The fashion world is poised to enter a period of creative bliss.
That is, if it takes advantage of its remarkable talent as well as by leveraging innovative marketing and technology solutions. Never have designers and retailers had so many tools and tactics at their disposal to create, market and sell fashion apparel and accessories.
Some brands and sellers are moving at flank speed by optimizing new approaches and strategies. Tommy Hilfiger, clearly one of the most brilliant marketers in fashion, has been leading the pack. He was one of the first designer brands to bring pop-up stores to the market, and to take the lead in the “celebrity capsule collection” concept. Hilfiger has also teamed up with Gigi Hadid and is already scheduling his fourth Tommy Now see-now-buy-now collection, which will be presented during Milan Fashion Week.
Hilfiger innovates by recognizing the importance of cultural convergence. “I wanted to create a global platform we could take on tour to bring our show experience to new audiences in fashion capitals around the world,” he noted. Last season Hilfiger and Gigi put on a spectacular show in one of London’s hottest nightclubs. “It’s about the fusion of fashion, entertainment and pop culture with performances that are designed around our customers,” the designer said.
So it’s no surprise the Tommy Hilfiger-Gigi collaboration has been a runaway success.
Karl Lagerfeld answered Hilfiger by signing breakout sensation Kaia Gerber. The 16-year-old daughter of Cindy Crawford will design a collection for Lagerfeld’s namesake brand. It is said the collection will combine her relaxed California lifestyle with Karl’s Parisian sophistication. According to WWD, the collection will include clothes, shoes, sunglasses and jewelry.
On the traditional retailing front, navigational corrections are under way as the industry figures seek out new paths to success. They are cleaning up their old mistakes and vigorously incorporating new technologies in current plans. This also includes addressing a severely over-stored U.S. market. According to City Lab, the U.S. has four times the retail footage per capita than Japan and France, and eleven times more than Germany.
As a result, many of the major retailers such as Macy’s Inc., J.C Penney Co. Inc., Sears Corp. and some of the big-box stores have already closed a significant number of marginally performing branches. Perhaps it’s something that Terry Lundgren, who last year retired as chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s, should have been done sooner. But Lundgren’s repositioning of Macy’s will likely pay major dividends as the retailer is now steered by Jeff Gennette.
Regarding the market availability of new technologies, which includes everything from managing inventory and people to improving online shopping and the in-store experience, retailers and brands were overwhelmed at first and slow to adopt. But now, most of the smarter and more creative companies have a reasonably good grasp on how to use these marketing and design tools to fortify their digital and brick-and-mortar businesses. And they have learned that new technologies must be helpful to the customer, not only to sellers.
Technology, and data analytics in particular, is also responding to the demands of a consumer-centric environment, where there’s a shift in fashion power into the hands of the customer as opposed to the retailers and brands. And social media continues to evolve and become an ever-more important marketing role. Thousands of online influencers have established themselves as fashion gurus, and while some are credible, some have dubious fashion sense. Fifteen minutes of fame does not build a brand.
Artificial intelligence is taking on a more significant role in the design world as well. Nike Inc., for example, is using AI to design some of its advanced running shoes and is applying it to aid in the development of other apparel line applications. Sales associates in stores are being helped by AI assistants. They can track a customer’s route through stores, and tell what items have been picked up and examined. And while still in its infancy, the “no checkout” concept is slowly emerging. Amazon’s pilot supermarket in Seattle, Amazon Go, allows consumers to shop and then just walk out of the store without standing in line to check out.
All this customer knowledge and insights can help brands understand the communities they serve. Add to this the ever-growing importance of social and ethical responsibilities that consumers are demanding of brands and sellers. They must understand they are increasingly going to be expected to give back to the communities they serve.
Amid these changes, it’s important not to lose sight that fashion has always lived off its most talented and creative people, both in the brand area and in retailing. This will not change. Someone has to create new exciting products and someone has to sell them in increasingly creative ways. While AI and robots may play a key role in the development of products and in its merchandising, they will not replace designers.
It will likely be the designers, product developers and creative directors and merchandisers who program the robots.
Michael Coady is a media and marketing industry consultant, and the former ceo of Fairchild Publications. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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