5 Things You May Have Missed This Week

By Georgia Buchanan

1. Personal Stylists To The Physical Store’s Rescue

In the ongoing battle between e-commerce and physical retail, bricks-and-mortar stores are playing their personal stylist service as an Ace card to win over uncertain customers. E-commerce may be more painless and practical in the first instance than offline shopping, but you can’t know if the items are actually going to look good on you until you take delivery of them and try them on. Whereas when shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores, you know then and there, and will rarely leave with an item that you plan to return. And not only can you rely on the assurance of your own eyes, but also on those of a professional personal stylist, if you so wish; something that can never be utilised when purchasing online.

By making their styling services more accessible, the likes of Topshop, Anthropologie and Club Monaco are hoping to gain an edge over their e-commerce competitors. Personalisation and experience are two key areas to nail if you want to rise to the top in the fashion retail world, and stylists are a brilliant way for bricks-and-mortar stores to answer this call, in a way that online stores simply cannot match. Rachel Venrick, a personal stylist at the Nordstrom in the Mall of America, spoke to The Atlantic about her experiences as a stylist and described how “the use of technology, the internet, our cell phones, and the app” has totally altered the way that we shop now compared to the pre-tech era. She can style her clients remotely via their store app, as well as communicating with them via text or email in between meet-ups. This creates a hugely personal customer-stylist relationship, consequently building a strong trust and a loyalty with the brand. It also actually creates a bridge between online shopping and offline shopping for those stores with both physical stores and e-commerce sites, as it allows the customer to message and ask the stylist for advice on size and colour etc for particular pieces, meaning an increase in conversion.

Stylists are an acquired taste; not everyone wants them, not everyone can afford them, but for those who do it’s an important area for brands to maintain and update to meet their customers’ changing needs. Create a personal experience that no other store, online or offline, can match, and you’re creating a safety net for your brand.

2. Confessions of a Fashion Start Up Founder

This is a Glossy article. The original can be found here.

The collision of fashion and tech has spawned a cottage industry of those looking to shepherd the would-be disruptors into the ways of the industry.

Fashion incubators and accelerators like Pratt’s Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator, the New York Fashion Tech Lab and the CFDA Fashion Incubator have sprung up, designed to help budding industry talent get off the ground. The idea: new designers and young fashion-tech startups enter these programs to get access to resources and to find a sense of support through a likeminded community. In exchange, the teams running the incubators and accelerators get access to the industry’s upcoming technology and talent, helping them build relationships with investors and retailers.

While each incubator and accelerator offers its own benefits to participating startups and designer — a partnership with a major retailer, a grant, a workspace — they’re not all created equal, and some don’t always have the young companies’ best interests at heart. For entrepreneurs with an idea and a dream, choosing the right incubator or accelerator is an important decision — and not an easy one.

In this edition of Confessions, in which we exchange anonymity for honesty, one fashion startup founder who’s been through seven different incubators and accelerators shares what the experience is really like for newly launched companies.

Which model provides a more beneficial experience?
The accelerator model is intense. Either you bring your business to a whole new place, or you fail, and very quickly realize the faults of your business. In an incubator, you can make your own timeline. There are good and bad sides of both. The incubator is less taxing, but the downfall is that you have to create your own milestones and goals and be more proactive, so a lot rides on the personality of the team to get something out of it. The accelerator makes you accountable and forces you into a tight timeline, which can be good for testing new things, but puts a lot of stress on the team and its founders.

Can you talk more about the stress of the accelerators?
Accelerators will have mandatory meetings, hours and KPIs that the company has to outline with advisors and investors, and it usually ends in a Demo Day for a new product at the end, which is a lot to prepare for. It’s not realistic for all companies in the timeframe of the accelerator. Some businesses can’t accelerate as quickly as they’re pushed to. It can be frustrating.

If you don’t hit certain milestones, you can’t continue. In one accelerator, they gave us a grant — but only half of it was given at the beginning. We had to hit big milestones halfway through to receive the rest of the grant. I really didn’t like that model, because with what they outlined for our goals, we were pushed to be very aggressive. It was a very stressful time for us. We were in jeopardy of not getting the rest of the grant, which, as a startup, we needed 100 percent. That wasn’t a positive experience.

You’ve had experience in both fashion-specific and general incubators and accelerators. Did you see a difference?
The retail and fashion world is so unlike every other industry out there. It’s very traditional, and it’s all about who you know and how to get people to trust you. The traditional incubator doesn’t have that clout in the fashion industry. We started in tech incubators, but moved to fashion incubators for the connections. Otherwise, we would still be trying to get established, and even still, it’s been a very long process.

Fashion incubators and accelerators often promise to help match startups to established retailers. Do they deliver?
It’s important to understand the terms of the business relationship and the motivating factors behind each party. Some incubators cater to certain retailers and brands, so those retailers are paying them. You have to understand where the incentives lie, and that sometimes it’s about what works best for the incubator, not you. It’s about educating yourself — who is benefiting here and what are the goals?

When a retailer is paying to participate in an incubator and have access to the companies first, there’s an underlying reason to force deals to happen quicker, which can actually be detrimental to your company. In the beginning, we were naive, and thought everything was in our best interest. But now we ask ourselves in the beginning: why are we here and what do we want to get out of this? You want to make sure you’re actually going to bring value to whomever you’re partnering with.

What solutions are retailers looking for in fashion tech?
Most of them don’t even know what they’re setting out to get. Fashion tech is the Wild West. I’ve met with brands who don’t even do e-commerce, which is shocking. It’s 2016. Many are working off of Excel spreadsheets. There hasn’t been a ton of technology implemented. There’s so much that can be done to make more efficient supply chains, or to rethink the business model entirely. Nothing has changed in 100 years — it really hasn’t. The business model hasn’t changed at all, and that’s what’s needed.

3. The Latest on 3D Printing: What The Fashion World Thinks

3D printing isn’t new. It was born in the 1980s and has been slowly spreading its name across different industries until it reached the fashion world. And it hasn’t had the smoothest or most positive of inductions. However, it seems the luxury fashion world may be changing its tune on the multi-functional printing trend. The technology is accelerating at great speed at the moment due to progress in materials science and software, making it unimaginably easy to “scan an object, turning its atoms into bits, and then print it out, turning those bits into atoms” (Business of Fashion). 3D printing incorporates three main technologies, of which stereolithography (SLA), “where a polymer liquid deposited into a tray solidifies, layer by layer, under the effect of a light radiated by an ultra-violet laser that sweeps the surface”, is the most prevalent in the luxury fashion world.

Generally speaking, however, 3D printing is far better suited to hard materials over soft which is why the most common 3D products in the fashion world are jewellery, eyewear and watches. This characteristic of 3D printing has created a sense of it being fairly stiff and unstylish overall, but one person who believes strongly in 3D printing’s future is Pascal Morand, executive president of the governing body of French fashion: the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. “Make no mistake, 3D printing is nothing short of a new industrial revolution that also holds potential for major innovation in terms of economic models, not least via on-demand production.” Morand believes that this current association with rigidity will soon be long gone, as research is progressing into developing soft materials using thermoplastic polyurethane.

Not only does it have implications for bags and jewellery and the like, 3D printing is also proving hugely successful beyond this, with the likes of customisation in sportswear. We wrote about Adidas’s new 3D-printed midsole for its new trainer in a recent digest, which can be printed to create the perfect fit, and Nike’s COO imagines that customers will soon be able to purchase a file for a sneaker, customised to your liking, and then print it at a nearby Nike store.

However, there is still a lot to do to allow 3D printing to reach its full potential. Currently, it is a very slow process, with the creation of a sophisticated object of just a few cubic centimetres taking hours. So “reducing printing time is a major factor in the growth of the technology, but progress is encouraging.” And whilst 3D printing can allow us to save huge amounts of material and thus aide the sustainability of our planet, it also raises issues with the recycling of unused powder.

Morand is hugely positive about this new industrial revolution, however, which can put more power in the hands of the consumers, and believes it will undoubtedly help to “enrich the dialogue between the consumer and the designer and give rise to a wider range of goods than ever before.”

4. Responsive Design: An E-Commerce Site Must

This week, Brian Rigney, CEO of Zmags, told the readers of Apparel the importance of responsive design for e-commerce sites to drive customer value. The vast majority of our western world owns a smartphone. 68% of US adults, in fact, and 86% of 18-29 year olds. Tablet ownership has also edged up to 45% of adults in the US. Therefore, a responsive website is now a complete and total must-have for e-commerce retailers. If you want to compete in this hugely oversaturated market, you have to be offering a user experience that is simultaneously “understood” across all devices and is the best it can possibly be across every digital touchpoint.

Mobile shopping is growing, with customers having the means to be much more spontaneous, clicking the buy button on their commute to work or on a tablet on holiday. However, conversion rates are still low in comparison to the amount of visits mobile sites get. So how can e-commerce sites obliterate this discrepancy? Optimised content. It’s a long and arduous process to create effective device-specific content. You need to think about experience considerations; what the visitor wants to see, what they want to do, and how to make that journey as simple as possible for them. Make your content engaging and, more importantly, shoppable, and you will see the difference in conversion rates imminently. Use rich imagery, HTML5 animations, high-res product images, and easy to access “buy now” buttons. Essentially, “the shorter the path to purchase, the more likely it is that she will actually buy.”

The importance of responsive design is clearly tangible. “For retailers that successfully combine the elements of responsive design and inspiring graphics and images with short, simple paths to purchase, mobile conversion rates often can exceed 30%, which is 25% higher than the Demandware Review study.” So the lesson? Get your brand on every device, and make it as simple as can be.

5. FashTech Talks: “Age of the Influencer?” Round Up

On Wednesday evening, we took over The Yard in Shoreditch, IPR London’s amazing adaptable space, to host the next in our series of FashTech Talks. In this week’s sold out event, we were discussing the very current topic of influencer marketing; the huge growth of it in recent years, the implementation of new laws and the ramifications of these, the relationship between influencers and brands, and the possible future of this particular marketing strategy.

Our fantastic panel consisted of Diipa Khosla, India’s most successful global lifestyle and fashion blogger; Debbie Cartwright, MD of IPR London; Amber Atherton, Entrepreneur and Founder of myflashtrash.com; Samuel Barrett, Head of Business Development at Takumi; all overseen by moderator John Harrington, Deputy Editor at PR Week. John kicked off the discussion by defining an influencer as a consumer/blogger/‘normal’ person who has become influential for brands by building up an organic following on social media. For the purposes of this discussion, we did not want to include celebrities under the term influencer, as their social power is built upon a very different foundation.

So why are brands investing in these influencers? Why has there been a shift away from celebrity endorsements and towards influencer endorsements? Debbie explained how it is largely down to the fact that consumers are just wise to it now; they know it’s for money and that the celebrity will often have no genuine interest in the product. Influencers, on the other hand, are far more trusted, having built up organic relationships with their followers. Diipa explained the importance of being relatable; if you are a successful influencer then you are relatable to your audience because they have seen you from the beginning and been on your journey with you, creating a bond, like a friendship, and they trust you not to promote something you don’t believe in. Sam concurred, saying that word of mouth advertising is key for all brands, and this is essentially what influencers are doing; they are spreading the word of a new product to an engaged following of people likely to be compelled to buy.

However, whilst this may all sound fantastic and fool-proof, how tangible is the influencer effect in reality? How can one measure the ROI of an influencer’s involvement? Debbie explained that a lot of her clients ask this question and it isn’t always easy to give a solid answer, but if it is a specific product the influencer is posting about, then the most obvious and strongest ROI will be the direct increase in sales. Diipa argued that it was not just down to sales figures, though, but also brand profile. Influencers can help to hugely increase awareness of a client’s profile, but understandably it is more difficult to measure this tangibly. She explained that two of her clients, Timberland and North Face, are both currently in the process of researching the true ROI of influencers and how best to quantify it. Amber added that, in her personal experience, the reach you get from working with ‘real’ girls; cool genuine fans of your brands, is so much more tangible than the reach of one big influencer. This is of course dependent on the brand, however, and the specific campaign. The influencer needs to fit the brief in order to gain maximum impact.

Diipa, a hugely successful influencer herself, has worked with a plethora of brands and clients since starting her journey just two years ago, and answered a number of different briefs. Having come across ‘fashion bloggers’ for the first time in her gap year from studying law, she decided to try it out with her sister who had just started photography. Very cleverly, she saw a gap in the market for her; no one was doing it in India so she saw an opportunity to spearhead the movement before it reached her home country, and there didn’t seem to be any “exotic” bloggers in the UK or US so she thought she could be the first of her kind to make an impact over here. Watching how it was done through the agencies she was working with in her gap year, she has used smart strategy from day one in order to get her to where she is now. When she started, she was buying clothes, taking photos with the tags still in, and then returning them, but when she hit 100K, suddenly brands were asking “how much for a post?” and from there she’s been able to make it her livelihood. Whilst the “here are our shoes, take a photo and post” requests are easy, Diipa says that her favourite way to work is to collaborate on a brief with the brand in order to create a new and original way of using social media and lifestyle to promote a product. She loves to “think outside the box and create new amazing content.” Sam agreed with this, stating that the most successful campaigns they’ve worked on have always been the ones where the influencers are the content creators. A post won’t be effective unless the blogger gets some creative control, otherwise it’s just not authentic. If the brand guidelines are so tight that it essentially becomes a contrived advert then it’s never going to work. Amber cited the perfect example of that being the ridiculous amount of Coachella posts that pop up over the dreaded festival fortnight every year. The posts are becoming so unauthentic that it can actually start to have a negative impact on the brand. “The hashtag this year was #nochella”, Debbie reminded us. Not exactly the picture of beautiful original content most brands would have in mind to achieve.

The question of authenticity is a valid one. There is definitely the danger of going so far with brands and sponsored content that you risk jeopardising your integrity; something that Diipa said she thinks about a lot. As your sole job, you have to think about your livelihood and being able to pay for everything you need, she said, and thus sometimes you may feel you need to take the bigger paying jobs even if they may not be the products or brands you favour the most. Your followers aren’t stupid as well, they know that some posts will be more sincere than others; they know you’re being paid for the sponsored posts. Celebrities do it as well; take Beyoncé and her deal with Pepsi - we all know she wasn’t drinking that in real life on the regular! Having said that, you have to check yourself and your moral compass to make sure you’re not straying off in to territory that you wouldn’t have wanted to when you first started. Diipa said that she is lucky now though to be in a position where she can have a selection of offers and can usually take her pick of the ones she wants, meaning that most of her content is genuine.

Amber also wanted to mention that the notion of brands working with people on the basis of big follower numbers is extremely outdated. There are smaller bloggers out there who are a lot cooler and have far more influence over their smaller follower numbers than influencers with huge numbers who have lower conversion rates. “We often have to educate our brands on this,” said Debbie. “The power of micro influencers is often far greater than that of the bigger bloggers.” “Yeah, fans who just love the product are great influencers”, said Amber. Sam: “You may not be reaching the whole room, but you’re reaching the people who need to be touched.” So in the world of influencer marketing it seems that sometimes less is, in fact, more.

Moving on to the regulatory side of influencer marketing, John wanted to know how the new laws for sponsored content are affecting the process. Sam described how the new laws have taken a pretty hard stance on transparency, meaning that any brands not complying (e.g. Warner in the US) are getting burned for it. In this case, honesty is the best policy. If a follower finds out retrospectively that they’ve been advertised to then there is a sense of trust lost, and trust is one of the key components to a successful influencer’s relationship with their followers. Sam explained that at Takumi, they always use ad hashtags now for paid posts in order to protect their clients and ensure 100% transparency at all times. Not all influencers actually get paid for their posts though, as Debbie explained. IPR can still get quite a lot from their influencers for no fee, because of being with them from the very beginning and having built a strong mutually beneficial relationship. They may incentivise them in other ways, for example through experiences rather than through money. Millennials are a huge fan of experiences and love to be part of the overall journey of a brand or product so paying them in this way is a great avenue to explore. Amber says that this is something she’s done with her influencers before, as well as been on the receiving end of herself.

On the note of millennials, John queried: “Have influencers been created by and for millennials?” Yes, millennials are the key demographic on the whole, but Debbie was keen to also champion the scope for influencers in the older demographic, for example for the Good Housekeeping or Red readers. Diipa said it depends on the location and the platform. “My Instagram is mostly millennials in the west, but my Facebook is mostly the post 45 category in developing countries. If you want to advertise to an older generation, try Facebook. If it’s teens, go for Snapchat or Instagram. If you want to reach the Middle East, Asia etc, then get on Facebook.”

Finally, with a look towards the future, John closed the evening’s discussion by asking our panel: “What will influencer marketing look like in five years time? Could it even replace traditional ad spend?” Whilst social media is infiltrating our society at break-neck speed, Debbie still believes that “If you want to sell a product, you still want to see it in Vogue. You still need to have a broad spectrum, you still need traditional ad spend. That medium will always be there, for me at least.” Amber cited the future as a shift towards democratisation; working with small social groups at scale to create an impact that matches that of Kendall Jenner. Diipa said: “Social media has put the power to the people. The future is for the people. We can try to influence it a little bit, but I think whatever’s going to happen will happen and we will learn to keep up with it.”

We'd like to say a big thank you to our headline sponsor, Takumi. To find out more about Takumi, who specialise in end-to-end influencer marketing on Instagram, click here