Luxury, with the classicism and heritage it often invokes, stereotypically occupies a space that’s diametrically opposed to the fast-moving, sometimes mercurial whims of innovation. And there are unique challenges for a company with different brands under its umbrella.
“Obviously in a multibrand organization…each of them has their own unique view about how to bring innovation to market, their own unique culture,” Tapestry Inc. chief executive officer and president Victor Luis told Cowen and Co.’s Oliver Chen onstage at Shoptalk, which concluded Wednesday.
In the company’s internal meetings, the notion that innovation goes beyond creative directors or creative teams often comes up.
“The idea that innovation can come from across the organization is not the first thought that comes to mind. It’s either that, or they swing [into] discussion about bringing in ping-pong tables and kegs or giving everyone 20 percent of their time free to be innovative,” he said, invoking themes of Silicon Valley culture.
Google’s 20 percent time-off doctrine infamously spawned some of its biggest projects and services, including Gmail, Google Maps and AdSense.
Then Luis smiled, perhaps at the mere thought of hoodies and beer pongs running rampant at Coach. But an exercise in absurdity is not what Luis considers innovation.
“Where we’ve landed is to try to talk about talent, culture and partnerships,” he said.
Since Luis took the helm, Tapestry — née Coach Inc. — picked up Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman, pruned its workforce and brought in executive heavy hitters, such as Joshua Schulman and Wendy Kahn. He dropped men’s wear brand Jack Spade, reined in wholesale distribution and ditched flash sales and other brand-devaluing efforts.
To put it another way, Luis does not fear change.
It hasn’t always been easy. The past year brought some upheaval for new acquisitions, with missed analysts’ expectations and issues like production problems hampering the business, not to mention the tragedy of designer Kate Spade’s passing last year, even though she was no longer involved in her namesake brand. But the core Coach business, at more than $4 billion, has held strong.
Operationally, Luis noted a distinction between being a “house of brands” and a “retailer.” “As a business that’s, today, north of $6 billion, approximately half of that business is done internationally — a great majority in Asia. Less so in Europe. But having universal stories that you’re translating, and having a talent that’s able to do that successfully, is a very different game than just being a retailer,” the ceo said.
One of those stories was a Coach project that featured a Spike Lee-directed short film starring Michael B. Jordan. The work got a little pushback when President Trump took issue with Lee’s Oscar acceptance speech urging people to “choose love” in the upcoming 2020 presidential elections.
Political games tend to land outside a brand’s control. (For the record, Luis believes globalism — in contrast to the upswing in nationalism — is here to stay.)
Tapestry’s greater focus is on breeding a culture that encourages the right things. “From a talent perspective, it’s really about us being very selective and putting in place a process where we can evaluate talent,” Luis explained.
That involves efforts like integrating online tools and leveraging a community of creatives who can benefit the company. He also described a culture that values experimentation and learning — even a little risk-taking — as well as accountability, drive and “setting standards high,” he said.
The goal: Honest communication and expression.
“Too many companies, especially when it comes to innovation and creativity in the fashion world, everyone has an opinion of what beauty is,” he said. “But putting the consumer at the center can help us solve a lot of that.”
Of course, the company is not immune to the pressing need for smart data strategies. About a year ago, Tapestry started a data labs team to provide analysis and automation tools. The company also captures about 90 percent of transactions in the store, Luis said — corralling information such as names and e-mails — so it can track the customers’ encounters and experiences wherever they meet the business.
Now the company is looking at stitching together all that data to pull valuable insights from across the three brands.
As for newer movements in the fashion business, the ceo doesn’t cow in the face of them. He’s even excited about trends like the sharing economy.
“As a platform, for the three brands, there is in our future, without a doubt, some kind of sharing platform that we will need to think about, create and launch,” he said.