If transparency is the retail buzzword du jour, Joyce Azria is experiencing some good vibrations. The former creative director of BCBGeneration spoke candidly about starting her new “hybrid contemporary” lifestyle brand Avec Les Filles and breaking almost every rule in the book.
“It seems like I am doing many faux pas because everyone’s talking about direct to consumer and I’m opening 155 stores,” Azria said of her February 2017 launch. “But how do you start a fashion brand today, when there is a ton of noise and the consumer has so many places to shop?”
The answer: putting Millennial consumers first. The literal translation of Avec Les Filles is “with the girls.” “I’m living this brand with my consumer. I’m young enough to be a Millennial but old enough to have sat through every planning and allocations meeting and exhausted about inventory and what we did right and wrong,” she said of her last six years at BCBGeneration, where she brought the brand to $400 million in sales.
In her new, non-family-backed venture, Azria is using truthful storytelling to engage her consumer both digitally and in-store. “My investors are either going to love me or hate me, but I’m really trying to create a progressive brand by creating that emotional bond and that community,” she said, showing a teaser video of real-life employees going about their day, and black-and-white nostalgia-tinged lifestyle shots against a baby pink backdrop.
While other companies tout “micro-influencers,” aka less-expensive bloggers, as the new magic bullet, Azria said her first influencers are her her employees. “I am putting my bet on the fact that she has grown up in this digital era and even though DTC brands are killing it in terms of building exponential growth, I think she is coming out from behind the computer and wants to touch and feel the product. So it’s how dynamic are we going to be as retailers to use many showrooms to tell our story,” she said.
The old-school thinking of big inventory and huge square footage isn’t cost effective, but “lean” and nimble teams are, those who can pivot in a fast-changing world. “In order to challenge yourself as an entrepreneur, let your employees feel like they are entrepreneurs and you guys can make informed decisions together,” she said.
Azria’s shop-in-shop approach leverages the host store’s audience. “It about this collective of brands that work together that mean something to the consumer,” she said, noting niche retailers like the Brentwood Country Mart’s success. She said that no detail can be left unturned at the point of sale. “You want to capture the consumer and make her feel like she just landed in an Instagram-worthy place,” she said.
Azria is also taking a big risk with her digital strategy, insisting her e-commerce site be all black and white to deliver her message of nostalgia. “I want to make a bold point to this consumer that I understand her, and whether this is a blue or gray stripe or whether you convert or go buy it on another site, it’s standing up for yourself as a brand.”
Her innovative product strategy also breaks the price bucket mold and offers a $38 woven top and a $595 Italian leather jacket. She’s also opening with all categories in order tell her story and deliver the product.
Of having all her ducks in a row at launch, she points to “these digital storytellers who two years later open brick and mortar and people are disappointed. They are making it more a statement of accomplishment rather than starting to think about it at the beginning when everyone has so much passion about building that digital face and they should be building that experience face at the same time.”
She continued, “There is still such a desire to experience retail and I think retailers were letting down the consumer and not surprising her. We know all the things we know, but we’re really taking huge risks on what we don’t know.”