5 Things You May Have Missed This Week

By Georgia Buchanan

1. FashTech Talk: Luxe in Flux

On Thursday evening we held our first Shoreditch House FashTech Talk, on the subject of ‘Luxe in Flux’ with Robin Derrick, global creative director at Spring Studios, Zoe Patoff, Head of Digital at Karla Otto, and Karim Kanji, omnichannel retail expert at Lightspeed. Moderated by our very own Alex Semenzato, the panel discussed the very hot topic of how luxury brands are adapting to the digital age.

Robin kicked off the discussion by taking a step back and asking “what is a luxury brand?”, saying that, in his opinion, it is a brand that is trying to add value to its product with a story, allowing yourself the ability to increase your price through storytelling around a product. He explained how the traditional system of the luxury brand has ended, with a very current tipping point occurring in which the power is shifting from the brand to the consumer. “Top photographers aren’t getting work now, because people are hiring Instagrammers with tens of thousands of followers instead.” In terms of which brands are embracing this new online era well, Robin cited Gucci and Farfetch, the latter seconded by Karim who explained how they are disrupting the old systems and acting as advocates of change. He also cited Frank and Oak as a great example of an aspirational luxury brand. They started by focusing on e-commerce first, leading with high quality content, and used a retail launchpad for bricks and mortar. Zoe Patoff, on the other hand, admitted that she believes “no one is doing omnichannel well”. A lot of people have been talking about Burberry recently, but she explained how, in reality, they are just very good at creating a PR buzz. Whilst they have screens in store with great content, it is not interactive; it doesn’t allow their customers to engage and play. Zoe cited Gucci as a very hot brand of the moment, enlisting unknown artists with impressive followings into campaigns to interpret their brand codes in new and innovative ways. Gucci are doing it so well that it has prompted a period of “copy cats”, but these brands aren’t thinking about what is best for their image and their consumers; there is no personalisation involved and that is what these brands are hugely lacking. Zoe explained how “what brands need to create is something that gives something back to the consumer. To create experiences and make shopping easier. Personalisation is the most important thing.”

Whilst Zoe cites personalisation as the key to luxury brands’ future success, Robin returned to his notion of storytelling, explaining how that has always been the main focus but it is just that they now have to approach it in a different way. Gucci is one luxury brand that is tapping into this idea brilliantly. Zoe said: “They are selling you a dream. They’re culturally relevant. They don’t have any tech in store but everyone’s hooked on Gucci because it is so beautifully portrayed.” They are thinking about their customer journey. She explained how it is clear to see that they have someone new and exciting at the helm, leading it from a 360 omnichannel approach. But going back to tech, and where it is leading, the panel discussed an optimism for the in-store experience, with developments like smart changing rooms (as used by Rebecca Minkoff) and augmented reality having the potential to hugely improve the customer experience. However, Karim stated that it is ultimately the backend technology that makes the big difference, especially for up and coming brands. “It’s things like your e-commerce platform, your point of sale and your social media that do the heavy lifting.”

Speaking on the subject of tech reticence from luxury brands, Robin explained how it’s not that they don’t want to be there, doing it, it’s just that their brand is everything and they don’t let anyone touch it unless there is known, proven quality. It also means spreading out their budget across a multitude of social media channels and they tend to be worried about the diminished production value devaluing their portrayal of luxury. Zoe added the very valid point that these luxury brands often don’t have the right teams in place with the necessary experience and resources. They often outsource the work to other agencies, delaying the inevitable of actually having to learn how this all works themselves. This lack of experience and know-how can be hugely detrimental, for example, picking the wrong social influencers to help promote a product just because they have a huge following. She explained how “Luxury brands don't want to go online or into e-commerce omnichannel because they want to retain control. That's crazy. They lost control the moment Instagram came along. A girl can buy a bag, pose for a photo with it and post it online and there is nothing the brand can do about it!” They need to learn to embrace this and work with it. But currently, “there is a major disconnect between the business owners in luxury and the channels they now use.” Karim explained that that is where a huge opportunity lies for small businesses, as there is a reticence from bigger brands to progress. More agile new comers that aren't technophobes can grow and compete where bigger brands fear to tread.

Something that all speakers were keen to convey to our audience was the importance (and excitement) of the democratisation of fashion. Technology is being made so accessible now and it is allowing the consumer to take the reigns more, and brands that tap into this are the ones who are going to be winning. For example, by using of Snapchat. It is by far the latest and greatest social media platform in terms of reaching and, more importantly, engaging with your consumers. Zoe lamented how Instagram is starting to lose everything that she used to love about it; a raw insight into your favourite brands’ worlds. Instead fashion accounts are starting to look like the advertising pages in Vogue, she said, which is far less interesting for the shopper. Snapchat on the other hand is raw, intimate and fun. It gives a far better insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ of the brands and thus makes the consumer excited about the products and the lifestyle associated with them. However, a lot of luxury brands are yet to join. Missing a trick there we think!

Alex closed the discussion by asking whether our speakers thought that tech might be the death of traditional shops, but Karim was confident in his belief that “If anything, technology will facilitate and perpetuate the growth of bricks and mortar stores.” A notion that Zoe concurred, but on the premise that brands start to learn how best to use their store and e-commerce real estate. They must engage their audience and create a personalised experience. Karim said that, despite the growing belief that high street is dying, he actually believes that there’s never been a better time to enter the high street. Robin’s dream though is that the future of retail is a high street full of independent, local brands. As Zoe said, that prospect is much more exciting than a high street full of chains!

Finally, when asked by Alex to give a parting few words on what they think is the most important focus for luxury brands now, Karim said accessible e-commerce, Zoe personalisation, and Robin: “content is key.”

2. Subway Stores: The New Retail Destination?

Bricks-and-mortar stores are doing all that they can at the moment to keep up their customers’ interest; finding ways to be original, to match the excitement and ease of online stores, and to connect with the all-important millennial generation. We’ve seen concept stores, stores with virtual reality headsets showing customers the latest runway shows, stores with ‘smart’ mirrors, and more. And now New York is focusing on the subterranean store. The city’s subways are becoming the destination for a number of up-and-coming retail brands, with two major concepts opening within the next few months.

The first company, looking to move the way we think of subway shops away from tourist stands and kiosks to quality retail concept spaces and cute unique independent boutiques, is The New Stand. Winning first place at The Fashion Technology Forum’s 2015 Founders of the Future Challenge, the concept “asks commuters to see the beauty and whimsy in functional, everyday items - elevating the commuting experience from mundane to engaging. Brand collaborations allow for revolving partnerships and promotions in addition to their kitschy and cute wares - coinciding with their free app that delivers curated news content and promotional deals to members.” (WGSN Insider) For any of you New Yorkers, you can find The New Stand below Union Square subway station, at Brookfield place downtown and below the Columbus Circle station as part of the new Turnstyle underground shopping complex.

Turnstyle is New York City’s latest underground store opening, with over 30 retailers and fast-casual restaurants, collaboratively offering everything from tacos to pressed juices to locally-sourced jewellery. With the likes of menswear boutique Spectre and Co. and online retailer Fab both hosting physical spaces within the complex, it is sure to offer an elevated shopping experience for all demographics.

Following a similar layout, but on a far larger scale, is The Oculus. Dubbed the Westfield World Trade Centre, The Oculus will house 125 stores, including the likes of Kate Spade, Reiss Penhaligons and many many more. Opening on August 16th, it is sure to draw the crowds, both for its mammoth offering of “never-before-found-below-Soho shops” and for its incredible architecture.

Is this a format that London could try to emulate or do we think that it would just be more of the same that we already have, minus sunlight?

3. The Next Step For Smartwatches

Wearable tech and smart gadgets haven’t always proved too popular with the average consumer. But we can’t deny that our society is quickly travelling towards a world where tech is integrated in all that we do; and thus will most likely be integrated into most products that we wear.

The Apple watch is taking its time to catch on, and Android Wear is far from becoming a household item, but it seems the missing ingredient, or function, of the smartwatch may have been presented to us this week. The idea of a ‘gesture’-controlled device might just be the next step. Invoc, a project by Fjord/Chaotic R&D, is taking Google’s Project Soli software (which allows you to control a watch by gesturing around the screen) one step further. Co.Design explains how ‘using a smartwatch’s built-in accelerometer, it reads any motion your arm makes to control connected devices via Bluetooth’. For example, you could twist your hand to increase your Spotify volume, or flick your wrist to turn a light on or call an Uber.

Obviously this could prove tricky if you are, say, flicking a fly away and accidentally call a cab… but Chaotic Moon are on the case building safety software to prevent any unwanted gesture activations. You will have to rotate your wrist in a very precise way, similar to the specific delivery required when speaking to Siri, and then make the functional gesture afterwards, meaning that two movements, or gestures, are required for each simple function.

There are still a lot of tweaks to be made and creases to be ironed out before the concept is fully functional. For example the Invoc software burns through battery too quickly to be practical, and it is a big feat for a watch alone to have the necessary environmental awareness to ensure a 100% recognition rate of all flicks, twists and so on. Having said that, I am very excited to try one of these out if/when they come to market.

4. Modular Products: The Future of Fashion Tech?

Whilst fashion tech is huge and ever growing industry that is becoming more widely acknowledged with each passing day, ‘wearable tech’ still holds somewhat of a stigma. The term is often associated with gimmicky, clunky products, and it is not spreading to the mass market at a quick rate. A lot of consumers and retailers lack an enthusiasm for the technology-enhanced fashion category. The Industry believes that this may, in part, be due to the fact that the buyer knows that when a new technology product comes out it’s only a matter of time before a better version is launched, hence making one hesitant to make the investment. Consumers nowadays love fast fashion. The likes of Primark and Zara are so popular because they offer low-cost clothing that won’t last but will allow consumers to buy a new outfit every month. As we know, though, this is hugely detrimental to our environment and something that tech can surely help to conquer. But how can we produce less and still continue to satisfy the customer’s thirst for mass-consumption? The Industry suggests that “perhaps the real revolution of technology-enhanced fashion is going to be modular, customisable, upgradable products”, i.e. you have one product with multiple removable and updatable parts, allowing you to stay on trend but consume less. The benefits of this concept? The consumer only pays to upgrade the product in stages, reducing upfront costs, but maintaining a high quality level of product, and there is no risk of product redundancy, making it more appealing to the mass market. As The Industry states, tech companies are already doing this successfully with software, so why not try it with hardware too?

5. Instagram Takeover: Maddy Maxey!

This week we saw the first in our series of Instagram Takeovers, with the brilliant Francis Bitonti taking the reigns of our Instagram account for the day on Tuesday, posting five beautiful photos and one video, giving us an exclusive insight into a day in the life of his studio. If you missed it, make sure to check it out on our account @fashtechldn.

Next week we have takeover number two from the equally brilliant Maddy Maxey! Maddy builds prototypes, writes code and is a hugely innovative figure in the world of design and technology. On Wednesday the 15th, she will be logged in to our Instagram, documenting her day at a conference at Congress in DC. It’s sure to be an amazing insight into an incredibly exciting discussion, so make sure to tune in!