With 25,000 points of distribution around the world, 2,000 of which are directly operated stores, rejigging Tommy Hilfiger for the digital age has been no small feat. But the American brand has quickly become one of the strongest advocates of the see-now-buy-now show format, in addition to riding a wave of popularity from its successful collaboration with model-influencer Gigi Hadid, boosting its coolness level.
In a conversation with WWD editorial director James Fallon, the designer laid out how he pulled off a digital revolution at his 33-year-old brand.
WWD: What changes did you have to put in place to create a see-now-buy-now show — apart from turning everything upside down?
Tommy Hilfiger: Well, you could imagine going to our production people and redoing our entire design calendar, production scheduling, fabric buying, delivery, warehousing systems. It was an incredibly difficult task and it was something that we weren’t even sure we could possibly pull off. It’s almost like hitting the brakes and changing the way you do everything but we believed in it so much. We would have to deliver 100 percent of the product we’re showing on the runway to the stores or else it wouldn’t be authentic.
With the Millennials and with the youthful consumer, you have to be very authentic. It has to be real. Even with collaborating with Gigi Hadid — Gigi came into our design room and actually designed the collection with us. We gave her pen and pad and we said, “Look, what colors do you want? What fabrics do you want? How high do you want the trouser? How do you want the dresses to flow?” We basically took her Southern California style and baked it into Tommy Hilfiger, which then paid off because all of the youth who follow Gigi and the squad want everything she wears. They want everything her sister Bella wears, and they want it immediately.
WWD: How do you make sure that your retail frontline can talk to the customer about the product as soon as it hits the runway?
T.H.: We design very far in advance now, so many times we have to sit on the inventory waiting for the date of the fashion show, which is exactly when we deliver to the stores. We have quite a bit of time to do seminars with our own team to learn about the product, whether it’s the fit, fabric or function. But you know, we have chatbots as well. They have so much AI they can answer anything you’d want to know on the product 24/7 without taking a day off sick or going home to visit their dog. The chatbot that has more selling information on the product than a human being could ever have.
WWD: Everybody talks about omnichannel and how there is a blurring of online vs. off-line sales but sources of friction remain. For example, a shop assistant may talk to a customer for a half hour to then have the customer go online to buy it, thus losing the commission. Do you think the industry has aligned staff incentives properly with the store of the future?
T.H.: I think it’s not caught up yet. Because it’s moving so fast I think it will take some time to catch up properly but it is a big question mark as to how that’s all going to happen. But the more information we have through AI, virtual reality, these technologies that are selling tools themselves, is going to benefit all of us.
WWD: What has the Gigi Hadid collaboration brought to the brand?
T.H.: When Gigi was on my runway, we thought she was exceptional and we said instead of just using her as a model on the runway and maybe photographing some nice photos for some billboards and magazines, why don’t we really use her sense of style? Coming from Southern California, she has an incredible sense of style — very causal, very chic, can dress it up or dress it down.
She had three million followers when we started. She has 40 million today. I think we’ve both helped one another. But I also really believe that you have to move on after a certain amount of time. This is the fourth season. We’ve had nothing but success, but we have an announcement to make in the very near future.
WWD: You’ve done collaborations throughout your career, from Beyoncé to David Bowie and Iman. What other things in addition to Gigi do you have at the moment?
T.H.: We just entered into a deal to become the official sponsor and clothing supplier to the Mercedes Formula One team, which is AMG-Petronas. That’s also a global play because they are on a world tour. We love being connected to what I call fame, fashion, art, music, entertainment and sports.
In the Eighties, we were the sponsor of the Lotus team. In the Nineties, we were the sponsor the Ferrari team. It’s something that’s been in the DNA for a very long time. Autoracing, motocross racing and sports uniforms are very inspirational to the design of our product. We really believe that we’re living in a sporty-street casual world today.
WWD: Was there anything you personally had to change about the way you live your life in order to become a master at digital?
T.H.: I was definitely afraid of the brand aging out. I look at the some of the competition and I saw it happening. I wanted to fight it any way I could but I have Millennial children who are very influential. My son is a musician, with his own brand and own TV series he’s building. My other daughter has her own brand based out of L.A. My other daughter is very creative and just wrote a book. They are always telling me what’s going on and telling me what’s happening in the world that’s filled with Millennials changing the way people shop and look at life. I know that if you fall behind, catching up will be an impossibility because things are moving so fast.
WWD: There have been so many changes in the industry since you began Tommy Hilfiger 33 years ago. What is the one thing you would never change?
T.H.: I never change my philosophy on product. I always want affordable, wearable, relevant, high-quality, stylish product at the right price point. I love being positioned as a premium brand, not luxury and not mass. Many times, I’ve had arguments with people internally to whether we should change that philosophy but I never wanted to.