William Kim, chief executive officer of AllSaints, takes a sometimes contrary approach to fashion retail: His philosophy includes maxims such as “embrace the imperfections,” “be flat” rather than “hierarchical,” and a strategy of expanding into countries that are not necessarily at the top of other fashion brands’ agendas, such as Canada, South Korea and the Netherlands.
This story first appeared in the July 21, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“We at AllSaints said…‘Let’s embrace the imperfections. Let’s be open, let’s be honest, let’s find everything that doesn’t work,” he said of the company’s ethos, noting that those imperfections “are all opportunities in our eyes.” Speaking to that idea, Kim asks his employees “to disagree…but have positive intent.” “Neutrality is horrible — take a decision, yes or no,” he said. “If you’re wrong, and if you fail, then let’s just not do it again,” he said.
Also central to Kim’s mission at AllSaints, where he joined as ceo in 2012, is shaping the retailer as a thoroughly digital brand. “What we’re aiming to do is not be a retailer with an amazing digital strategy, but rather a digital brand that happens to have some stores,” said Kim. To that end, in lieu of opening a gleaming flagship on Fifth Avenue, he’d rather “invest [the money] in my coders, and reinvest more money in a platform that we already own.”
Expanding on the value of AllSaints’ coding teams, Kim said their work on the brand’s site meant the retailer’s mobile traffic shot up from 2 to 26 percent — 50 percent including traffic from tablets — all within the space of 45 days.
Digital data is also driving where AllSaints is expanding internationally. Instead of looking at what markets the retailer’s peers were entering, Kim said he and his team consulted Google Analytics. “We realized that the Canadians love us; we’re rock stars there…and then the Dutch, as well — so we opened those markets,” he said. “We didn’t go to your usual markets. If I followed trend we’d be opening in Brazil. But actually we said no — follow your instincts, follow the facts,” he said.
Kim’s instincts have also led him to expand AllSaints into South Korea, where, he said: “There’s a revolution going on….The culture’s contemporary, the cinema, the music, everything’s changing and it’s influencing Asia. I associate Seoul with East London, it feels like L.A.,” he said. And digital is also at the forefront of the brand’s entry into that market. Before opening its first stores there, the retailer will launch a Korean Web site, has hired in-house customer services and copywriters in the country and is launching there directly rather than through partners.
“Our focus is to do it in a manner that nobody else has done it,” he said. “Now, I don’t know if we’re going to succeed, but I think it’s worth a try. It feels like we’re doing the right thing.”
But Kim noted that amid the rapid pace of evolution at the company, another maxim he adopts is: “It ain’t innovation if nobody’s using it.”
“We really focus on usage within AllSaints,” he added, noting that the retailer’s technology partnership with Google Plus has “revolutionized” the way the company works, adding that AllSaints can partner more closely with its own stores around the world and connect to its vendors.