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Last week at The Glossy Summit: Future of Fashion and Luxury in Miami, fashion brands, both big and small, came together to speak frankly about the challenges they’re facing and what they are doing to evolve. From the main stage where speakers outlined their companies’ strategies to small working groups where attendees sought guidance from their peers, the event was full of modern retail insight. Here’s what we learned:
The power is with the consumer
On the minds of many of the brands in attendance was how the power to control the fashion conversation has shifted to consumers.
– Consumers, not brands, now dictate trends and have more knowledge than they have ever had before. They also have a huge number of options of where to buy their desired item. This has led to a fundamental shift in how brands engage with their customers, making reactivity and flexibility a core skill for the modern fashion brand.
– Brands like Universal Standard have worked extensively to make sure that their sizes are as comprehensive as possible, ensuring that every customer has a wide array of options. This required a significant amount of rethinking the standard fashion production schedule from design to manufacturing. It also created new ways of manufacturing fabric that could accommodate the brand’s extended sizing.
The bottom line: Brands need to listen to what consumers are saying and react accordingly. Through data collection, direct engagement with customers through social media, and wear testing, the power that consumers hold can be leveraged for a brand’s success.
Convenience is king
As consumers gain more control and power over the fashion industry, one way that brands are catering to them is through an increased focus on convenience.
– Since consumers have many options of where to shop, the slightest bit of friction can send them looking for an alternative. Brands need to make sure that they are digitally savvy and treat customers to the most seamless experience possible in order to lure them away from competitors.
– Charles Gorra, founder of Rebag, spoke about how his resale company courts two different types of customers, buyers and sellers, with opposite interests. Maximizing convenience is the best way to satisfy both.
– This challenge is different for bigger brands than for smaller ones. Large brands have the advantage of scale and resources, yet they also are more complicated and have more moving parts. Smaller brands do not always have the resources for a customer experience with the shiniest bells and whistles, but they are able to react more quickly.
The bottom line: When customers have a hundred shopping options at any given moment, they will take the path of least resistance.
Brands are taking things in-house
Alongside the shift to direct-to-consumer, companies are rethinking big parts of their business and wondering if they can handle them themselves. At the Glossy Summit, attendees at Monday’s town hall expressed doubt that they needed someone else to run things for them.
– One speaker spoke about using the same PR team for nearly 12 years with diminishing returns. When they eventually dropped the PR team and took it in-house, they did not see any noticeable decline in ROI.
– Laura Dowling of Digital Brands Group spoke at length about taking all of their influencer relations in-house. While a few other attendees said that working with an influencer agency affords opportunities and reach that would not be attainable otherwise, Dowling was not the only one in the audience who believed that an influencer agency was increasingly irrelevant.
The bottom line: Brands should not think that they can handle everything themselves, necessarily, but it increasingly seems like companies are feeling more skeptical about middlemen.
Shira Suveyke, Shopbop President
– Shopbop has fine-tuned its influencer strategy over the last two years — first, by moving the involved duties to a dedicated team versus marketing staffers focused on other responsibilities. “This ‘little thing,’ that was growing super fast and was driving a lot of revenue, was getting ignored,” said Suveyke. The company also started giving influencers “total creative freedom,” which was a difficult adjustment for the in-house creative team, and moved from working with macro-influencers exclusively to micro-influencers and nano-influencers.
– High conversion is not a KPI for influencer campaigns. Instead, the company is looking at engagement, then reach, and it’s weighing campaigns’ effectiveness and efficiency by looking at cost-per-engagement. Influencer marketing is now part of the brand’s marketing budget versus its performance marketing budget. “We see it as an opportunity to build the Shopbop brand on a social platform, and we believe that has a halo effect of downward revenue,” said Suveyke.
– The retailer just launched its 360-degree, content-fueled campaign called “The Summer of Shopbop.” Its brand marketing and creative teams traveled with eight influencers to Lake Como to create content around its travel-inspired story of the season. “It resonates with our customer when they have an affinity with the influencer, rather than Shopbop pushing the product,” said Suveyke.
Laura Dowling, Digital Brands Group CMO
– DSTLD’s (which is part of holding group Digital Brands Group’s portfolio) millennial customer base values ethical behavior and transparent brand messaging, and DSTLD is an audience-driven brand. The mission of the denim and leather company is to distill its shoppers’ wardrobes down to essentials by updating the quality and consistency of the pieces, said Dowling. Unlike other brands, its sustainability message is not centered on the changeover of styles but rather on the lack of waste the brand is producing. “Quality equates to longevity,” she said.
– In the name of transparency and authenticity, the brand recently made changes: It has moved its production from Asia to Europe to ensure it is using mills that are ethical and sustainable, both in the materials they use and also in the radius in which they operate. “Our carbon footprint is as small as possible,” said Dowling. In addition, it has added a quality control step to production, enabling it to have just 3% waste, when the industry standard is 7%.
– To amplify its message for credibility, Dowling said the brand leans into press, letting industry publications tell its story. It also taps into relevant opportunities to amplify the story. On Earth Day, it launched an education-based marketing campaign for eco-conscious consumers on how best to wash jeans. And because music has been woven into the brand’s marketing since inception, it hosted an activation at Coachella.
Nate Checketts, Rhone co-founder
– Checketts broke down the company’s data collection process into three steps. “One, you have to gather the data; two, you have to organize the data; and three, you have to take some actionable insight from it,” he said. “Most companies are stuck on part one, and for DTC brands, there are so many ingestion points of data that it can be hard to sort through them all of them.”
– In addition to the regular channels for data collection, like points of purchase either in Rhone’s DTC or wholesale business, the company also collects data from some out-of-the-box, third-party sources. Weather on the day of a purchase, the performance of stocks on a given day and other data points can help paint the picture of what a brand needs to know. According to Checketts, it all comes down to sorting through what’s relevant and what isn’t.
– The data collection and feedback used can also be a selling point for the company. While older generations may be less likely to appreciate how the data collected is used to improve their experiences, Rhone’s younger customers expect it. Whenever the company launches a product that was designed heavily with feedback from consumers, Rhone highlights that in its marketing, said Checketts.
“If your advisers and investors are telling you that it’s too early to be thinking about and using data to improve your business, then you need different advisers and investors.”
“Going direct-to-consumer is definitely about brand control a bit, especially when you’re a new designer. You have a small assortment. On a shelf, you can only tell so much of your story. In pop-ups and on social media, you can speak to your customer a lot more.”
“I believe in the power of full-frontal marketing, really thinking about what we need and driving understanding through to conversion. To do that, the best way possible, you have to lean into all the channels available to you.”
“If you look at, like, Marc Jacobs, that kind of old luxury, it used to be that designers did what they wanted and the women followed. What we’re trying to do is the exact opposite. They decide, and we follow.”
“We were able to start our direct business pretty early on, our first website opened in 2003. We’ve been able to go from 100% wholesale to 60% wholesale, 40% direct. Our ideal split is flipped, 40% wholesale and 60% direct. That’s where we are trying to be.”