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2019 highlights: The year in innovation news

2019 was a big year for innovation and the Current Daily has been tracking it all throughout – from the rise of 5G-enabled experiences to the continued push towards a circular economy. 

Here, we highlight some of the most interesting stories from the year, outlining why they are an important indication of where the industry is moving in 2020 and beyond.

5G will drive 100m people to shop in AR

Augmented reality took center stage this year as its user-friendly features meant a growing number of brands – and social media platforms like Instagram – started adopting it as a core engagement strategy.

In April, a Gartner report highlighted that 100 million people will shop in AR once high-speed 5G mobile services roll out more extensively. This means the experience is going to be more seamless than ever, giving it better real-time rendering, shorter download times and reduced latency. Retailers seem to be on board, as 46% of them plan to deploy either AR or VR. Check out our piece exploring what other benefits 5G will bring retail.

Fashion brands have only met 21% of their circularity targets for 2020

If there’s one thing to be sure, there’s no escaping the growing momentum around shifting to more sustainable practices as an industry. But is there really progress being made? In July, the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) launched its second yearly assessment of fashion brands and retailers to find that only reached 45 (21%) of the 213 targets the industry has set for 2020 will be met. 

This means the 90 signatories of the GFA’s 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, which includes fashion companies like adidas, PVH Group and Inditex, will have to hurry if they want to achieve more in the next year. We talked a lot about the need for action in this space when a further collaborative group was announced: the G7 Fashion Pact. If you ask us, it’s time to say enough to the pledges, rather give us some tangible outputs.

H&M to trial clothing rental for the first time

Talking of sustainability, one are where we have seen a lot of action and experimentation this year is in new business models. Rental is making serious strides at all ends of the market, but perhaps most interestingly within fast fashion just recently as the H&M Group announced it will trial clothing rental at one of its H&M Stockholm stores. Members of its customer loyalty program can now rent selected party dresses and skirts from its 2012-2019 Conscious Exclusive collections.

Recently, its brand COS also launched a pilot where it is renting out clothes through Chinese subscription rental platform YCloset, which customers can access through a monthly flat rate. We also published a deep-dive into the different opportunities we see for the industry in rental, here.

Allbirds CEO calls out Amazon product copying

In November, Allbirds’ co-founder and CEO, Joey Zwilinger, wrote an open letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos after discovering the e-commerce platform was producing its own wool sneakers similar to the brand’s most popular style.

Instead of going the usual lawsuit route, the founder took this as an opportunity to highlight his brand’s sustainability mission. In the letter, Zwilinger highlights that Allbirds’ sustainable philosophy is open source, and it has thus far helped over 100 brands who were interested in implementing its renewable materials into their products, suggesting Amazon might like to do the same. It was a bold move but one that sparked a conversation around the role of collaboration once more, and its critical place in true innovation.

Gen Z loves TikTok. Can fashion brands learn to love it too?

Gen Z quickly adopted Chinese social media platform TikTok as their app du jour this year for its bite-sized video content. Currently, 66% of the platform’s 500 million global users are under 30, according to data analytics firm, Business of Apps.

Brands have started to follow suit, tapping the app to drive engagement and ultimately sales. Content varies from crowdsourced, as in a recent Burberry campaign that saw users challenged to create the brand’s logo with their fingers, through to more refined, such as in a snippet of an interview with singer Shawn Mendes for Calvin Klein. We explored various other brands setting TikTok precedent, here.

Lush abandons social media

While TikTok has been taking off, elsewhere social media is slowing for some. Vegan cosmetics brand, Lush, for instance decided to shut down all of its activity in the UK as it became “tired of fighting with algorithms” or paying to appear on news feeds. Instead, it suggested a hashtag where fans would still be able to speak to the brand.

Lush’s bold move speaks to fight playing out for anything still resembling organic reach. As consumers become jaded over being ‘sold to’, brands are having to find novel ways to reach them, beyond the influencer route. One other area we’re tracking here is those owning their own conversation channels, as with both Glossier and H&M of late.

Coty acquires majority stake in Kylie Jenner’s beauty business

2019 was the year of major acquisitions in both beauty and fashion. While LVMH recently announced it was snapping up Tiffany & Co for $16bn, other names included Farfetch buying New Guards Group, which operates streetwear favorite Off White for $675m; Shiseido acquiring cult skincare brand Drunk Elephant for $845m; and more recently, Coty acquiring a majority stake in Kylie Jenner’s beauty business, Kylie Cosmetics, for $600m. 

The latter served as particular confirmation of how brands build and grow in this day and age. Jenner, who was 18 when she started a single ‘lip kit’ line, used Instagram to form a direct conversation with her audience. In 2019, this seems like an obvious strategy, but the reality star’s foresight to do so in 2015 has undoubtedly been her recipe for success.

How luxury fashion learned to love the blockchain

Amid growing concerns over the proliferation of counterfeit goods, luxury brands also began to embrace blockchain as an important authentication tool this year. 

Earlier this year, we heard about how LVMH launched its own platform, Aura, which is currently being piloted with some of the brands in its portfolio and will further expand in the future. Kering and Richemont meanwhile are said to be exploring this too, while De Beers is using it to trace its diamonds. Once matured, the technology will undoubtedly make its way into the hands of the consumer, who will be able to better understand where their possessions are coming from. We also tracked some of the other innovations in the transparency space; an area that continues to heat up.

Automation in retail: an executive overview for getting ready

Automation was another big tech focus this year, particularly for its potential impact on retail, from supply chain management to last mile delivery. This shift is putting pressure on retailers to rethink their operating models, distribution centres and headquarters, with McKinsey warning that brands that fail to implement it into their strategy risk falling behind. 

Automation is something we’ve long been talking about for the sake of efficiency, but there also comes a significant ethics conversation to be had here, which the industry is exploring. We agree, now is the time.

What Fortnite could mean for fashion

The global gaming market is expected to reach $180bn by 2021, and fashion brands are realizing the valuable potential in this. Free-to-play video game Fortnite has grown into a multi-million dollar business by selling clothing to image-conscious gamers, for instance. This monetization of player aesthetics, more commonly known as ‘skins’, has opened the door for retailers to cash in on the virtual world. 

Going forward, we expect more brands to invest in digital garments or utilize gaming to drive product discovery. We accordingly explored how gamification is being used in the shopping journey by brands like Kenzo and Nike to both increase engagement and build brand loyalty.

How are you thinking about innovation? 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.

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Orlebar Brown: Trusting partners for growth

When you start a business, you should always be thinking about what your end goal is, says Adam Brown, founder of luxury swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. In Brown’s case, it was the eventual acquisition by none other than Chanel.

Many founders pride themselves on being scrappy, and figuring it out as they go along. There is an element of truth to that approach – Brown spent the brand’s first two years in a storage unit in West London learning every aspect of the business, from pressing shorts to talking to customers on the phone. 

But he knew from the get-go that one of the strongest tools he could have under his belt was finding the people he trusted to do the things that were beyond his expertise. That is a surprisingly rare trait for a founder, who often have so much emotional stake in the game that it is hard to let go of the control. 

Brown, however, always knew he didn’t want to be a CEO with 300 stores across the globe. He also doesn’t consider himself a designer, but rather a curator. So his focus became the product, and creating a process to perfectly tailor swim shorts that fit every body shape, and could take you from the beach to a fancy dinner party. The brand filled a gap in the market and quickly created its own niche.

And in 2018, just at the right time, Chanel came knocking. The acquisition, says Brown, represents the perfect marriage of aspirations that both sides have for the swimwear brand, as well as the chance to leverage many of Chanel’s mature capabilities in brand positioning, sourcing, e-commerce, and so on.

During this conversation, Brown tells us just why the Chanel partnership is a match made in heaven, how they are looking to connect sustainability with the brand in a creative way, and just what is needed to make the luxury consumer forget the price tag.

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, 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. 

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Editor's pick product sustainability

9 brands rethinking textiles for the circular economy

Fashion's Impact on Water
Fashion’s Impact on Water

From sustainability guru Stella McCartney to German premium label Hugo Boss, brands across the spectrum have been experimenting with textile innovations that aim to push the industry towards a greener future.

This mission comes with a sense of urgency, with several reports predicting the uncomfortable reality of resource scarcity. A statistic from The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that humans were using the equivalent of 1.7 planets’ worth of natural resources in 2017.

Such resources, and water specifically, are central to the fashion industry’s supply chain. From planting and irrigating cotton fields, to dyeing and washing fabric – a world without enough water and raw materials spells out an uncertain future.

Infographic of The Circular Economy - Ellen MacArthur
Infographic of The Circular Economy – Ellen MacArthur

“In the worst case, the fashion industry will face distinct restrictions on one or more of its key input factors, leaving it unable to grow at the projected rate and in the long run unable to continue under its current operating model,” said the Global Fashion Agenda in its The Pulse of The Fashion Industry report.

It’s for that reason, the industry is exploring the circular economy, which takes the traditional, make-use-dispose model in fashion, and rather promotes a closed-loop where items are reused, recycled and reduced.

We’ve seen numerous startups playing in this space for years, experimenting with different natural ingredients and formulas to create textiles ready for market. Today, a number of brands are jumping on board and partnering with such teams in order to replace traditional materials.

Here are nine of the strongest examples…

STELLA MCCARTNEY

Stella McCartney has been championing sustainable fashion since the formation of her namesake label, pushing the envelope of what circular textile innovation means for the industry at large.

One stand-out circular textile from the brand is Re.Verso™, a regenerated cashmere made from post-factory cashmere waste in Italy. According to the brand’s self-implemented Environmental P&L account, using this alternative material reduced its impact by 92%.

EVERLANE 

Everlane's ReNew Line
Everlane’s ReNew Line

Direct-to-consumer brand Everlane, which pioneered the concept of a transparent supply chain through its “radical transparency” approach, announced its newest sustainable material just this month – a fleece called ReNew, which is made from recycled plastic bottles.

The brand also pledged to replace all materials made of virgin plastic (including polyester and nylon) with material made of plastic water bottles and renewed materials by 2021. It expects to be recycling 100 million water bottles through its supply chain.

ADIDAS X PARLEY FOR THE OCEANS

Adidas x Parley
Adidas x Parley

Adidas’ partnership with Parley for the Oceans, a non-profit organization set to remove and recycle waste from the ocean, has been an elemental part of the brand’s sustainability strategy.

In 2015, the two companies teamed up to make a sneaker that was made entirely of yarn recycled from ocean waste and illegal deep-sea gill nets. While the shoe was impressive in both design and sustainability, the partnership really started to come to fruition last year when sneakers like the Parley x Adidas Ultra Boost became more widely available to the public.  Eric Liedtke, head of global brands at the company, said each pair of shoes uses the equivalent of 11 plastic bottles, which means that Adidas has recycled some 55 million plastic bottles this year.

ALLBIRDS

Allbirds' SweetFoam flip-flops
Allbirds’ Sugar Zeffer flip-flops

In August 2018, direct-to-consumer footwear brand Allbirds announced the launch of “SweetFoam”,  a biodegradable and environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based materials traditionally used in the manufacturing process of shoe-soles. The first product the brand created with SweetFoam was a range of sustainable flip-flops called Sugar Zeffers.

The new material, which is made up of a sugarcane base, marks an important achievement in the industry, as it is the first ever carbon-neutral green alternative to the traditional EVA foam. To inspire industry-wide change, Allbirds also made this technology open-source and therefore available to everyone.

REEBOK

As part of its Cotton + Corn initiative, sportswear brand Reebok released its first-ever biodegradable sneaker range in August of this year. The product launch was part of the brand’s larger aim to reduce the brand’s environmental footprint with biodegradable products.

The shoe, which is also called the Cotton + Corn sneaker, is made with a cotton top and a bioplastic sole created from a corn-derived alternative material. It is also the first in its category to be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture to consist of 75% bio-based content.

REFORMATION

Reformation Intimates
Reformation Intimates

Los Angeles-based sustainable fashion brand, Reformation, has been making fashion using end-of-roll fabrics for years, but through its newest category, underwear, it’s taking things a step further.

The intimates collection is made using a mixture of sustainable fabrics such as recycled lace, eco mesh (a recycled type of yarn) and Lenzing TENCEL, a patented fabric derived from a wood cellulose material.

ADAY

Fashion's Impact on Water
Fashion’s Impact on Water

For its new Plant Bae collection, direct-to-consumer fashion brand, Aday, wanted to trial a new fabric composition using SeaCell, a fiber created from seaweed from the Icelandic coast.

Every four years, the seaweed is harvested and spun into fiber together with lyocell to stabilize. For the Plant Bae collection, it was also enhanced with cellulose and modal to create an additionally soft fabric composition. The innovative material has seen previous incarnations in Falke socks and Lululemon sportswear in its VitaSea collection.

SALVATORE FERRAGAMO

Salvatore Ferragamo
Salvatore Ferragamo

Salvatore Ferragamo created a capsule collection in 2017 made from an innovative new material derived from leftover orange peel. The brand partnered with Italian company, Orange Fiber, to product the silk-feel line, which included apparel such as t-shirts and delicate scarves.

This material is, for now, aplenty: a recent figure from the Italian Agricultural Department revealed that waste from the juice industry resulted in 700,000 tonnes of discarded orange peel on a yearly basis in Italy alone.

HUGO BOSS

Hugo Boss "Boss"
Hugo Boss “Boss”

German brand Hugo Boss released limited collection footwear in April 2018 using discarded pineapple leaves that imitate the texture of leather. The material, called Piñatex, has been used by smaller footwear brands such as Bourgeois Boheme, although Hugo Boss is one of the first mainstream brands to adopt it.

Piñatex is derived from the leaves of the pineapple plant, a byproduct of the pineapple harvest that has no other use for farmers. The creation of the textile therefore provides local farmers with an additional income.

How are you thinking about sustainable 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.

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Snapchat, Burberry and Grindr win big at Fashion Futures Awards

decoded_fashionfutures

There was a healthy dose of optimism in London last night as the industry’s leading fashion and tech names gathered to celebrate this year’s Fashion Futures Awards.

“What fashion and tech have in common is they’re both about the future,” said host Angela Scanlon, as she opened the Decoded Fashion evening in partnership with the British Fashion Council.

Big winners during the night included Snapchat, which walked away with the tech visionary award for the fact it’s giving fashion brands new ways to infuse storytelling into their marketing. And Grindr, which picked up the Beyond the Runway title, for its collaboration with JW Anderson in January 2016, which saw it live stream the brand’s menswear show to its audience of predominantly gay men. The judges crowned the collaboration’s “out of the box thinking” and focus on brilliantly connecting consumers in the moments that matter.

Burberry was also celebrated – winning the fashion visionary award for the way in which it has helped make the idea of “disruption” more of a norm in the industry. That came in spite of the fact it’s operating in increasingly tough market conditions; announcing adjusted pre-tax profits were down 10% for the year to March 31, just yesterday morning.

Other brands with prizes included ASOS in the Killer Experience category for its new A-list loyalty programme, and Sephora in Bytes and Bricks, for its high-tech concept Flash store in Paris.

The awards are as much about those daring to innovate on the brand side, as it is about the tech founders that have created the best new tools that allow them to do so. On that basis, digital knitwear start-up Unmade won for its collaboration with designer Christopher Raeburn, for instance, while personal stylist site Thread won in the Real-Time Innovator category for its application of artificial intelligence alongside human insight to provide a particularly unique and forward-thinking proposition for menswear.

Meanwhile, delivery start-up Parcel for Me walked away with two awards – one for being the Master of Mobile and the other as this year’s Game Changer: the entrant considered most likely to disrupt fashion and retail in the future.

Other winners in the start-up space included Semaine, a content meets commerce platform taking home the New e-Store on the Block title, and custom footwear line Myswear, which scooped up the Big Idea award.

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Agility matters: why Hunter not showing at LFW is a good thing

Hunter_LFW
Hunter Original, London Fashion Week spring/summer 2016

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.

Hunter_ss16backstage
Backstage at Hunter Original, London Fashion Week spring/summer 2016

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.

Phew…

hunter_glasto
Hunter at Glastonbury 2015

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.

Matthew Williamson has already done it. Tibi found success by shifting towards monthly in-store releases a while ago. Both Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor & Rolf decided to step away from ready-to-wear to focus solely on couture and fragrances. Other brands like Jonathan Saunders have announced they’re shutting down entirely, while some of the industry’s highest profile brands are losing designers in the face of the pace being just too much pressure. In short, any sort of change feels like it makes a lot of sense, and those willing to take the risk through restrategising should be applauded.

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.”

hunter_nyc_popup
Hunter’s New York pop-up store in November 2015

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.

hunter_heritage
A heritage Hunter photograph

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.