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business Editor's pick product Retail

From Pharrell to Barneys: the importance of collaboration

Pharrell Williams at the Fast Company Festival
Pharrell Williams at the Fast Company Festival

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.

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SoulCycle teams up with Ultracor to create personalized leggings

SoulCycle x Ultracor
SoulCycle x Ultracor

Fitness brand SoulCycle is working with performance wear line Ultracor to give customers the opportunity to personalize their own pair of leggings in minutes.

A continuation of the duo’s collaboration in the summer of 2017, the partnership sees new Ultracor kiosks set up in select SoulCycle studios that allow indoor cycling guests, or “riders” as they’re known, to design and personalize their individual styles.

The kiosks are launching with five different legging designs; each one using next generation digital printing, patented built-in shapewear and breathable fabric.

The result means riders are able to customize their leggings in a number of ways to make them a perfect fit. By including height in the design process, the Ultracor kiosk is able to ensure that the knee break and waistband heights of the leggings are in a comfortable position for the wearer.

Customers can also select the exact shades they’d like to use for parts of their pants from a full color scale, rather than a few options. The designs can then be further personalized with the addition of up to 10 characters of text that are added to the back right side.

Soulcycle x Ultracor
Soulcycle x Ultracor

Each design is priced at circa $200 and new styles will be added to the kiosks every couple of weeks. The leggings are delivered to the customer within three business days.

The initiative is an interesting example of SoulCycle thinking beyond the idea of being a fitness studio and instead considering its role as a lifestyle brand; thinking about the retail side of things to drive consumer engagement and new revenue streams.

Brand collaboration has been long been a feature of SoulCycle’s strategy. It recently partnered with luxury fragrance company Le Labo to update its locker room amenities, for instance.

It has also partnered with a number of fashion brands to create capsule collections, and in a surprising twist, New York bakery Milk Bar, to create a protein post-workout cookie.

At SXSW this year, the company’s CEO Melanie Whelan joined Milk Bar’s Christina Tossi in a panel to discuss the importance of collaboration as part of a cult brand’s DNA. “Introducing new moments to surprise and delight consumers is key,” Whelan said.

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business Editor's pick

SXSW 2018: Why collaboration is part of the DNA of cult brands

Michael Lastoria (&pizza) and Christina Tosi (Milk)
Michael Lastoria (&pizza) and Christina Tosi (Milk)

Cross-brand collaboration can be the oxygen of running a brand in 2018’s turbulent retail environment, said Madewell’s Libby Waddle at SXSW this weekend.

The brand’s president joined a group of pioneering US companies, including &pizza’s Michael Lastoria, Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi and Soulcycle’s Melanie Whelan, to talk about the importance of teaming up with like-minded individuals as the key to running a successful cult label.

What all four companies have in common is a fiercely loyal customer following, which has enabled them to create lifestyle ecosystems that expand beyond their initial product and service offering. Collaborations have been key for customer acquisition by introducing the brands to an entirely new audience, the speakers discussed.

Programs such as Madewell’s Hometown Heroes and &pizza’s Little Giants, not only spotlight local labels, but create a deeper bond with communities who want to engage with brands that micro-target their interactions and enable a sense of belonging, they noted. This strategy has also been an essential element to avoid fatigue from the consumer’s standpoint, and allow the companies to stay on top of their game.

Madewell's Hometown Heroes
Madewell’s Hometown Heroes

For Tosi of Milk Bar, partnerships have allowed the brand to have more ownership in spaces consumers wouldn’t normally associate Milk with. Once they gained the consumer’s trust, it was easier to begin introducing new products that at first seemed left-field, she said, such as a protein-based cookie in collaboration with SoulCycle (while the bakery is famous for indulgent and sugar-filled treats).

Beyond the product itself, the overarching theme was how collaborations have kept consumers constantly coming back for more. In a landscape where there is on-demand access to goods at the touch of a finger, introducing new moments to ‘surprise & delight’ consumers is key, said Soulcycle’s Whelan, who introduced co-branded Jonathan Adler candles to the studio’s changing rooms very early on.

The conversation also focused on how collaborations are key to nurturing the wellbeing of employees internally, which is something Lastoria is a fierce advocate of. The &pizza founder says it is often the company’s ‘friends & family’ who introduce them to new products, and it is vital to their culture that he understands he is there to serve his employers first, and the customer second.

As for the secret sauce for running a cult brand, Lastoria said it is about being human and ensuring your business is wildly personal, which is often something CEOs forget about.

Soulcycle’s Whelan added that when you ensure you are the best part of someone’s day, cult-like interactions happen naturally: “When you can make it about someone else and brighten their day in some way, that’s when the tribal nature starts to take hold.”

Meanwhile, Tosi’s approach balances business acumen with a hint of rebellion, which has enabled her to create a booming baking empire: “Once you learn to paint by numbers, you have to figure out a way to colour outside the lines.”