Looking good isn’t always enough anymore: To grab attention, coax open pocketbooks and take market share, many brands are finding they need to be functional as well as beautiful.Welcome to the new age of usefulness.While function can mean tech — the Everpurse x Kate Spade New York bags charge cell phones — it can also come from some decidedly low-tech qualities.Take Untuckit, a brand of button-down shirts meant to fit properly when untucked. Started in 2011, the company raised $30 million from Kleiner Perkins in June and is set to open its 25th store next month — on its way to 50 next year.Also among a growing array of products with a functional product promise are: Allbirds wool sneakers that can be worn without socks; Rhone activewear-infused business casualwear, and a series of styles, including the No-Yank Tank, from the workwear-minded retailer Duluth Trading Co.Function is also all over the assortment at Uniqlo, which was last week featuring at the top of its web site “amazingly warm coats that ward off winter weather” as well as “block-tech” fleece hoodies, lined pants and chinos that are crafted to block wind and rain and Heattech items made of a moisture-wicking fabric that retains heat. The company has taken the customer’s lead when it comes to adding functionality, and “greatly expanded” its Heattech range to include turtlenecks, trousers and even scarves and gloves. Uniqlo launched its Ultra Light Down jackets as an outer layer, but found they were popular as an inner layer, leading to a new vest assortment. (The company also found that guys tended to lose the carry pouch so the men’s styles now come with attachable pouches).[caption id="attachment_11052922" align="alignnone" width="552"] A Heattech turtleneck from Uniqlo.[/caption]Expect more of the same, particularly from brands trying to be heard above the din.“If all you have is just cool-looking sneakers, it’s really tough for people to get engaged,” said J.B. Osborne, cofounder and chief executive officer of Red Antler, which helped establish Allbirds. “When you have a functional innovation, all of a sudden you have a story. When it’s true and connected to a human need, I think it can be incredibly powerful because it’s not just about how something looks, it’s, ‘What can it do for you?’”For years there’s been talk about how Millennial shoppers want to be involved in the design process and it’s an impulse that’s led to brands that are more connected to their base. Allbirds, for instance, launched with one pair of sneakers and repeatedly tweaked its design based on consumer feedback before finding just the right style and fit.It looks like inviting more people in and listening to more ideas during the design process leads to products that are more than pretty. “Traditional fashion brands have basically taken an approach where…it’s all about art direction and lifestyle curation,” Osborne noted. “It’s never been about product innovation. It’s always been about ‘brand,’ which is really aesthetic.”Osborne said companies like Allbirds had to find a story to cut through the clutter.[caption id="attachment_10523237" align="alignnone" width="564"] A look from Allbirds.[/caption]And consumers are looking to simplify."We live in an increasingly complex world, where time is our biggest luxury," said Fiona Dieffenbacher, fashion design program director at Parsons School of Design. "Consumers want to simplify their dress options and the decision-making process around the act of dressing itself, often reverting to a functional 'uniform' that can transition from work to social life. We don't have time to think, so duplication as a buying strategy is the norm and accommodates our fast-paced lifestyle. A consumer finds a brand that fits their taste, aesthetic and price point, and they purchase a combination of key items or multiple sets in varying colors."We expect more from our clothing than we did in the last century — moving beyond aesthetics, we expect our clothes to behave in certain ways and embody certain characteristics that align with our fast-paced lives," Dieffenbacher said. "As global citizens, we are traveling more than ever and clothing calls for wearable, breathable attributes that support the transitions across hot-cold climates. In essence — they need to think for us."Rapid shifts in the branding world have also helped open the door to function.Ryan Cotton, a managing director in Bain Capital’s consumer, retail and dining business, said brands appeal to consumers by providing some kind of distinctive performance, or by standing for a set of values or emotions the user wants to advertise to the world.So, Canada Goose, a Bain investment, stands for warm, while Chanel stands for luxury and Converse stand for rock ’n’ roll, Cotton said. (He also pointed to “search brands” that historically helped customers make buying decisions by connoting quality: think the Jolly Green Giant).“Technology and the transparency it affords is shifting this brand landscape very quickly,” he said. “Online customer reviews and advocacy on social platforms allows end customers (consumers) to communicate the functional benefits of the products they love and lets brands with real functional differentiation rise above the fray,” Cotton said.“It’s harder to be an emotional brand and the value of search brands is obliterated, [so] the last remaining place to earn a real ‘brand premium’ is in function; that’s why most successful brand launches today compete in this space,” he said.At its core, the move toward more functional looks helps brands give customers just a little more.Nate Checketts, cofounder and chief executive officer of Rhone, which sells business-casual styles infused with activewear traits, said: “You shouldn’t have to sacrifice function for fashion and vice versa. Really, it’s kind of performance all the time and style when you need it.”The brand’s “commuter pant” has a hidden “media pocket” of stretch mesh to hold a phone, as well as articulating knee darts, flex-knit fabric and a cut that allows extra mobility.[caption id="attachment_10854546" align="alignnone" width="558"] The Rhone commuter pant.[/caption]“I don’t think anybody goes for a run or does squats in our commuter pants, but they might run to catch the next train or come home and get on the ground to play with their kids and not have to change,” Checketts said. “Your clothing shouldn’t be a distraction from having a great workout or spending time with your friends or going into daily commute. That really fades into the background so you can engage in your life more.”Function might be something that fashion at large is just waking up to, but it’s a selling point that’s been well understood for some time in Belleville, Wis., at the headquarters of Duluth Trading.The retailer describes its offering as “high-quality, solution-based casualwear, workwear and accessories for men and women who lead a hands-on lifestyle and who value a job well done.”Duluth’s No-Yank Tank for women has extra length to avoid overexposure and a snug fit to make it easier to layer. It’s a simple idea that Duluth has gotten behind in a big way, supporting it with $2.7 million in TV advertising in the first quarter alone.The retailer also offers its Armachillo briefs, which feature a nylon-spandex blend embedded with microscopic jade to feel cooler on the skin, and Dry on the Fly Pants that dry quickly after a drenching. On the men’s side, Duluth has its Wrinklefighter shirt and Ballroom Khakis.“What it means is that we’re fulfilling our promise, if you will, to our customers to be of service to him no matter what his lifestyle, no matter what the end use or an occasion might be,” Stephanie Pugliese, ceo of Duluth Holdings Inc., told investors earlier this year. “Wrinklefighter shirts come with Duluth’s DNA. They have larger buttons. They have underarm gussets, and they’re built for…different fits.”Historically, fashion has favored form over function, but that stance seems to be softening across much of the market.Gary Wassner, chairman of fashion investment house InterLuxe and a lender to many designers through his factoring firm Hilldun, said it’s not enough for brands to just provide fashion for Millennials today.“It’s clear that they want other components of value,” Wassner said. “What they consider value isn’t the fact that it’s expensive, or the fact that it’s branded, or the fact that it’s some cool designer. They’re looking for added value in terms of, ‘Yes, this is going to make my life better’ — not just, ‘Am I going to look good?’ but ‘It’s going to add value to my life.’”That thinking informed InterLuxe’s April investment in Canadian outerwear brand Mackage, which focuses on warmth and style. (InterLuxe also has investments in Jason Wu and ALC).“Mackage, the whole thing is fashion and function,” Wassner said. “They’ve got the two concepts, [including] incredible warmth, lightweight. That’s a big component of how they market.”And doing more is picking up steam.Looking at fashions added to U.S. e-commerce sites in the third quarter, waterproof styles are up 33.7 percent compared with a year earlier, while the number of windproof looks increased 15.7 percent and pieces introduced with wicking properties rose 8.2 percent, according to retail analytics firm Edited.“We’ve gotten quite used to have stretch, wicking and rain-proof qualities in our fashion items,” said Katie Smith, senior fashion and retail market analyst at Edited.Smith said brands are using function to stand out in a mass-market and fast-fashion landscape that’s flooded with “product that doesn’t differentiate from itself.”She said the question is: “What product can look like they’re fashion first, but also be hyper-useful, carving out a premium niche within a market that’s heavily oversaturated.”Function, though, is not enough on its own.Liz Salcedo, founder and ceo of Everpurse, which develops phone-charging tech for purses, said style remains a must.“What we’ve seen from customers and the market is that, it often starts with a need for it to do something more, maybe it starts with function, but it’s definitely not enough to just be functional,” Salcedo said.“There are a lot of things we buy that are purely functional, but the real value is in being fashionable and beautiful and aesthetically pleasing,” she said. “Function has to be paired with beauty. If we just simply take the concept of a bag that charges your phone and put too much emphasis on the function, then you get things that look like what you could buy at a gas station that’s not what the market responds to best. It doesn’t replace fashion in any way, it almost extends the relationship that you have with fashion.”[caption id="attachment_11049956" align="alignnone" width="512"] Everpurse x Kate Spade New York[/caption]
In honor the @CFDA’s announcement of @iamnaomicampbell receiving the Fashion Icon Award at the 2018 #CFDAAwards, which will take place on June 4, here’s a #tbt of the supermodel on @michaelkors’ runway in 1991. #wwdfashion #wwdarchive (📷: George Chinsee)
“I was making the guacamole when my scout saw me,” says model @stuckinteenage on being discovered just six months ago while working at @chipotlemexicangrill. Since then Williams has signed with @dnamodels, walked in her first show at @calvinklein and landed on the cover of @vogueitalia – a high point of any model’s career. To read @lisajlockwood’s full interview with the model on her experiences thus far, head to WWD.com – link in bio. (📷: George Chinsee)
“I love the idea of dialogue, period. It’s where I’ve always gotten my inspiration from: hearing other women speak, their journeys and their paths,” said @hereisgina, who delivered the keynote speech during @sxsw for @createcultivate in partnership with @fossil. For her two panels, Rodriguez chose female empowering, female-led and female entrepreneurs to focus on. Head to WWD.com to read more about her thoughts on Time’s Up, growing up in a family of women and why we “need a girls’ club.” #wwdeye #sxsw (📷: @jgreenery)
Leading luxury brand are shaking things up to keep up with streetwear. Case in point: the arrival of @mrkimjones as artistic director of @diorhomme. Jones, who succeeds @Kris_Van_Assche, is seen as one of the handful of designers who can actually straddle the luxury and streetwear worlds — which could lead to even more changes at established brands. What could this mean for the rest of the menswear landscape? Head to WWD.com to find out what experts predict #wwdfashion (📷: @franckmura)
“It’s like buying groceries. You’re going to buy the best mango, the best mozzarella, the best things. You have to, or others are going to take it all,” said @gabrielahearst on why she uses only the finest fabrics. Last week, Hearst received her first @cfda nomination for Womenswear Designer of the Year, and earlier this month she opened a permanent showroom in Paris. To read @jessiredale’s interview with the designer and find out why this is shaping up to be a big year for her, head to WWD.com. #wwdfashion (📷: @francoisgoize)
“It’s an interesting thing, playing a younger version of your mother. It’s an interesting concept. I adore my mom and love her in every capacity, but it was just something that had never crossed my mind,” says @anniemstarke on playing a young Joan Castleman in “The Wife.” The same role will be played by her mother Glenn Close. Read more about her growing up in the film industry as the daughter of producer John H. Starke and Close and what she has planned for the future #wwdeye (📷: @nataliamantini)
@asics is launching a new streetwear sneaker inspired by its latest ambassador, @steveaoki. The Hyper-Kenzen x Aoki, which will launch at @footlocker stores exclusively tomorrow, is a slip-on style that incorporates the brand’s proprietary Gel technology through beads integrated into the midsole for comfort and endurance. Read the full story on WWD.com.