collection it created, saw the crocodile logo it is known for replaced with 10 of the world’s most endangered creatures. To add a level of urgency, the number of polo shirts available for each species corresponded to the number of them known to remain in the wild.

Rewriting the rules

adidas x Alexander Wang
adidas x Alexander Wang

The second trend this year came from brands challenging public perception of what is known about them – from remixing their visual identity, to speaking to such niche audiences that they risked alienating a majority.

Nike has particularly played in that field by tapping into niche cultures with its Nothing Beats a Londoner campaign, which took home a Grand Prix in the awards’ new category, Social & Influencer. This initiative honed in on London youth culture with an energetic spot that pays homage to urban living, highlighting how challenging it is to practice sports in the city. The campaign was well received as an anthem to young brand fans who recognized many of the 258 athletes and influencers featured in the full three-minute piece.

Meanwhile, Diesel’s Deisel launch, which popped up in New York’s Chinatown with a series of real ‘fake’ goods, took home Gold in the Outdoor category. The campaign showcased the brand’s sense of humor, which has been a part of its DNA since its inception, while modernizing it for a younger generation who is keen to tap into irony and subversion.

The Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang season two launch was also noted by the way it took inspiration from underground culture to create a shopping chatbot, in doing so taking home Bronze in another new category at this year’s awards – Creative E-Commerce. Consumers had to text a number found on billboards across the city to begin communications with the bot and complete their purchase. Items were then home delivered by bike couriers wearing the collection head-to-toe. The idea of bootlegging retail follows on from the collaboration’s season one launch, in which shoppers could only purchase items off the back of a truck, and then carried them home in trash bags.

Retail 3.0

As retail giants including Amazon and Alibaba set the benchmark for what a good retail experience is, this year’s winners from Cannes also brought differentiation by navigating between creating learning experiences in brick-and-mortar, to playing up to the consumer’s digital nature.

As previously covered, Apple took home the Grand Prix in the Brand Experience & Activation category for its Today at Apple programme, which hosts over 18,000 in-store classes globally a week. On-stage at Cannes Lions, Angela Ahrendts, SVP of retail at Apple, described the retail spaces as Apple’s biggest product, explaining: “Retail’s not dying, but it has to evolve, it has to continue to move – and I think it has to serve a bigger purpose than just selling, because anybody can do that faster, cheaper.”

The Creative E-Commerce category inevitably also brought relevancy here, with Xbox taking home the Grand Prix for its “The Fanchise Model” project, a store that allowed gaming fans to not only design and buy their own controllers, but earn commission through subsequent sales to their peers. Users who customized their own controller could claim ownership of it and share their artwork on social channels and forums. By co-creating with consumers, the brand encouraged a sense of ownership and opened up the conversation to a much bigger story that spoke to their fans’ lifestyles.

Nike’s AR Jordan launch on Snapchat otherwise picked up a Gold in this new category. The campaign, in which fans could purchase limited edition sneakers on Snapchat and get them delivered in under two hours, reached 2.7 unique users and 9.7m lens views, according to agency R/GA. The activation featured four major elements: augmented reality through the Snapchat partnership, 3D modelling of Michael Jordan, mobile commerce and lastly, express delivery fulfilled by Darkstore. Together, they created a fleeting experience that saw the sneakers sell out in 23 minutes.

Technology’s impact

Other notable Grand Prix winners highlighted the power of artificial intelligence and the use of data to spread a bigger message. Creative Data winner “JFK Unsilenced” by The Times UK, analyzed 831 speeches by the former USA president to create a AI-powered speech 50 years after he was due to talk at an event before getting killed in Dallas, Texas.

Similarly the ALS Association took home the top honor in the Good category for giving Pat Quinn, the person behind the viral “Ice Bucket Challenge”, his voice back through using a bank of audio recordings to create an artificial voice. Elsewhere in Colombia, the Ministry of Communications and Technology took home the Grand Prix for Innovation for allowing people in remote areas – who only have access to legacy phones – to call a phone line and ask questions to a Google voice assistant, thus connecting them to the Internet and wider pool of information.

Unlike public perception and debate about the threat of AI to humankind, it is quickly becoming clear that for advertising, the technology is more friend than foe. As the majority of this year’s winners show, deploying technologies can only serve to enhance connections, and often add an additional layer of emotion between brand and viewer.

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Events

Don’t miss: the inaugural FashTech Summit in London (and a discount for readers)

fashtech-summit

When referring to fashion and technology today, it’s often easy to assume we mean the flashy side of the industry – the technology that’s impacting how we do business from an exciting, exhilarating and game-changing perspective. But actually, what really counts are all those small iterations that increasingly make brands and retailers in this world more relevant to consumers and ultimately more commercially successful.

Fashion and technology, as a theme, can therefore capture everything from reworked supply chains to developments in fibre science, the role of digital media and social commerce, not to mention all the new players entering the space and encouraging an increased culture of competition.

It’s those very subjects that will be discussed at the inaugural FashTech Summit in London on April 13-15. Some 60 speakers will share their insights, including Robin Derrick, global creative director at Spring Studios; Kelly Kowal, managing director at Farfetch Black & White; Luca Marini, founder and COO at Finery; Wil Harris, digital director at Condé Nast Britain; Pia Stanchina, industry manager, digital acceleration of luxury, fashion and beauty at Google; and Elliott Goldenberg, head of digital payments at MasterCard.

The aim is to create a destination for dialogue that will accelerate innovation at this intersection of fashion and technology. Other themes to be discussed over the 2.5 days include the phone as a point of sale device, the evolution of fast and intelligent delivery systems in retail, what investors are looking for and where they see the industry moving, and what the psychological and visual catalysts are for consumers to click the “buy” button and make a purchase.

Debera Johnson, executive director at The Pratt Institute and Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator, will explore whether the next Alexander McQueen will be a biologist, highlighting how scientific discoveries are reinventing the materials, function and properties of our clothing.

Meanwhile, Amy Nicholson, technical evangelist at Microsoft, ?will talk about intelligent systems from the knowledge of our environment becoming more realistic than ever before, outlining the roles of sensors, the power of cloud computing and the availability of complex machine learning algorithms.

An early FashTech event
An early FashTech event

“I’m thrilled to announce the official launch of the London FashTech Summit. As a firm believer in London’s role at the heart of the growing FashTech industry, I’m confident that our array of world class speakers, global brands, investors and start-ups will create a destination for dialogue and accelerate innovation at the intersection between fashion and technology. Together, we will challenge the status quo and unveil a comprehensive view of the FashTech landscape through dynamic, interactive events that showcase today’s and tomorrow’s brightest ideas,” says FashTech founder and CEO Alex Semenzato.

FashTech first launched in 2014 as an event series connecting the fashion and technology community through a series of meet-ups focused on start-up showcases and panel discussions. After 21 events in 19 months between London, New York and San Francisco there was a demand from the community to do more, says Semenzato.

Partners for the event include the digital division of Condé Nast Britain, as well as London & Partners. Alongside keynote presentations and themed panel discussions, there will be a workshop held to offer intimate consultancy sessions to delegates and a start-up showcase designed to support innovators from around the globe and attract an array of investors eager to find the next big thing.

The summit will take place in the heart of East London at Studio Spaces, E1. Even better news, readers of Fashion & Mash have unique access to 50% off the ticket price. Enter code FASHMASH via www.fashtech-summit.com/tickets.

(This is a sponsored post)

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business

The Business of Fashion launches new event series for “big thinkers”

BusinessofFashion_Voices

In what comes as little in the way of a surprise, The Business of Fashion has announced it will enter the event space in a big way with the launch of Voices, a three-day invitation-only affair to be held on the outskirts of London next year.

Referred to as an “annual gathering for big thinkers”, it will bring industry leaders, entrepreneurs and inspirational individuals together from December 1-3, 2016. Its aim is to explore new frontiers and challenge received wisdom about this ever-changing business through a programme of rousing talks, interactive presentations and immersive experiences.

The news was announced during a satellite Voices event held in Hong Kong today. “Fashioning China’s Future”, as it was called, was run in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, and supported by principal partner QIC Global Real Estate, with additional support from DFS. QIC Global Real Estate will also be the partner for satellite versions in Sydney and New York, as well as the main event in the UK.

Attendees will be hand-selected, with the aim being to gather figures not just from fashion and other creative fields, but from science, technology, health and wellness, food, finance, politics, urban planning, film, philosophy and philanthropy. “Through a cross-pollination of personalities and industries, Voices aims to spark new ideas and solve real-world challenges impacting the global fashion business,” reads the write-up.

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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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e-commerce mobile social media

Brazil’s new luxury focus: IHT #hotlux and more in summary

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been completely and utterly engrossed in both attending and then writing up everything from the International Herald Tribune’s annual Luxury conference, which was held this year in São Paulo.

I was lucky enough while I was there to spend a few extra days immersing myself in everything to do with how the fashion / retail industry operates – meeting with everyone from ad agencies and local brand owners, to publishers, editors, bloggers and sales assistants. I was blown away.

Here’s an attempt at summarising everything I learnt:

Rising middle class and growth of luxury brands

  • Brazil has a rising middle class. There are currently 100m people considered in this category, up from 50m less than five years ago. By 2014, Carlos Jereissati, CEO of Iguatemi, says there will be 120m, or 60% of the population. That’s a lot of growth.

  • That and the fact the country has a new sense of economic stability – 7.5% growth in 2010 –  remaining relatively unscathed while Europe and the US have weakened in the global crisis, means the luxury industry is thriving here. And the country’s presence on the global stage is only set to increase further as the eyes of the world turn to it in 2014 and 2016 for the FIFA World Cup and Olympics respectively.

  • Having said that, São Paulo is the first major city I’ve been to in the world where I don’t recognise most of the stores along the street. In fact, in the malls – where most of the true luxury sits – only 25% of the space currently belongs to international brands. Local designers still rule the roost. But although local consumers are rightfully very attached to that fact, they’re also pushing for more and more of the fashion world on their doorstep.

  • Next year will see two new shopping centres: one from JHFS, Cidade’s Jardim group, and another from Iguatemi, the JK mall. International stores are headed out in droves to the latter including: Lanvin, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, not to mention the first Topshop Brazil.

  • A couple of other specific cases: Gucci is planning to have 25 stores in Latin America by the end of 2012. Diane von Furstenberg’s store in São Paulo’s Iguatemi mall is her second most successful in the world, after New York. Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen had never before been to Brazil but held meetings while in town for the conference to discuss opening a store there soon. Coach will open its first store in Brazil in the new JK mall next spring, but has plans to quickly increase to up to seven stores. CEO Lew Frankfort says he estimates the market to be worth up to $350m per year to them.

Complicated and expensive

  • It’s a highly complex market though. There isn’t a culture of multi-brand stores, for instance, the result of sky-high import taxes restricting a regular wholesale model. Most designers entering the market therefore have to do so by opening own-brand stores. Needless to say, that’s quite a risk in what could still be referred to as unknown territory.

  • With those import taxes through the roof, everything in Brazil is expensive, not least the fashion. But people still buy. There is an overwhelming desire for access to international labels no matter what the price is. Some stores, like Zara, are getting round this however by also producing in the country. There’s likely to become more of this, although it’s currently the exception rather than the rule.

  • An interesting fact: shoppers in Brazil buy on credit; deferred payments in two to three installments is absolutely the norm. According to a few people I spoke to, it provides a false sense of security – they don’t see what they’ve bought as the total price, but rather as the individual installment prices.

Lacking fast fashion but digitally savvy

  • In amongst all this new luxury, fast fashion as we know it doesn’t really exist. One couple I spoke to – admittedly both of whom work in the industry and both of whom travel often – buy when they’re abroad. They raid Topshop and H&M and otherwise only spend occasionally when they’re in Brazil. When they do, it’s inevitably on expensive items, but they see these as likely to last. Investment pieces.

  • Local stores such as Marisa, who are turning to this faster fashion route, feel it is necessary to educate the middle class consumer they’re targeting. These shoppers are not used to buying ‘fashion’ nor are they used to thinking about ‘trends’, the store’s ad agency explained to me. A heavy proportion of marketing therefore is based around advice, hints and tips.

  • The only thing fast about fashion in Brazil is the response seen when actors in the infamous soap operas wear items or bloggers post about them. Where they go, the market follows. Simple.

  • Given this is a digital blog, it’s also worth noting this is one of the most digitally savvy consumer markets there is. Period. In fact, I’ve never seen such obsessions with Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook (or local site Orkut).

  • One in three Brazilians is currently online, and they spend an average of nine hours connected, said Jessica Michault, online style editor of the International Herald Tribune. Real growth is set to follow however as the internet infrastructure improves – things are currently being put in place on a national scale to enable widespread broadband access for instance.

E-commerce versus service

  • What’s interesting though, is the complete lack of e-commerce acceptance there is in the marketplace so far. Why? In the main part, because of customer service. I have never seen anything like it – not only do the shop assistants actually speak nicely to you, but everyone is treated like a VIP. Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the IHT, told a great story at the conference about Tom Ford saying his role model for service in opening his first New York store was Brazil’s most upmarket one, Daslu.

  • On top of the service aspect however, consumers in Brazil are used to shopping as a truly social experience. Friends hit the mall in groups, and they continue it back at home, trying on outfits, sharing with others and getting ready en masse ahead of a night out. The interesting thing is, this isn’t restricted to a teenage activity; women of all ages reportedly partake.

  • Combining this service and social aspect means two things then: brands coming into this market will really have to up their game (it’ll be interesting to see what Topshop does), but so too will the e-commerce experience need to evolve to get this consumer truly on board. Thinking bigger picture, you could say e-commerce is likely to follow once some marrying between service, bloggers and fast-fashion occurs. There’s definitely business opportunity there.

And finally…

  • My favourite quote from IHT, came from Diane von Furstenburg. She said: “If Brazilians could put their joie de vivre in a bottle, it would be bigger than Coca-Cola’s”. Just about says it all, not to mention summarises my trip.

  • On a truly final note, if you haven’t checked out the local activation of Puma’s After Hours campaign in São Paulo, you should. Run by the team behind by the Brazilian edition of Vice magazine and its counterpart agency Virtue, it’s a brilliant example of turning global creative into experiences specifically relevant to the market at hand. It did so with a variety of events throughout the year that transformed regular nightclubs into old fashioned social clubs; offering games and sports such as table tennis, snooker, darts and more. The outcome was so successful, it opened its own fully operational bar for three months. If you’re visiting, be sure to stop by, it’s there until December 23, 2011.

Enormous thanks to my incredible friend, and tour guide, @carolalt