Welcome to the Glossy 50, our first annual list featuring men and women contributing to the transformation of fashion, luxury, beauty and technology.
The industries are being turned on their heads. The heat is on to ship faster, lower prices and be first to market with trends. Those driving these modern strategies are the people we’re recognizing. They’re insiders from 10 categories we cover daily — including platforms, wearables, startups and streetwear — who captured our attention in the past year.
In this feature, we dive into their contributions to their industries’ new directions. Below are the honorees in the Age of E-Commerce category. See the Connected Fashion list here.
Since Rent the Runway launched in 2010, Vijay Subramanian has helped establish it as one of the fashion industry’s most innovative companies. As the chief analytics officer, he’s credited with designing the back-end systems that power the brand’s rental reservations, returns processing, order fulfillment and customer experience.
How has the way you rely on data evolved since the brand launched?
When I started, we had zero data, and now we have terabytes and terabytes of it. I was their first senior hire as a data technologist, despite the fact that we had no data, but that’s affected how the company has evolved. Now, we have a data-native culture.
How is that different from other companies working with data today?
Older companies today try to make use of all of this data by putting together reports and analyzing them, but there’s more to it than that — it’s about asking how to build your business with data at the core. For that, you truly have to embrace the scientific method and ask: What’s our hypothesis? How do I attempt to prove it? You experiment, get the results and then iterate accordingly. That mentality is radically different from just coding things and analyzing them. If you’re truly data-native, you are always testing, falsifying and proving.
What’s one discovery you’ve made from data that altered the business?
There was a general thesis that our customer base was very young, around college-age, but we quickly found that it was much wider, between 15 and 54. So we mapped out all the events that women within that age range might go to and began gearing our product toward them. It turned out that young mothers and career women in their late 20s and early 30s were the most adaptable to our model because they wanted the convenience and had so many occasions throughout the year.
American Giant CEO Bayard Winthrop is committed to not only slowing down the breakneck pace of the fashion industry, but also ensuring it’s made in America. “The company was founded on a handful of core principles that we have a lot of conviction about,” Winthrop says. The company produces its affordable knit apparel in factories in the southern United States, with a focus on high-quality products that won’t break the bank. The key to this has been a direct-to-consumer model that bypasses the retailer middleman, which has allowed Winthrop and his team to expand from its zip-up sweatshirt — the first product it released in 2012 — to an expansive product roster that includes pants, dresses, jackets and accessories. Now, Winthrop is proving that he’s still not concerned about the ubiquitous power of Amazon, asserting that American Giant’s brand values and American-made story will prevail and ultimately come out on top.
Since launching in the U.S. in 2013, U.K. fast-fashion retailer Boohoo Group has seen unprecedented growth: In its latest financial year, it reported a 145 percent revenue boost in the U.S., from $17 million to $43 million. In addition, it recently launched maternity wear and a menswear-exclusive site, plus built on its brand roster (Boohoo, BoohooMan and PrettyLittleThing) with the acquisition of Nasty Gal.
How are you attracting the attention of U.S. shoppers?
We just recently opened a digital-first New York storefront, which allows consumers to come in and interact with the brand and the product. When a brand hits the market, you need to give consumers a touch point — or all they see is product on a screen.
How essential is speed to market to your success?
We’re constantly coming out with newness — production is two to three weeks — and in doing so, we’ve given ourselves a competitive edge. It’s what our customer wants. People are no longer interested in buying things they saw six months ago.
How important is the Generation Z shopper?
They’re our most valuable audience. You get that customer early on, and you’ve got them for generations. Our sweet spot is the 16- to 24-year-olds; everything from a marketing standpoint is solely focused on them.
Has that necessitated more focus on mobile?
For sure. In the next couple of years, we want to have a mobile-first approach to technology. We’re moving in that direction with our new mobile app: We’re streamlining how consumers shop once they see products on influencers on the different social media platforms.
We’re really just beginning our journey, but we’re going in the right direction and making sure we’re keeping ahead of the game. We’re launching Boohoo Premium, we’re opening a pop-up in Texas this fall and we have a big-name collaboration that’s coming to fruition at the moment, which is one route we haven’t taken. We’re excited.
Not everyone is perishing in the Retail Apocalypse. The Outnet — the offseason luxury fashion e-commerce platform Yoox Net-a-Porter Group owns — has seen its physical retail business expand by more than a third. To account for The Outnet’s growth, Andres Sosa, evp of sales, marketing and creative, is leading an overhaul of the site, which will focus on personalization and curation tailored to each unique individual user, in partnership with IBM Watson. Sosa is particularly bullish on improving discovery and targeting for users in each of The Outnet’s 170 markets. “The site will take us to the next step to make the customer journey a lot easier and a lot simpler, by anticipating the sizes and brands they’re looking for from where they’re located,” Sosa says.
Stephanie Phair is confident that Farfetch is poised to change the way luxury is sold online. “Farfetch has created a new paradigm: a technology business in the luxury industry,” says Phair, who joined the company as its chief strategy officer in November 2016. “And it leverages both extremely successfully.” Farfetch was founded in 2008 by CEO José Neves as a global online network for small boutiques struggling to transition to e-commerce. Today, the company has extended to include luxury brands, and it’s also building back-end platforms for both online and physical stores. Its “Store of the Future” platform is positioned to change the way retail stores function by infusing data analytics and geotargeting technology into the experience.
The company considers itself neck and neck with Net-a-Porter and Amazon in the race to build an online marketplace for luxury brands. Farfetch is also preparing for an IPO: Since Phair’s arrival, it has been valuated at $1 billion. Stakes are high. “It’s my role to ensure we’re constantly thinking ahead,” says Phair. “You have to work at innovation. You have to have the right conditions. We truly understand that we’re only as good as that next innovator, the next entrepreneur, so we’re always thinking about the next way someone will shop.”
Phair has thought about how people will shop for luxury online since 2005, when she was on the founding team of an online pre-owned marketplace for luxury goods that connected dealers to a broader audience base — essentially an ahead-of-its-time version of The RealReal that eventually shuttered. She moved on to what would become The Outnet, Net-a-Porter’s off-price e-commerce retailer, building out the business model and customer base for the company’s first seven years. At Farfetch, Phair comes in not in the company’s early stages, but at a time where the next stages of growth are critical, as Amazon is angling to play in the same fashion and luxury space. Phair’s team is focusing on building out Farfetch’s conversational commerce capabilities and improving the one-to-one interactions its stylists have with customers.
“You have to understand that the tech industry moves very quickly in the same way that Farfetch seemingly grows very quickly,” says Phair. “It’s, ‘How do I solve this problem for the customer?’ when the customer hasn’t even asked you yet, to ‘What can I do to fix that for brands?’ when the brands don’t know it’s broken yet. My most important job is to hire the right people who think this way.”
As in-store retail foot traffic falls, Phair sees Farfetch as the digital “lifeline” for the global network of small, independent boutiques that now sell through the marketplace. But she doesn’t see Farfetch itself as a company in alignment with such fashion retailers and says customers are more likely to compare it with technology leaders, not retail stores.
“It’s more similar to a Facebook, an Amazon, a Google,” says Phair. “It’s always been about innovation.”