Artificial intelligence, sustainability, cannabis, gaming – just four examples of major areas impacting the fashion and retail industries today. As always, the key questions our clients want to know is in what way, and by when? Or in other words, at what point do I need to pay attention enough to jump into this space myself too?
Every August we take a pause and think about direction of travel for the industry. What within these trends really matter and how will they be shaped as we work towards 2020?
We then like to reach out to our community about it to bring them to life at one of the industry’s leading festivals when it comes to the intersection of technology and culture today.
Yes, we’re talking about SXSW.
Whether you’re a regular attendee, have the intention of being a first-timer, or just want to support great content from afar, this is your chance to bring to life the talks you’re interested in for next year. All you have to do is vote on the SXSW Panel Picker by August 23, 2019.
We’ve taken to heart those themes mentioned above, sourced some of the world’s foremost expert speakers on each subject, and we’re pitching for a total of five big sessions on stage. See them all below and click on each to place your votes.
Defending our humanity: The war on big tech
This revealing interview with Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, will discuss how in a world overrun by disinformation, increasingly segregated by algorithms and steadily dulled through tech disruption, the very essence of our humanity is at risk. We’ll explore why it’s naive to rely on government or big tech to do the right thing, and how our culture can be defended as a result. Vote Here
Nike revealed: Sustainability through skateboarding
This insightful panel featuring skateboarding and sustainability superstars including Stefan Janoski, Elissa Steamer and the brand’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Noel Kinder, will explore how Nike is opening up to reveal its changing labor practices and to launch a new documentary series shot in China. Vote Here
The wearables industry is expected to double in market value to $27bn+ by 2022, according to CCS Insight. But for Paul Dillinger, VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, consumers will only fully invest in these tech accessories if they look good once turned off.
“We aren’t building a product just for the technology”, he said at a conversation during the Fashinnovation conference in NYC this week. “This has to be a technology integrated with things that you already want to wear because even if the technology isn’t engaging, people still want to wear their Levi’s jean jacket,” he later told TheCurrent Daily.
He was joined on stage by Ivan Poupyrev, Google’s Head of Advanced Technology and Projects, who worked with the denim brand on the original Project Jacquard jacket, which uses a sensor on the cuff to control music, screen phone calls, and even receive notifications from Uber or Lyft. Google famously thought tech-first when it designed its now defunct Google Glass, but it (naturally) believes trial and error is part of the process: “You put the product in the market, learn from mistakes, and do it again.” According to Poupyrev, however, unlike the Glass, there was a strong focus on the physical appearance of the smart jacket, wherein technology came in to simply extend its functions.
Now, instead of creating a product from scratch, Google is focusing on working with established brands in the industry, who can teach the tech giant a thing or two about what fashion customers want. “We realized that if you want to change the nature of apparel, as a connected and intelligent garment, you need to work with someone who has expertise in making apparel,” said Poupyrev. “Not just a prototype, but someone who understands how to scale all the way from the design to the supply chain and marketing. That was a shift in thinking in the company as well.”
Since Levi’s is one of the world’s biggest brands in denim, a partnership with the brand was an important strategic decision. While the classic Levi’s jacket retails at $150 or less, the smart model retails at $350. For Dillinger, customers who chose the premium alternative should expect the technology to continue to evolve with time.
In 2017, six months after it was first introduced to the market, it received a series of updates, such as enabling it to work with Uber and Lyft. Just before Christmas, it added a functionality where the jacket sent the user a pin drop notification in case the owner left it behind. “That was a new value that no one was expecting for it or paid for it,” he said. “That promise of sustained improvement puts the purchase in the context of a lifetime, instead of a moment.”
Just like a smartphone, the jacket keeps improving. But unlike a shiny new iPhone, a Levi’s jacket customer is looking for design that is timeless and not forced into obsolescence. “You can talk about improvements of a phone, but eventually that phone won’t be the one you want to have any more. This garment, this jean jacket, stays in perpetuity, so the value will continue to go up”, added Dillinger.
For all its innovation, this is still an early attempt at a mass-market smart denim jacket. But as the technology becomes more deeply integrated into people’s lives, the wearable category may well begin to move beyond its early adopters.
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.
NY-based label Rag & Bone explored the relationship between AI and humankind with a fashion week dinner featuring an artificial intelligence system as a special guest.
Titled “A Last Supper” the dinner, which accompanied the launch of the label’s fall 2019 collection in New York this week, saw guests sitting around a U-shaped table while having their conversations and actions filmed and analysed by a number of cameras. This was then fed in real-time into an AI system, referred to as “Distinguished Guest.”
Towards the end of the night, words and phrases used by guests were transformed into a piece of work displayed on a screen in front of their eyes, in the voice of musician Thom Yorke which was recorded prior to the event.
Guests, which included celebrities such as actors Emma Roberts and Justin Theroux, were further immersed in the experience with a dance performance choreographed by Damien Jalet, while the food menu was developed by chef Ignacio Mattos.
How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. The Current Global 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.
Circularity is at the heart of the sustainable conversation for any brand that is concerned about its longevity in the industry, said speakers at Swarovski Professional’s Sustainable Innovation event in London.
This is about shifting from the current linear method of production and consumption the industry is focused on, where we take, make and dispose of garments, and instead focusing on a circular economy, whereby all products become resources once again, the panel event, which was curated by TheCurrent, highlighted.
Those involved emphasized the importance of this in the context of population growth estimates. There is expected to be 9.8 billion people on earth by 2050, according to the United Nations, which is contrasted by the fact the planet’s resources are becoming increasingly finite.
Dom Bridges, founder of beauty brand, Haeckels, said it’s therefore essential to think about only putting something out in the world if the planet really needs it. The core ingredients in his skincare line are based on surplus algae and chalk reef from the beaches of Margate in the UK, making circularity a central focus of his strategy.
Numbers on material waste alone should be enough to spur any company into a more sustainable model, he further noted. Only 1% of the world’s textiles are currently recycled back into the system, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, for instance.
That means 99% of what we are all wearing is waste, explained Claire Bergkamp, worldwide director of sustainability and innovation at Stella McCartney, adding that the industry has yet to build a system to successfully recycle product waste.
In spite of this, she noted that recycling alone is not going to save us. “Single-use” was recently named the word of the year by Collins Dictionary, off the back of rising public concern surrounding the environmental impact of throwaway plastics. Bergkamp accordingly emphasised that across any industry, we have to move away from designing things that are meant to eventually be disposed of.
This is something that is central to the H&M Group’s sustainability goals. It has outlined ambitions to only use sustainably sourced materials by 2030 and to be climate positive throughout the entire value chain by 2040, which ensures its suppliers also take responsibility. “When we set our sustainability goals, we didn’t know how we were going to get there,” said Nina Shariati, the transparency and innovation business expert within the H&M Group’s sustainability department. “But we didn’t set out those goals because we knew we would reach them, we set them because we had to.”
The pressure is on for all brands to become greener in how they manage their environmental footprint, and fairer throughout their supply chains, said Dax Lovegrove, Global Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Swarovski.
How are you thinking about sustainability? 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.
Now in its third year, Complexcon, a consumer-focused event targeting streetwear fanatics, took place to much expected hype last weekend in Long Beach, California.
The event, which is a spin-off of media company Complex, focused on feeding its Gen Z and Millennial community through a series of retail experiences, activations and panel discussions. Here we highlight the key takeaways of the weekend:
For the consumer, the biggest goal of the two-day event was to shop, plain and simple. But for an audience that is prone to forming lines outside of stores for days before a drop, brands had to think creatively on how to create shopping experiences that blended that thrill of the chase with physical and digital tools.
Adidas was arguably the biggest name on the floor, hosting two experiences – one which involved a physical booth and another which took visitors on a wild goose chase for physical cubes that unlocked a new sneaker drop every hour. These gigantic cubes were seen throughout the venue, and on the hour, the user had to stand under the cube to scan it using the Complexcon app to unlock the ability to shop for the specific style. Unsurprisingly, Adidas fanatics were seen standing under the cube for hours before their preferred drop would take place.
Gradual product drops kept the customer engaged and most importantly, wanting to attend both days of the Con for fear of missing out. Reebok’s booth featured perspex cubes filled with fog, while timers underneath each individual plinth counted down the hours until the content inside the cube (a sneaker) was revealed.
The festival also teamed up with Frenzy, a location-based drop app, to allow consumers to shop for exclusive collabs through their phones while at the venue. The fulfilment of that experience left room for improvement, however, as shoppers could only pick up their goods four hours after purchase, a wait which for many stretched to 24 hours.
In such a noisy environment of endless queues and product drops, independent brands worked hard to stand out with booths that encouraged discovery and social sharing. Cult streetwear label Lotas, for example, chose to spend its budget not on an attractive booth, but by casting a group of The Sopranos lookalikes to play poker throughout, creating an unusual opportunity for visitors to snap and share.
The Pangaia, a global collective investigating the future of sustainable clothing, showcased its inaugural collection among a floor of empty plastic bottles, encouraging visitors to dispose of the same as they walked past. On Sunday, the collective also co-hosted a beach clean-up nearby with the support of ComplexCon.
Meanwhile beyond fashion, brands across food, automotive and media were on hand to talk about the bigger lifestyle that this community is a part of. Cadillac created a booth that showcased one of its models amid a digital jungle of screens and a photo backdrop; similar to SXSW, HBO recreated the classic barbershop experience to promote the launch of LeBron James’s new unscripted series, The Shop, featuring free haircuts and sneaker cleaning; and to promote the release of Creed II, guests could join in a VR experience, as well as watch boxing matches taking place in a life-sized ring.
Finally, McDonald’s quickly became a fan favorite as it hosted a customization station with special guests and, most importantly, free hamburgers for all.
Conversations on the floor flip-flopped between who ‘copped’ the latest drop and what new endeavor someone may have been working on, from promoting their new podcast to monetizing their photography work. As a result, ComplexCon worked hard to promote conversations that had an underlying entrepreneurial spirit and was particularly relevant to the younger generation that is multifaceted in their goals.
“How to make it in America”, saw entrepreneur and social media star Gary Vaynerchuk talking about how to avoid the pitfalls and be part of the small percentage that does succeed in the country. Meanwhile actresses Issa Rae and Yara Shahidi, joined a conversation on females in media and how to overcome hurdles and balance public and personal life. And Louis Vuitton and Off White designer, Virgil Abloh, brought on stage three designers he believes are the next generation of fashion.
The spirit of giving visitors the tools to succeed and thrive also permeated throughout the festival booths. Entrepreneur Karen Civil was on hand at the Simple Mobile stand to offer one-to-one career advice, while the festival’s creative director, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, worked with six relatively unknown footwear designers to reimagine his artwork on limited edition sneakers, which were being auctioned off on eBay.
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.
Collaborations were a recurring theme at the Fast Company Innovation Festival, which took place in New York this week, with a push for retailers to increasingly step out of their comfort zones.
On a panel about strategies for wooing younger customers, Daniella Vitale, CEO of Barneys New York, said that finding good partners to collaborate with is hard. “They need to have a willingness to look outside the model that already exists, but there’s this desire to control the brand a certain way,” she explained. “It’s not all the time that it’s easy to convince people to do it our way.”
This is an even bigger challenge when working with legacy brands that have been successful with the same approach for 30 years, she added. “Brands have to think about how Barneys can add value when they participate in a drop, or by doing an exclusive capsule line with us, or doing something online when normally they don’t sell their product online. We need partners to come on this journey with us.”
The creative industry has a lot to teach retail about the importance of taking a risk in order to achieve success through collaboration, other speakers noted. Pharrell Williams, for example, talked to taking a leap of faith when he recorded Happy, the 2014 best-selling single that earned him an Oscar nomination. “The career risks we take are the ones most rewarding,” Williams remarked in a panel about creativity and collaboration.
Pointing across the stage to Chris Meledandri, founder and CEO of film and animation studio Illumination, and his collaborator on the track, Williams added: “I’m grateful when people see things I can’t see.” The two worked together on Happy for 2010’s animated film Despicable Me. This was the first time the artist had ever recorded a soundtrack.
Melendandri, who was previously president at the 20th Century Fox Animation studio, also weighed in on the importance of constant self-disruption. “The natural tendency when you hit a period of success is to stop taking risks because you think there’s safety in replicating what you’ve done before. That’s the greatest danger,” he warned.
“Comfort is very sneaky,” agreed Williams. “It feels good, and sometimes you don’t even realize you’re comfortable. But to get the best out of yourself, you have to put yourself into positions where you’re uncomfortable or vulnerable.”
Collaborations between brands that complement one another from a lifestyle perspective have long been a successful recipe for many brands, as also noted earlier this year at the SXSW festival, in a discussion between SoulCycle, Madewell and Milk Bar.
Increasingly, however, legacy brands and retailers are deploying a collaborative approach to target a younger consumer who thinks beyond seasons, and shops and discovers brands in a much less linear fashion. Many would argue that collaborations with younger, more cult brands are also a shortcut into getting the consumer to think differently about a more established player, as recently seen by the announcement of Ralph Lauren’s first collaboration with British skatewear label Palace.
How are you thinking about brand collaborations? 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.
Arguably it started with eyewear at Warby Parker, but has continued through to impact everything from beauty products to luggage, shoes, mattresses and beyond.
We’re talking about the direct-to-consumer business model that has taken the industry by storm – the digital-first brands that both consumers and investors increasingly want to get their hands on.
From Warby you have Everlane, Away, Glossier, Casper and more. In fact, 50 of them from North America appear in a new list published by The Lead, a New York-based research, publisher and event series focused on empowering the fashion industry’s transition to digital centricity.
The Foremost 50, as those on the list are being called, are the digital native brands that are reinventing and redefining the future of the fashion and retail industry, according to The Lead’s founders, Timo Weiland and Noah Gellman.
Gellman refers to them as category-defining companies that have been propelled by significant investment. “To put this list together we looked at business model innovation, marketing efficiency, exposure to competition, capital efficiency and the reinvention of traditional brand and retail practices. We wanted to know not just who are the best companies, but who will be tomorrow’s category leaders while creating significant value for their investors,” he explained.
The list details what each brand does and the kind of investment they’ve already achieved, from razor brand Harry’s $474.6m to consignment site, The RealReal’s $288m. It also outlines who the founders and CEOs are behind each business, or the “rule-breakers, risk takers and visionaries” driving things forward, as Gellman refers to them.
The 50 will be celebrated at The Lead Summit on October 24 in Brooklyn, where TheCurrent’s founder, Liz Bacelar, will be interviewing Eleanor Morgan, chief experience officer at mattress brand Casper. She’ll also be presenting TheCurrent’s view on retail innovation for 2019.
Amazon has launched a new range of Alexa-enabled devices that will help the e-commerce giant take further ownership of connected user experiences in the home.
Announced at an industry event yesterday, (September 20), the devices include a smart plug, microwave, clock and the Echo Auto, for automobiles. Existing devices such as the Echo Dot and Echo Show have also received upgrades.
“Soon customers will be able to manage their email, easily secure their home, watch the shows they love on Echo Show, and make their daily routines more productive — all just by asking Alexa,” said Tom Taylor, SVP of Amazon Alexa.
The smart plug turns any home appliance into a connected device – enabling users to turn them on or off, for instance, just by asking Alexa to do so. Meanwhile, the microwave allows you to set and start cooking times by voice, as well as control other key features of the machine.
The clock is an analog one in terms of the way it looks, but it can display times and reminders through rings of LED to show you how much time you have left on anything you have set. And the Echo Auto is a new device you plug into the dashboard of your car to enable you to benefit from various Alexa skills while driving, such as listening to traffic updates or setting routines such as turning on your lights at home when you enter your driveway.
The retailer also announced over 24 major new updates to its existing skills portfolio, which currently has 24,000 tasks that its devices can perform. The two most important ones include Alexa Guard and Alexa Hunches, which will both roll out later this year.
Alexa Guard, as the name suggests, will enable customers to activate Alexa to act as a security system. Integrated into selected Echo devices, it will be activated by the voice command “Alexa, I’m leaving”. Once activated, Alexa will be able to detect sound, such as breaking glass or smoke detectors, and send out a Smart Alert to the homeowner.
The Alexa Hunches feature will learn from how its user interacts daily to connected devices such as locks and switches, and eventually predict and prompt when behaviors seem out of the ordinary. An example is when a user says goodnight to Alexa, the system’s response may be: “Good night. By the way, your living room light is on. Do you want me to turn it off?”
Other skill updates will allow the user to further add a layer of digital to their lifestyles, from cooking to TV streaming.
How are you thinking about 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.
In the year of its 20th anniversary, Sephora has announced SEPHORiA: House of Beauty, a two-day experience that will give beauty fanatics education, inspiration and immersive and shareable moments.
This marks the first time the retailer is joining the ever-growing Con culture of consumer-facing festivals dedicated to a single category or hobby, which so far in the beauty space has been dominated by Beautycon.
Taking place in downtown Los Angeles on October 20-21, 2018, the event will host more than 50 beauty brands throughout interactive rooms that merge the physical and the digital.
Deborah Yeh, SVP of marketing and brand at Sephora, says: “At the heart of it, SEPHORiA sets out to celebrate the often indescribable euphoria you get from playing in the vast world of beauty — from discovering game-changing products or trying out a new look to engaging with digital technology that takes personalization to a whole new level.”
Yeh adds that to build the event, the company has drawn from the insights and learnings of physical and digital experiences that Sephora clients love in stores, and created a place where its community can live out all of their beauty fantasies.
So far, the company has hinted that during the event, guests will have the chance to meet with influencers, brand founders and other industry pioneers, attend classes and take home personalized products. Brands will likely include LVMH names and Fenty Beauty, which the retailer exclusively sells in the US.
Although Sephora is the first major beauty retailer to enter the Con space, it has not become unusual for brands to deploy one-off events or museum-like experiences to promote their ethos to a new or existing fanbase. The approach works not only as a brand awareness exercise, but gives a niche – and highly-engaged – audience the chance to experience the brand through new mediums, such as education and personalization.
For anyone heading to Austin for SXSW Interactive this year, you will no doubt be entering into those few days ahead where you realise not only how much else there’s still to be done at work before you go, but just how little time you’ve had to prep for what’s to come.
Never fear! On the one hand, there’s something incredibly beneficial about the serendipity of going with the flow at this event. Plus the app is pretty spot on for getting you figured out hour by hour. That said, on the other, there’s a need to do several RSVPs to make sure you can get in to the parties you want to etc, and having a rough idea of your itinerary for the week, never harms.
So on that note, here are our highlights for the best of each day, designed specifically with those working in fashion and retail in mind. There’s also a link at the bottom to my full schedule for the week should you wish to see a more detailed, but still filtered version of the programme.
Look forward to seeing lots of you there. Don’t forget, we have #FashMash drinks at 6.30pm on Friday, March 10. If you didn’t get an invite, do drop me a note. Last but not least be sure to check out the survival guide Olly Rzysko of Primark wrote for us last year, complete with insanely relevant Kanye GIFs throughout.
FRIDAY, MARCH 10
Friday is a real ease-in kind of day, with a slow start to allow you to get your badges, and only a handful of highlights throughout the programme. One of the true beauties of SXSW is stepping outside of your usual remit and learning from other worlds, so don’t miss Cory Richards’ keynote at 2pm – a climber and visual storyteller, he was named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year (2012) and a National Geographic Fellow (2015).
Also worth checking out is the 11am session on how tech is shaping the future of entertainment. Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, will sit down with leaders in the entertainment and technology space to discuss how television and film are working hand in hand with Silicon Valley to not only reach consumers in the new ways they’re watching videos, but adjusting their creative process based on new advances in audience data.
Saturday is a real conundrum with multiple incredible sessions all planned at the same time. Here’s where the luck part comes in at SXSW: some of them will be the talk of the week, others will be a total fail, and some you may not even be able to get into (if it’s a popular subject or speaker, be sure to arrive at least 30 mins early). For the 9.30am session for instance, it’s a toss up between learning about where artificial intelligence is headed from Microsoft, the real application of it in Disney’s case, or a talk from Bolt Threads’ CEO on their progress with spider silk as a new fibre for the industry – an exploration of how his team is using biotechnology to design protein-based materials at the molecular level. That’s a tough choice.
Sunday is Decoded Fashion’s day, meaning if it’s really fashion content you’re after, you may not need to move from their Hangar Lounge location. That said, if you’re looking to mix it up and step out of your comfort zone, several other talks look very promising, including Fjord’s 2017 trends report examining not only trends that will impact consumers, but those set to impact design, business, organisation, culture and society in the next 12-18 months.
As for other events, ModCloth and Wrangler have teamed up for a reception early evening, while Intel also has their AI lounge (running March 10-12) to head over to and learn from. If that wasn’t enough: Liz Bacelar (founder of Decoded Fashion) also launches her new business, TheCurrent, with a VIP programme from 4pm-7pm looking at innovation in the fashion and retail industries featuring speakers from Under Armour, Ford, Google, Parsons and more. There’s also a live podcast recording on Saturday morning with Rebecca Minkoff.
MONDAY, MARCH 13
If you haven’t had too much in the way of tacos and magaritas yet, and you can still manage to get up early, kickstart Monday with Ford’s session with executive chairman, Bill Ford, all about smart mobility. Make sure to get out on time however, because Marc Jacobs is up at 11am in conversation with Vogue’s Sally Singer and the queue is likely to be popular. The discussion is around designing in the age of the social media, which isn’t exactly a new topic (for anywhere, let alone SXSW), but it is Marc Jacobs.
A true highlight of the day (in fact the whole week), mind you, comes from futurist Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering at Google, with his daughter Amy Kurzweil, who works at the Fashion Institute of Technology no less, at 12.30pm. Ray is one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen, so all hopes are pinned on this session being one of the best.
The big hitter, however, will be Yasmin Green of Jigsaw (of Alphabet variety, not the British fashion store), who leads the team’s innovation efforts, overseeing projects on counter-radicalisation and fragile states.
And last but not least, it’s not a true SXSW experience until you attend one of Bruce Sterling’s closing keynotes. “The future: history that hasn’t happened yet”, as he calls his session, will whip the slider-bar between the unthinkable and the unimaginable, which is exactly what you’ll need to cap off your Austin week.