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Editor's pick Events technology

7 tech activations that stood out this fashion week season

Brands are constantly evolving their approach to tech during fashion week. This season we saw designers reinvent the show space yet again by using tools including artificial intelligence, LED sets and mixed reality powered by 5G to create memorable (and shareable) experiences for their guests.

Here are seven of the most interesting ways brands did so…

Rag & Bone’s AI guest
Rag & Bone’s “The Last Supper”

Rag & Bone decided to throw a fashion week dinner with one very special attendee: an artificial intelligence system designed by artist and creative technologist, Ross Goodwin. At “The Last Supper”, guests sat at a U-shaped table while their conversations and actions were filmed and analyzed by a series of cameras. Towards the end of the event, the guests were treated to a video that showed the AI’s view of their dinner party interspersed with models wearing Rag & Bone’s new collection.

Central Saint Martin’s mixed reality show powered by 5G
Central Saint Martins 5G mixed reality fashion show
Central Saint Martins 5G mixed reality fashion show

Mixed reality animations illuminated looks designed by MA students from Central Saint Martins university for their annual showcase during London Fashion Week. Imagine lightning bolts, skulls and even tiger heads beaming/ moving around the models. The university teamed up with mobile network, Three, and creative agency, Rewind, to bring the animations to life. 10 attendees, including Jourdan Dunn and Natalie Dormer, sported Magic Leap’s One mixed reality headsets, while others could see the animations on screens around the catwalk. “The future of design and fashion is intrinsically linked with the evolution of tech and we are seeing more and more disruptive and innovative technologies shaking up the way the design and fashion industries operate,” said Jeremy Till, head of Central Saint Martins.

Gucci and Saint Laurent’s LED runways
Gucci’s Fall Winter 2019 Fashion Show

LED bulbs decorated the runways of two major shows: Gucci and Saint Laurent, this season. As an experiment in futurism, both hosted mirrored LED runways that further illuminated their colorful garments. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele installed more than 120,000 LED bulbs to cover the walls around the 100-meter long circular runway for his Milan fashion show. The kaleidoscope of lights created a dramatic and theatrical experience for show-goers. Meanwhile, Anthony Vaccarello turned the Saint Laurent showspace into a runway rave in Paris. Wearing glow-in-the-dark shoes and garments, models strutted down the catwalk alongside hundreds of pulsing bulbs and infinity mirrors.

Real-time shopping at 11 Honoré
11 Honore fashion show
11 Honore NYFW show

There are always new ways to innovate even when using long since established technologies like QR codes.The luxury, size-inclusive ecommerce retailer, 11 Honoré, created the ultimate see-now-buy-now experience for its New York Fashion Week debut, enabling guests to shop the runway through a lookbook distributed to them containing QR codes. Using their phone to scan the codes, attendees could then purchase looks in real time. This was part of a partnership with Shopify, which wanted to showcase yet another functionality for mobile shopping.

Christian Siriano’s crowdsourced feedback
Christian Siriano RTW F19
Christian Siriano RTW Fall 19 show

To make fashion more accessible, designer Christian Siriano decided to take advantage of crowdsourcing and let the audience vote in real time on the looks on his New York runway. To do this, he partnered with SAP technologies to create an app that allowed both attendees and remote viewers to select if they “liked” or “loved” the looks. Powered by machine learning, the app was able to identify looks regardless of show order changes because the design team had uploaded stock images of each one into the app prior to the event. This created a more direct connection between the customers and the designer. According to WWD, the SAP runway app was previously piloted by Badgley Mischka, and there are potential plans for further rollout during September’s fashion week season.

Tommy Hilfiger’s Instagram Stories templates
Tommy Hilfigers Instagram Story templates
Tommy Hilfigers Instagram Story templates

Tommy Hilfiger partnered with mobile app Unfold on an Instagram Stories template collection that was released during the brand’s show for Paris Fashion Week. To spice up their Instagram Stories, users could choose from 15 limited-edition templates when uploading photos and videos. Designs included variations of the Tommy Hilfiger logo, as well as colorful prints exclusive to the Tommy Hilfiger’s spring 2019 TommyXZendaya collection, which features 22-year-old actress and singer Zendaya.

Rebecca Minkoff’s audience-driven social campaign
Rebecca Minkoff Runway SS19
Rebecca Minkoff Spring/Summer 19 show

With social sharing front of mind, Rebecca Minkoff’s New York show saw guests able to be part of a digital collage created by artist Rosanna Webster, who designed the brand’s female empowerment campaign “I Am Many”. As a way to incorporate them into the campaign, guests took selfies with a camera that worked as a portable photobooth. These photos were then worked into a collage that appeared in a mini-video inspired by Rebecca Minkoff’s brand campaign. The experience was meant to promote brand awareness and generate ROI. According to the designer, fashion shows aren’t just about posting pictures, but also a way for the consumer to embrace the experience. “Today, the [fashion] landscape isn’t about commerce; it’s about experience and standing for what you believe in; consumers want to be in a tribe,” Minkoff herself said.  

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. 


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business Campaigns digital snippets product Retail sustainability technology

ICYMI: Chanel announces successor, Amazon scraps Dash buttons, Ted Baker boss steps down

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past week.

TOP STORIES
  • Virginie Viard to fill Karl Lagerfeld’s brash boots at Chanel [The Times]
  • Amazon stops selling Dash buttons, goofy forerunners of the connected home [CNET]
  • Ted Baker boss Ray Kelvin quits after ‘forced hugging’ claims [The Guardian]
  • Gap to spin off Old Navy into separate public company [Retail Dive]
TECHNOLOGY
  • Apple is releasing a foldable iPhone, and it’s not only about all those patents [Tom’s Guide]
SUSTAINABILITY & PURPOSE
  • New York City launches project to promote fashion recycling [Fashion United]
  • Launch of Australasian Circular Textiles Association (ACTA) means business for sustainable fashion [Fashion United]
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Harrods targets online growth with Farfetch partnership [The Industry]
  • Ted Baker launches monthly product drops [Fashion United]
  • Pinterest expands the ability to shop on its platform [PYMNTS]
  • J.C. Penney pulls plug on clothing subscription service [BoF]
  • QVC UK introduces social commerce for ‘discovery-led’ shopping [Fashion United]
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • New Balance pub only accepts miles ran as currency [TheCurrent Daily]
  • Louis Vuitton unveils digital ‘Postcard’ window displays [WWD]
  • Rebecca Minkoff partners with Yelp to support businesswomen [Fashion United]
  • Ralph Lauren opens Ralph’s Café on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris [Fashion Network]
PRODUCT
  • Meet Glossier Play, the new high impact makeup brand from Glossier [WWD]
  • Net-a-Porter teams up with prominent female designers for international women’s day capsule [Fashion United]
  • Bonobos to unveil first women’s capsule [WWD]
  • Target is the latest retailer to take on Victoria’s Secret [Quartz]
BUSINESS
  • Swarovski, CFDA part ways for Fashion Awards [WWD]
  • LVMH plans London hotel and new flagship in experiential push [BoF]
  • Anya Hindmarch to split with partner Mayhoola for investments [WWD]
  • Burberry launches staff training plan after ‘noose’ hoodie row [The Guardian]
  • L Brands to shutter 53 Victoria’s Secret stores [Retail Dive]
  • Puma signs mega global deal with Manchester City owner, its biggest deal ever [Fashion Network]
  • Macy’s new restructuring to cut 100 senior positions, save $100 million annually [Fashion Network]
CULTURE
  • Sesame Street’s turning 50, and InStyle dressed our favorite characters for the party [InStyle]

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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Editor's pick Events technology

NYFW roundup: #MeToo conversations, immersive runways and supersized robots

Models close the Prabal Gurung AW18 show
Models close the Prabal Gurung AW18 show

It was a quieter New York Fashion Week season than usual, as big-name designers including Altuzarra and Tommy Hilfiger chose to decamp to other cities – Paris and Milan, respectively – to host their much buzzed-about runway shows. Even fashion week parties, which in the past provided magazine fodder for weeks to come, have also been scaled down, with the industry seemingly more subdued in general.

That didn’t stop various buzzworthy moments however, including subtle nods to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, various more immersive runway presentations, and a dash of the futuristic with Google TiltBrush and an oversized robot.

Here we highlight some of the most interesting conversations that took place, and where there was still room left for improvement…

Cultural statements

There was little direct acknowledgement of the powerful conversation around the #MeToo movement, but shows attempted to create a stage for female empowerment. For Tom Ford, the approach was literal and included models strutting down the runway donning shoulder pads and a “Pussy Power” handbag. For Prabal Gurung, which The Washington Post has previously described as the “most woke man in fashion”, it was a nod to the #TimesUp conversation as models closed the show as a group, carrying white roses.

Tom Ford AW18
Tom Ford AW18

Also alluding to the message of empowerment, designer Jonathan Simkhai presented a Suffragette-inspired collection, while Kesha’s song on speaking out on harassment, “Praying”, greeted guests.

Following the second yearly Woman’s March, which took place globally on January 20, Brother Vellies teamed up with a roster of labels, such as Clare V. and Rachel Comey, to design a capsule collection benefitting the march and Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile designer Rebecca Minkoff, who was due to give birth to her third child during the week, forwent a formal presentation, instead opting to showcase her see-now-buy-now on 20 powerful women online. That cast includes members of the Women’s March committee, as well as actress Zosia Mamet and fashion presenter Zanna Roberts Rassi. The designer also teamed up with networking app Bumble Bizz to host a speaker night titled “Trailblazers: Women who have started their own company or have forged their own way within their industry”.

The topic of diversity was ever-present during NYFW too, though perhaps rather positively it was less buzzed about as more designers included a variation of ethnicities and sizes on their runway. Designers such as Christian Siriano and one of this season’s favourites, Eckhaus Latta, enlisted models at each end of the spectrum. Meanwhile model Kendall Jenner hosted an Adidas Originals presentation that featured a colourful cast and the showcase of the brand’s first hijab.

Alternative runways

In addition to the designers whose presence was missed in New York this season, many others moved away from formal runway shows to explore new ways to engage with a new, savvier audience.

Kirsten Dunst for Rodarte AW18
Kirsten Dunst for Rodarte AW18

Adidas teamed up with trendy New York label and lifestyle store VFiles to host a multimedia photoshoot at the Terminal 5 venue in Hell’s Kitchen, for instance. As music played for partygoers, models stood on stage posing against white backdrops, thus partaking in a live photoshoot. The immersive event aimed to respond to a community who wants to participate, rather than watch from the sidelines, said Julie Anne Quay, founder of VFiles.

Online, Zac Posen launched his collection via a photoshoot starring actress and friend Katie Holmes. Similarly the Rodarte sisters published the “Women that Inspire Us” lookbook, which features a pregnant Kirsten Dunst and young R&B duo Chloe x Halle, among others.

Perhaps cleverly steering clear from live presentations, which have in the past not received the best of reviews, Kanye West leveraged his online fandom by releasing his Yeezy Season Six collection online, in a lookbook starring women such as Paris Hilton and actress Sarah Snyder dressed up as Kim Kardashian look-a-likes, as well as the woman herself.

The future is here?

In a week primed for entertainment and participation to take place, designers were surprisingly timid when experimenting with technology this season.

Irina Shayk and robot companion at Philipp Plein AW18

As previously reported, Rebecca Taylor teamed up with Google’s Tilt Brush to create an immersive in-store environment for customers to enjoy her collection in, while Badgley Mischka harnessed technology to better receive their immediate audience’s feedback.

Meanwhile, Nicole Miller teamed up with AI and image recognition company RevelGlam to pilot their software on her runway show. The software analyses insights from fashion shows as well as celebrity sightings and influencer activities in order to predict trends.

Never one to shy away from the spotlight, it was German designer Philipp Plein who became a major topic of conversation however; giving the week a much-needed injection of futuristic tech. In a display of extravagance he has become known for, model Irina Shayk entered the runway from a spaceship and strutted alongside a giant bot with the designer’s logo plastered all over it.

In a week where most designers arguably played safe on many fronts – from not taking a truly clear stand on serious conversations to engaging with new technologies – Plein’s stunt may have trumped the collection being shown, but it simultaneously provided an irreverent and timely take on the future.

Categories
business data digital snippets e-commerce social media sustainability technology

What you missed: A new textiles economy, competing with Amazon, Patagonia vs Trump

Stella McCartney and Dame Ellen Macarthur
Stella McCartney and Dame Ellen Macarthur

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech industry news over the past fortnight.


TOP STORIES
  • Stella McCartney and Ellen Macarthur team up to tackle waste in fashion [The Industry]
  • A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future [Ellen Macarthur Foundation]
  • The future of retail in the age of Amazon [Fast Company]
  • Patagonia is suing the Trump administration [GQ]
  • 2017: the year of Gucci (and logos, slogans & sleeves), according to Lyst data [The Industry]

BUSINESS
  • Europe’s biggest mall owner buys Westfield for $25bn [Guardian]
  • Victoria Beckham raises $40 million in private equity investment [NY Times]
  • Amidst new optimism, emerging markets to overtake west in 2018 [BoF]
  • With Aday investment, H&M hopes to ‘leave stigma of fast fashion behind’ [Glossy]
  • Eileen Fisher makes strides towards circularity with ‘tiny factory’ [BoF]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Unwrapping Barneys’ holiday social media strategy [Glossy]
  • These retailers are #crushingit on social this holiday season [RetailDive]
  • Facebook is testing a way for brands to send mass messages via Messenger [AdWeek]

MARKETING
  • Luxury brands embrace experiential marketing to stay relevant [Skift]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • eBay now lets you start shopping with a Google Assistant smart speaker and finish on your phone [VentureBeat]
  • Death of retail? 2017 was all about the empire of luxury e-tail [NY Times]
  • Céline enters e-commerce with release of French site [WWD]
  • Everlane is opening its first stores, after years of swearing it wouldn’t [Washington Post]
  • Fruit of the Loom tries on subscription underwear [Bloomberg]

TECHNOLOGY
  • Online e-commerce giants get personal [BoF]
  • Rebecca Minkoff uses VR for planning stores [Glossy]
  • The new Reformation store is a real-life Clueless closet [TheCut]
  • BoF and Google partner on artificial intelligence experiment [BoF]
  • Facial recognition is tracking customers as they shop in stores, tech company says [CNBC]

PRODUCT
  • These were 2017’s wildest innovations in clothing technology [HighSnobiety]
  • Trending: algae, ocean plastics pave the way for more sustainable consumer products [Sustainable Brands]
  • This natural liquid silk is starting to replace oil-based plastic [Fast Company]
Categories
data Editor's pick product technology

Can connected handbags bring emotional relevance and customer loyalty?

Rebecca Minkoff's #AlwaysOn connected bag - bringing emotional intelligence
Rebecca Minkoff’s #AlwaysOn connected bag

Here’s a question: If your handbag could talk, would you want the brand it’s from to listen? How about if sharing the data it collects on you could lead you to gain access to highly relevant, truly personalised and ultimately exclusive experiences consistently?

It’s a fine line between what of that is a serious privacy conversation, and what’s otherwise merely an outlined future of projected value exchange tied to the internet of things.

This is the future being imagined and worked on by New York designer Rebecca Minkoff with its line of #AlwaysOn smart bags launched in stores last week in partnership with EVRYTHNG’s IoT smart products cloud platform and Avery Dennison’s smart tag solution.

“We’ve always wanted to enrich our customers’ lives and deliver a brand experience that extends beyond the products themselves,” said Uri Minkoff, co-founder and CEO of Rebecca Minkoff. “By bringing #AlwaysOn smart features to the bags, we’re opening doors to a world of amazing, hand-picked experiences we think our customers will love, while making it easier than ever for them to access special offers, recommendations, and other loyalty rewards.”

The bags each feature a serialised smart label that, when scanned by a smartphone, will enable the owner to receive exclusive offers, product recommendations and video content from Rebecca Minkoff. For now, that offering remains a fairly basic one, but long term, the vision is indeed for truly personalised experiences presented off the back of real-time data fed to the business from the bags.

The roadmap for 2018, for instance, includes using geo-targeting to reach additional partners within the lifestyle, wellness and beauty realm. The user may well walk into a hotel in Austin, Texas, for instance, and be presented with personalised content recommending what to do while in the city. Collaborations can follow with food, travel, concert brands and more.

The concept marks a broad potential movement, according to a report commissioned by EVRYTHNG and Avery Dennison, that suggests brands should be using the data that digital products can provide to drive emotional engagements with consumers. Head over to Forbes to read all about the report findings.

Categories
e-commerce mobile

Rebecca Minkoff partners with Alipay for NYFW

Alipay on display in the Rebecca Minkoff store
Alipay on display in the Rebecca Minkoff store

Rebecca Minkoff is paying attention to her Chinese fan base this New York Fashion Week, introducing in-store mobile payments via Alipay.

The initiative enables China shoppers to use their Alipay Mobile Wallet to make purchases at any Rebecca Minkoff store in the US, as well as at home when visiting the brand’s e-commerce site. Alipay is China’s leading online payment provider, with more than 520 million active users, and the primary means of online and mobile payment for Chinese consumers.

The partnership was announced ahead of Minkoff’s show, which took place in New York on Saturday, September 9.

“Chinese travelers represent an important and growing audience for Rebecca Minkoff,” said Uri Minkoff, CEO and co-founder of the brand. “By offering Alipay, we are ensuring that Chinese shoppers visiting any of our US stores or our website are met with an exceptional experience which includes the easiest and most familiar payment method for them. We are excited to be able to offer Alipay.”

Souheil Badran, president of Alipay North America, added: “By accepting Alipay, Rebecca Minkoff is able to target the right shopper through our Discover platform to ensure that the Chinese consumers can enjoy the best experience in-store or online without any language or payments barriers.”

The number of Chinese consumers visiting North America is predicted to grow to four million this year. Alipay first expanded its mobile payment service into the US in late 2016.

Categories
Comment Editor's pick technology

Is technology going out of fashion? Why it’s quieter than ever on this season’s catwalks

Gigi Hadid in Tommy Hilfiger's LA fashion week show  - technology innovation
Gigi Hadid in Tommy Hilfiger’s LA fashion week show

Despite some connected clothing here, a spot of mixed reality there, there’s largely been little in the way of technology in action this fashion week season. Not literally of course – behind the scenes, tech is working harder than ever to push the latest shows out to a widening consumer audience – but the role of innovation has made a serious shift away from big tech hits in recent times.

Over the past few years, tech has been the way to grab attention – we’ve seen everything from drones, holograms, virtual reality, wearables and more making their way down the New York, London, Milan and Paris runways. Who could forget Google Glass at Diane von Furstenberg, virtual reality windows at Topshop or the holographic Polo Ralph Lauren show? And that’s before you think about the likes of Burberry pioneering the way with endless partnerships with tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Such a focus wasn’t brand new (the infamous robotic spray-paint scene from Alexander McQueen takes us back to before today’s connected age – nearly 20 years ago to spring/summer 1999), but it exploded in the social media era, becoming the defacto way to draw headlines, whether it was for the first live streams or indeed those big budget campaigns.

But in the centre of all that, in some instances because of it, the very notion of fashion week has changed. Today, the industry is battling with an event series that has become consumer facing while it’s still set up to deliver primarily to a trade (wholesale) model. What appears on the catwalks is generally speaking six-months ahead of it hitting stores. The result is supposed consumer fatigue, greater fast fashion copycats and more pressure than ever on turnover, margins and more. The big question now is not only whether that should change, but how. Enter the “see-now, buy-now” movement from those able to be more agile in their production timelines, including Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford, Rebecca Minkoff, Topshop Unique and more.

Burberry's February 2017 LFW show  - innovation technology
Burberry’s February 2017 LFW show

But the follow-up question that then brings, is if we start selling to consumers now what does that mean for how things are marketed in real-time?

The simple answer, really, is to step away from the tech-for-tech’s-sake stuff; the attention grabbing initiatives without any substance behind them. That concept can still be achieved in other ways – with set designs, with political statements, with genuinely incredible collections. Today’s focus instead seems to be moving to conversion rates – to selling. And importantly, less on gimmicks.

It’s still very early days with this consumer-facing movement, and we’re just bedding in with the first iterations of it, let alone have any true measurement to compare. But, as one big British brand told me off the record this London Fashion Week: “If you have a line to push immediately, your efforts and budgets are going to go to that – to directing consumers into how to shop, not in something else that’s merely a brand move.”

What we did see in technology this season was accordingly driven by what would indeed impact the end shopper. There were chatbots once more from the likes of Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger. There was also an immediately shoppable initiative on Instagram from Rebecca Minkoff in partnership with LiketoKnow.it.

“Our customers love when we create unique experiences for them. More than just shopping, they get to be a part of our brand and we get to know them in a more meaningful way,” said Minkoff. “Collaborating with LiketoKnow.it empowers us to take that to a global audience by giving them immediate access to the same content and products that those attending in person are seeing, and that’s a very powerful opportunity.” She also introduced connected handbags to draw in certain shoppers to a unique experience of the show via a digital ticket.

The new connected #AlwaysOn Midnighter handbag from Rebecca Minkoff - innovation technology
The new connected handbag from Rebecca Minkoff

Tommy Hilfiger then introduced a visual search tool with Slyce – an app called Tommyland Snap:Shop that enabled users to take pictures of the models to pull up the e-commerce link to that item.

Both Minkoff and Hilfiger, who each showed in LA this season, otherwise focused heavily on the idea of full consumer entertainment as well as a significant influencer plug-in. The recognition here is that it’s about getting in front of the right consumers, and spending money to do it.

And this isn’t just a fashion week move. You can see the same with social media. It’s not about gimmicky campaigns anymore – when was the last time you called something on Facebook an innovation? It’s more about integration. It’s about decent budgets and shifting the needle on ROI.

It’s a similar story at retail, with fewer campaigns focused on technology in the store. That doesn’t mean there’s actually less tech in-store – but there’s a redirection towards the sort of tech that matters.

Speaking at the recent Commerce 2020 summit in London, Malcolm Pinkerton, VP of e-commerce and digital retail insights at Kantar Retail, said: “[In recent years] we’ve seen stores flooded with technology hoping it would digitise the experience, but it was hard to do and expensive to maintain. Now we’ve realised we can build solutions around what people bring in with them – mobile.”

Sabinna's LFW show was shot for mixed reality - technology innovation
Sabinna’s LFW show was shot for mixed reality

Innovation today is happening in that somewhat quieter fashion. Chatbots might still be nascent, but it makes sense they’re being experimented with – forget drones on the catwalk, why not offer personalised access to it through an AI-enabled smartphone experience? It’s for that same reason we’re seeing virtual reality and mixed reality content continuing during the shows – dipping a toe into where the future of interactive (and shoppable) content is moving.

The fact is, technology shouldn’t be a “brand move” anymore. It needs to work for who your customer is, where she is, and when. On that basis, it shifts from a headline, to a standard part of what you do. All year round.

That’s not to say there’s no place for innovation anymore. Far from it. It’s perhaps more necessary today, than ever. In this sort of market, the question increasingly becomes how do you stand out – especially if you don’t have Tommy Hilfiger-size budgets? And even if you do, how is that sustainable? On that basis, it’s about shifting the very fundamental underpinning of the business, not just the press release topline.

It’s about truly keeping ahead of the curve by disrupting the way you’ve always operated. Innovation today isn’t necessarily about the flashiest moves, but the smartest. Innovating in the supply chain, in the personalised customer experience via mobile, even eventually more and more through the fabrications themselves, is where we’ll start seeing real movements.

So is tech going out of fashion? No, but the thing to remember is that innovation is no longer just a marketing play; it’s an entire business mentality.

Categories
product technology

Rebecca Minkoff launches ‘connected’ bags that provide access to fashion week show

The new connected #AlwaysOn Midnighter handbag from Rebecca Minkoff
The new connected #AlwaysOn Midnighter handbag from Rebecca Minkoff

Rebecca Minkoff is continuing on her tech-enabled journey as a fashion brand, this time introducing smart tags to her new handbag designs in order to offer consumers access to exclusive content and experiences.

Ahead of her fashion week show taking place at The Grove in Los Angeles this weekend, 10 limited edition bags, dubbed the #AlwaysOn Midnighter style, will be available at an exclusive pop-up shop on site. Each one comes with a hangtag that unlocks a ticket to the spring/summer 2017 runway event when scanned.

The initiative is in partnership with apparel branding solutions Avery Dennison’s Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) division and Internet of Things platform EVRYTHNG. It follows the 2016 announcement of the duo’s #BornDigital concept, which aims to digitise 10 billion items of clothing and accessories over the next three years. The first iteration of this was seen with a limited edition run of jackets from New York menswear brand Rochambeau in October.

Rather than a one-off, in this instance, Rebecca Minkoff has further announced that all of its bags will be “smart” by summer 2017, helping to push towards that vision for the mass spread of #BornDigital wardrobes. Head over to Forbes to read all about what the products provide access to via their digital identities in the cloud.

Categories
business e-commerce Editor's pick mobile technology

The automated future of the fashion store: where self-checkouts and human touch collide

Rebecca Minkoff's new self-checkout
Rebecca Minkoff’s new self-checkout

There was a media frenzy when Amazon Go was announced in December 2016. A grocery store based initially in Seattle, it enables shoppers to literally just walk out with whatever items they choose thanks to sensors recording what they pick up and charging back to their Amazon Prime accounts. Facilitated by first swiping the Amazon app on your smartphone, it nods to the automated future of retail, but more than that the growing potential ahead for the phone to control the entire commerce experience.

A wake-up call to retail execs around the world, the question on many people’s lips is whether that concept is equally applicable to other verticals? From a value proposition, not to mention strategic business perspective, it’s something that makes a great deal of sense for grocery, where both the barrier to entry and level of associated risk, is low. But for the sake of this argument, can it work for fashion? Will we all soon be able to pick up new clothes in-store and just walk out too, or will we always expect to have a level of human interaction with such tactile purchases?

The fact is, we live in an evermore-demanding society. Consumers today expect instant access to everything – from cars to food – at the touch of a screen. Patience has gone down. Convenience is key. Even in fashion, new businesses keep popping up offering us clothes for rent, clothes through our mailboxes, clothes tailored to our exact needs.

For all of these retailers, it’s a race to the bottom (led by Amazon no less) to offer faster than ever fulfilment to meet our expectations. The same goes in the store space, where standing in line to pay for something is as far removed as can be from the ease of the on-demand mobile era we otherwise inhabit, even at a luxury level.

This was part of the premise behind the launch of New York designer Rebecca Minkoff’s self-checkout in her Soho store at the end of 2016 too. Partnering with QueueHop to provide the technology, the aim was to ease the shopping experience for the millennial consumer the brand is targeted at. Unlike Amazon Go, there is still a checkout to contend with, but one the shopper can do for herself.

“More and more we are seeing millennials want to be in complete control of any and all of their shopping, and that includes payment. Long gone are the days where you needed to depend fully on a sales assistant to request new sizes or to ring you up,” said Uri Minkoff, CEO at Rebecca Minkoff. Part of his point is that there’s an inherent burden that comes with shopping in stores when the line is long. “If we could shave off time, would that spur consumers to go into stores more? Could that spur a return to retail?” he asked.

The other piece for the Rebecca Minkoff team was about reducing the “social friction” of a luxury shopping experience, or as Minkoff referred to it, removing the “Pretty Woman moment”. This means enabling shoppers to no longer feel judged by staff for what they look like and instead being left to enjoy the experience. “If we use technology to take that [bias] out of the equation, then we become blind to what a person looks like, meaning ultimately we can create a better relationship between the store associate and consumer,” he explains.

Katie Baron, head of retail, innovation and insights at trends service Stylus, agrees: “I think there’s a need to look at the wider implications of automation beyond the desire only for speed and convenience – understanding the mileage these concepts also have because of the sense of control they present to the consumer, who doesn’t always want to be steered or cajoled into line or, particularly in the case of luxury brands, have to contend with a rather intimidating experience.”

The QueueHop system comes with an RFID tag that brings the item up for payment on an iPad and an anti-theft device that only unlocks after that exchange is made. That means there is literally no need to speak to or deal with a sales associate at all if so desired, much like the online shopping experience feels.

Uri Minkoff in front of the new Rebecca Minkoff self-checkout
Uri Minkoff in front of the new Rebecca Minkoff self-checkout

Central to all of this is the fact the technology is only today fit for purpose, Minkoff said, emphasizing that he’s been working on this concept for two years. With stores (and products) today now evermore connected, the possibilities for this ahead are, of course, only going to improve. Rebecca Minkoff also has a connected fitting room experience for instance, while others including Ralph Lauren and Nordstrom are also playing in the space. As highlighted in this 2017 tech trends for retail list, it’s about the Internet of Things having a useful consumer impact by enabling a more frictionless mode of shopping.

As Uwe Hennig, CEO of retail software vendor, Detego, which works with other retail brands to help connect their clothing and their physical spaces, says: “We’re already starting to see a change in the way stores are being designed, with conventional [checkouts] being replaced by mobile terminals. […] In the not too distant future, you can expect to see retailers putting self-checkout systems directly into the fitting room, in combination with smart fitting rooms. These will allow consumers to try on clothes, but also browse and choose other accessories, styles or sizes and request sales staff bring them directly to the fitting room, as well as checkout themselves.”

He sees getting point of sale (POS) queues under control as of particular benefit to fast fashion retailers, over luxury – a boon to high traffic sites and particularly time-starved shoppers. For the more premium store by comparison, there’s somewhat of a gap between the values of automation, and a remaining focus on personalized service and interaction with the customer.

As Ana Andjelic, SVP and global strategy director at Havas Lux Hub, notes: “Self-checkouts are firmly going to set apart the mass/fast fashion from the premium/luxury fashion. They make more sense for the former, where it’s all about speed and volume versus the latter, when it’s about the quality of experience, of service and feeling being taken care of.” Indeed you can imagine automated purchases in H&M more so than Louis Vuitton.

Minkoff admits the feedback he’s received from the industry has been mixed: “Some brands have said ‘that’s amazing and we love it’, and others say ‘we don’t think it’s right for us’, and that’s totally cool.”

Of course, there were many brands who also believed e-commerce wasn’t going to impact the industry at one stage of its development, yet it’s now expected to be worth €70 billion annually for luxury goods by 2025, according to McKinsey.

The answer at this point, therefore, is about balance. José Neves, founder and CEO of online marketplace Farfetch, which also owns London boutique Browns, recently told the Guardian: “I’m a believer in physical retail experiences; I always say ‘fashion isn’t downloadable’. You need the human element – a program or piece of technology won’t provide the full level of care, attention and assistance that a shop assistant or customer service team will give. This interaction and engagement is an essential component of providing a luxury experience. On the other hand, you can’t ignore technology. To succeed we need to strike a balance between the online and offline experience.”

To achieve this Sucharita Mulpuru, chief retail strategist at Shoptalk, recommends thinking about high touch and low touch interactions with consumers in different ways. “Paying for your transaction needn’t be high touch. Even high-end hotels let you check out on your own, so self-checkout in stores shouldn’t be a foreign concept. That said, luxury will still need people in stores to greet people, to share the stories of the brand and the products, to manage exceptions and problems with transactions, etc. but for straightforward transactions, there is no reason that self-checkout shouldn’t be an option.”

Part of the issue, is that what a self-checkout looks like itself isn’t overly luxurious. “The form factor and execution will be critical. It would be silly to have a kiosk that looks like something you’d find at an airport, but if customers can check out on their own phones (like the Apple Stores allow), that could be the right approach,” Mulpuru adds.

Amazon Go operates on the basis of turnstiles similar to those found in the subway, which permit entry into the space once your Amazon app has been swiped. Uri Minkoff doesn’t imagine this will translate overly well to a high-end fashion store, but he does see the idea of more seamless automated transactions enabled in other ways in the future, so customers can similarly just walk out. “We’re already working on a next iteration that would make it even more seamless than it already is,” he explains. “I still think when dealing with items that are hundreds or thousands of dollars, then there’s got to be a security element to it. In a grocery setting, where an item, is a dollar or two, it’s different, but maybe through technology like facial recognition we will get there.”

Indeed, there’s no reason down the line why a luxury retail experience shouldn’t also include automatically identifying consumers (through facial recognition, or their phones, on an opt-in basis) when they enter the store in order to tailor service personally to them.

Andjelic suggests a layer of artificial intelligence is what will then make all the difference for luxury retailers adopting some level of automation at the checkout stage. “There’s tons that AI can do for luxury fashion when it comes to luxury stores as POS, and is all going to revolve around low-value interactions (like filling out one’s billing address) being outsourced to AI and high-value interactions (like white-glove customer service) belonging to humans. High-end fashion stores would definitely want to make the checkout process as seamless, efficient and convenient as possible, and AI will have a big role in that but more on the back-end side… What can we outsource to technology that is going to help us to have a better one-on-one personal relationship with our customers?”

John Vary, head of innovation at UK department store John Lewis, similarly imagines a future where in fact what we have is automation alongside human interaction to maintain a sense of luxury as far as fashion is concerned. He believes the result will be an enhancement of the customer experience, thanks to technology.

“We are moving to ‘intelligence amplification’ through the creation of intelligent artificial systems resulting in humans having extended ability to provide better services and solutions for customers,” he explains. “The rapid evolution of technology, such as computer vision and machine learning is enabling retailers to curate end-to-end customer journeys built for convenience and connectivity. Having a hybrid model is essential, and the next natural step in the adoption and evolution of these behaviors and the successful convergence of digital and human centered experiences.”

As Minkoff concludes: “We’re in a period of radical change, and the old way over the last 100 years of going to market, being based on a busy street and having good product, no longer cuts it alone. Some brands are slow to adopt, for some [such new technology] just doesn’t work, but either way, change is inevitable and we prefer to be at front of the pack than the back.”

This post first appeared on Forbes

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data Startups technology

Rebecca Minkoff introduces VC fund for early-stage tech start-ups

Rebecca Minkoff's in-store digital mirror
Rebecca Minkoff’s in-store digital mirror

Rebecca Minkoff is continuing on the fashion and tech train, this time launching a venture capital fund dedicated to finding relevant early-stage start-ups.

Run in collaboration with Quotidian Ventures, it plans to identify and invest in six to eight companies per year.

According to Pedro Torres-Mackie, founder and managing director at Quotidian Ventures, the programme will serve as a talent funnel to help identify companies and resources that would best benefit the Rebecca Minkoff brand and the industry at large, reports Glossy.

Speaking at the National Retail Federation’s Retail’s Big Show in New York this week, Uri Minkoff, CEO and president of Rebecca Minkoff, said the brand was inspired to launch a fund off the back of the number of tech companies that got in touch following the introduction of its tech-enabled store concept in 2014. That includes its connected fitting room experience, and more recently its self-checkout concept.

He said the company’s first investment is in 42 Technologies, a big data business working with retailers (including Rebecca Minkoff already), and previously part of the New York Fashion Tech Lab cohort.

Rebecca Minkoff herself added that she hopes the fund will help leverage female entrepreneurs in STEM fields. “There are not enough female engineers and coders working in the tech space to bring their user experience to the conversation when it comes to design,” she said. “As females, we have different user experiences, and so the opportunity to invest in those that have a company that serves women by women, is what excites me the most.”

Torres-Mackie added that he’s particularly interested in growth areas including virtual reality and wearables. “We’ve reached the point where a virtual augmented closet will be an inevitability, and the reason we’re here is to make it happen faster,” he commented.