First and foremost, innovation is a state of mind, and one that must be engrained in corporate culture just as financial plans are.
That, along with the power of product-driven strategy, were the marching orders Fast Forward Trending’s Haysun Hahn delivered Tuesday morning at the FNW/Trends’ “Gamechanger: Coming & Going” event. With clients like LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Warner Bros, Patagonia and the MIT Media Lab, she offered specific assessments of how the industry is shifting and ways not to get left behind. “Do keep in mind innovation should serve and improve,” she said.
Emphasizing how too many companies are driven by quarterly results instead of creative thinking, she said they need to return to testing out ideas, products and business models. Brands should secure creative plans as they would financial ones, she said. Referring to her clients, she said the electronic companies plan 30 years in advance, entertainment ones look 15 years and athletic ones have five- to 10-year outlooks. And each reviews those creative goals every year, as they would financial ones. With 28 deliveries a year, H&M often is focused three to four weeks ahead, Hahn said.
Competing in what amounts to “a coupon jungle,” retailers and brands could distinguish themselves with product. Another daunting element is Bloomberg Media’s prediction that robots will be responsible for 40 percent of existing jobs within the next 25 years, she said. Wellness features, temperature controlling ones, plant-based fabrics, interactive intelligence and other technologically-advanced ones could be points of differentiation. But what might be the most valuable lesson from the world of technology is the ability of Apple and others to develop relationships with customers that encourages them to continually buy new and expensive products year after year.
Others could learn from smaller brands like Nau and Outlier Fashion that have well-defined products without oversized operations. Hahn highlighted other changes such as how fit is becoming more inclusive with some brands offering more interchangeable sizing. Uniqlo “is getting it right” by taking a near-communistic, but democratic approach to refining the basics. But Hahn said of American companies’ approach to e-commerce, “We still do everything better than everyone. You can be Alibaba, but you can’t beat what we do here with the Internet.”
Fast Forward Trending’s interest is focused on China, India and most significantly oil-rich Nigeria, which has “tremendously educated” people “who are not poor,” Hahn said.
In terms of hybrid technical products, outdoor brands, especially Scandinavian ones like Peak Performance and Bergans of Norway, have created a new kind of luxury with windproof and weatherproof designs, Hahn said. And they’ve done so without the executive board-driven burden of having to define it with buzzwords unlike many larger fashion brands feel compelled to do. In addition, too much time is spent analyzing data. “Just because you hired 20 people to follow data and to figure out what hit when and where, doesn’t mean that should be your focus. In the end, I don’t think fashion should be about that,” Hahn said.
American companies are lagging behind their international counterparts with densely segmented retail. On a recent trip to Shanghai Pudong area, Hahn visited a shopping mall that housed numerous “tiny” luxury stores for companies like Bentley, Cartier, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana. In another shopping mall in another part of Shanghai, she found a similarly segmented layout for competitors like H&M, Uniqlo, Zara and Gap, which were all side-by-side. Unlike Fifth Avenue, which is a hodgepodge of stores in various price points, many cities are categorizing retail by price points. “The rest of the world is already doing it. It’s not such a bad thing,” she said.
With the hyper-professional investment world of fashion forcing creative decisions to require three or more layers of approval from hire-ups, ideas can take five years to be actually executed in certain organizations. As investment in fashion brands slowing down, companies should take the opportunity to reconsider how the ephemeral aspects of fashion are ultimately what make consumers want to spend.
To create a culture of innovation, Hahn recommended integrating five minutes of speaking about innovation within a meeting, but don’t set up one solely for that purpose. Lower your expectations — we’re not looking for magic. Ideas should take no more than two minutes to explain. Don’t be distracted by processes. “Everything has become unnecessarily complicated.” she said.
Before turning over the podium to other speakers, Hahn offered a few parting pointers.
• Do keep in mind innovation should serve and improve.
• Do ask why to prioritize.
• Do consider the future without innovation — “That’s scary — very scary.”