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The most important question everybody needs to ask themselves relative to a more sustainable fashion industry is around cost and long-term thinking, explains Nicolaj Reffstrup, founder of Danish fashion brand, Ganni, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
“If you really want to do something, you need to look at the fabrics that you’re using and see if you can convert those to recycled fabrics, or at least organic fabrics. But that comes with a cost. So the biggest and most important question everybody needs to ask themselves, is literally how much are we spending on converting our company or our brand and our product towards a more sustainable future?” he asks.
Oftentimes, the immediate follow-up query to what is the cost, is who is going to pay for it. The majority of brands in the space – including those actively making moves towards adapting their business processes – are measured on short term returns. And yet sustainability is not an overnight fix. To make the changes that are really necessary throughout the supply chain is a big and long-term investment.
So how do we convince CFOs and shareholders that it’s worthwhile – that we have to take a hit now in order to benefit in the future. Or more importantly, that there is indeed a business case there to do it full stop?
Ganni is one exploring it from all angles. The fact it’s small and agile means it has more ability to do so, but it also means it relies entirely on an outsourced supply chain to drive the agenda forward. Power is therefore limited, but ambition is not.
Join us as we discuss with Reffstrup how the brand is flexing its muscle as well as making investments to drive towards a more sustainable future. We also explore how he’s watching innovation from other industries like food, the new rental business model he’s testing, and why he believes sustainability and fashion is a contradiction that needs to be faced by all brands.
Designers need to reposition their businesses as startups to tap into much-needed investment, says menswear designer, Ozwald Boateng, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.
In conversation with Liz Bacelar at a Spotify event in Paris, Boateng, whose body of work propelled the craftsmanship of London’s Savile Row to international recognition, says he believes the creative world needs to learn from technology in terms of how it approaches funding.
The fashion industry’s model of investors taking control of designers’ names early on is broken, he explains, saying that we can all learn from new direct-to-consumer businesses that have overcome this by approaching differently the way that they’re backed instead.
“What amazes me is when you see these young creative talents, still owning sizeable chunks of the business after raising so much money and getting these valuations of a billion plus – you kind of go, my god, can that really happen, it’s almost like a dream, but in the tech world, it’s the norm,” he notes.
“This creates a huge amount of independence and opportunity for the designer – you’re no longer forced to follow the rules, so that’s exciting. For me as a business, I’m looking at ways to take advantage of that.”
Conversely, he says the technology world also needs to learn from creatives. “I think if more designers looked at the world of technology and applied their creative to the tech, I am sure we would see some very interesting and groundbreaking ideas,” he comments.
He explains that designers are trained to always look forward, to spot trends and understand needs, so it’s something he believes would work exceptionally well when applied to technology.
“I would happily use a body scanner [for my made-to-measure suits], it makes a lot of sense. But there’s a lot of things I could add in terms of how I need the technology to work,” he notes.
“So I see a partnership. Eventually both [designers and tech companies] will see they need each other, and then they’ll just make it work.”
During the conversation, the duo also talk about his new uniform designs for British Airways, his time as creative director at Givenchy and the role of race and diversity in the industry.
Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.
We recently held a #FashMash breakfast event at Soho House in London featuring three venture capitalists talking to the fashion and technology start-up space. Among them were Antoine Nussenbaum (AN) of Felix Capital, Tracy Dorée (TD) of Kindred VC and Suzanne Ashman (SA) of LocalGlobe. Here, we look at some highlights from the discussion, including what technology they’re seeing impacting the fashion industry and exactly what they look for in the businesses they invest in.
#FashMash: Given everything happening in the world right now, is it a good time to start a business?
TD: I think people start businesses because they have to solve a problem, because they can’t think of doing anything but that one thing, and I don’t see that type of macro trend of the uncertainty of Brexit or Trump or anything else that’s happening in the world affecting a great quality entrepreneur of getting started.
SA: I think it’s also easy to overstate kind of how the political turmoil over the last year has somehow impacted the funding landscape, because certainly at a really early stage we are backing entrepreneurs for five, seven, 10 years time. So, actually Brexit didn’t impact our investment cycle at all, we still made 25 odd investments last year… When we look back at our portfolio over the last 20 years we find that some of the best businesses were built in 2000 post the dotcom crash and 2008’s credit crunch, because people are looking for something new.
#FashMash: What technology are you seeing out there impacting fashion?
SA: I’d say the thing I’m seeing most of at the moment is the intersect between augmented reality and fashion. At the moment the vast majority of pitches that we’re seeing are very deep tech teams that have interesting products but not an end product that a consumer would actually wear – style is bottom priority and tech is top priority. I think the quality of those teams will improve over time as technical founders realise they need to work with someone with relevant domain experience to create a product that a consumer might want to wear. I got pitched an augmented reality t-shirt company and you know, it looks great, but at the moment it’s a t-shirt for 14-year-old boys. I can see over the next 12 months in this particular space that we’ll just see better and better things coming through.
TD: I also think we’re seeing less friction within payments thanks to mobile. People are designing experiences from a really mobile-first perspective. The first wave of online retail kind of looked like people were taking a warehouse and putting it online and it’s just a horrible sort of catalogue of walking through merchandise. But now people are really designing experiences for the platform on which they’re being delivered. I think the challenge with funding a B2C business, where you’re taking a new approach with your unique perspective, whether that’s to do with visual search or it’s to do with augmented reality or it’s to do with payments, any unique edge that you’ve got, is that you have to be able to show that the brand is going to have some type of longevity.
#FashMash: Which start-ups or new brands do you think are doing a good job and starting to prove they’ve got longevity?
AN: There’s a brand in France, which is great, called Sézane. The founder characterises exactly everything we’ve been talking about, to be extremely focused on the customer relationship and to be very true about what she’s building. It started off as a lifestyle business and grew into something very authentic with the customers.
SA: The brand I’ve seen recently that I think is executed super well, is Heist Tights – anyone that uses any form of social media will have seen their adverts. The founder there is also really interesting – he is super impressive and he’s all about the numbers. It helps if you can help us out by having some of the kind of standard metrics that we expect to see around a really strong repeat rate… Certainly things in the fashion space that we see, we really like people to have not just a product but some early numbers when they come to speak to us. From a tech perspective, I also think Hullabalook is an interesting example of two founders without a base in fashion, who have ultimately built a software enabler for e-commerce.
#FashMash: So beyond the numbers, what are you looking for in the start-ups that come to you?
TD: In whatever industry we’re looking at, we’re looking for this weird mix between the ability to think creatively, to have a unique insight, or a different perspective on something that people assume to be true. So that’s a creative vision piece with the ability to really get shit done. And to employ both sides of the brain is really hard. I’m excited for the businesses that use technology to make an existing workflow more efficient and that’s going to differentiate them in the long term.
AN: We see a new wave of people, of entrepreneurs, trying to create these companies that would connect better with, have a more authentic relationship with their customers. And from our end, we actually wouldn’t focus on the top line metrics looking at the business, but actually we would focus on something quite authentic being built in the relationship with the customer. It is not so much about the topic but about the interaction. It’s about how engaged the customers are and how engaged you are as an entrepreneur with your audience and your customers.
SA: At our stage, it’s really all about the team, it’s a little bit about the products, a little bit about the market but ultimately we’re backing a group of people as individuals to get through the next five years and overcome the many hurdles that stand in the way from where they are now to building a really big business.
#FashMash: Do you have any advice for start-ups on working with established retailers?
SA: As a start-up working with a big organisation, the one competitive advantage that you have as a small business, is speed and that’s the one reason why sometimes you have the opportunity to win against the big guys. Finding the person that’s going to really champion you within a retailer and help you navigate the maze of hierarchy and different workflows and different divisions is also so important.
TD: Two words of warning on working with really big clients: First, don’t end up doing work that is not core to your business. It’s very easy to want to work with X brand name and actually what they want you to produce is way off your product roadmap. If you think it’s going to be a massive distraction, that isn’t going to help you in your medium term vision, it’s tough to walk away and say no. The second thing is pricing. We often see start-ups working with larger brands offering heavily discounted products and it can be really hard to renegotiate that once you move from a pilot phase through to a longer-term relationship. So have that tough discussion about pricing up front.
An absolute must-read this week (away from fashion specifically but heavily based around tech and consumer behaviour and therefore highly relevant to anyone in this space), is this view on “mobile 2.0” from Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz. If there are a billion people with high-end smartphones now, what assumptions can we leave behind in terms of what that means, and what does the future look like accordingly? With AR and machine learning, it’s a pretty fascinating one.
Elsewhere, the latest news is of course geared to New York Fashion Week, with everything from Raf Simons’ successful debut for Calvin Klein and ongoing analysis of what exactly a see-now, buy-now model looks for those partaking. There’s also an update on new features from Pinterest and a big push from Instagram for its Live tool during the shows.
Rebecca Minkoff kicked off the first of the LA fashion shows this season (Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford and Rachel Zoe to follow), with a shoppable collection as well as a series of connected handbags on offer. There was also entertainment galore, which gives Tommy something to try and outdo later this week.
Meanwhile, other news this week has focused heavily on the execs movements at various brands, including Stefan Larsson out as CEO at Ralph Lauren, Riccardo Tisci leaving Givenchy, rumoured headed to Versace, and Clare Waight Keller exiting Chloé. Also worth reading is detail on the John Lewis delivery trials straight to your car boot, insight on everything you need to know about the Snapchat IPO and Gap’s new 90s inspired campaign.
Rebecca Minkoff teams with Like to Know It to make LA show shoppable [WWD]
Ivanka Trump’s brand responds to Nordstrom [Racked]
John Lewis and Jaguar Land Rover are trialling shopping deliveries straight to your car [Forbes]
LVMH sets up new investment vehicle for emerging brands [Fashion United]
Ralph Lauren CEO Stefan Larsson quits after dispute with founder over creative control [WSJ]
Numerous early stage fashion and e-commerce businesses are among the new intake for Tech City UK’s six-month Upscale programme.
Included are Mastered, an online education platform for creative professionals led by industry experts; Poq, an app commerce solution for major retailers; Wolf & Badger, a global online marketplace for independent brands; and Trouva, a curated online shopping site pulling together 150 independent boutiques.
StoryStream, which enables live storytelling for brands through content curation and publishing, has also previously worked with events company Decoded Fashion at one of its hackathons.
Across the board, the Upscale companies represent a wide spread of sectors that reflect the UK’s strengths – from e-commerce, to fintech, as well as increasingly important areas like data analytics. They are flagged as companies that could grow into the next generation of digital household names.
Others the fashion industry might find benefit from include Cambridge Intelligence, an artificial intelligence company that helps companies see patterns and insights in their data; LivingLens, which provides brands and agencies with a way of searching and using hours of video content; and Streetbees, which gathers market research insights from around the world through artificial intelligence and geo-location.
This is the second year of the Upscale programme under Tech City UK’s mission to accelerate the growth of the UK’s digital economy. In the 2016 pilot, other fashion and retail businesses including Edited, Metail, Appear Here, Depop and Snap Fashion participated.
The latest cohort gain access to mentorship from some of the UK’s most successful tech entrepreneurs including Lastminute.com founders Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman; successful investor and Lovefilm founder Saul Klein; Candy Crush creator Riccardo Zacconi; Blippar co-founder Jess Butcher; and Just Eat founder David Buttress. The aim is to help them begin their scaling journey.
Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK, said: “One of the objectives of Tech City UK is to accelerate the growth of the country’s digital and tech sector. The companies that join our Upscale programme have already overcome significant hurdles and have the makings of brilliant businesses.”
The companies joining have raised $4.1 million in funding on average, and have average revenues of just over $1 million per year. See the full list of those selected to participate on the TechCityUK.com site.