In the stunning IAC building, hundreds of fashion designers, brands, retailers, and startups gathered for the two-day 2015 DECODED Fashion NYC conference. Liz Bacelar, Founder, kicked off the day welcoming everyone dressed to the nines, and emphasized the global nature of the conference, and the “gamechangers” theme. Over the next two days, several themes and trends emerged. Here are some of the biggest ones.
As the founder of an ethical-fashion startup and a conscious consumer, I was thrilled to hear discussion among several of the panels on the future of fashion being rooted in sustainable practices. This was demonstrated with a bang when one of the first speakers, Yael Aflalo, CEO and Founder of Reformation, discussed her breakthrough moment when she was visiting factories in China when designing for Urban Outfitters. She was blown away by the impact the factory and fashion industry was leaving on the environment, and in a “moment of empathy and accountability,” she decided to start a fashion brand that is dedicated to sustainable practices. Aflalo, steadfast in her mindset that women will always shop so you might as well build more sustainable options, build Reformation with the idea of creating amazing clothes that left as small of an imprint on the globe as possible. Manufactured in LA, Reformation measures the water impact, carbon dioxide, waste, and labor costs of each product and does offsets for each one while focusing on the newest and latest trends.
Daniel Winteler, CEO of Miroglio Group, also shined a spotlight on sustainable practices as being essential to the future of manufacturing. Winterer focused on the environmental impact including cutting water consumption tremendously. And while luxury brands are concerned about sustainable practices because of costs, he argued that these practices are still essential and inevitable.
Sustainability once again became a topic of conversation on the second day of DECODED during the DKNY Chat. Dao Yi Chao, Creative Director, DKNY shared that sustainability is no longer an option, that we have a responsibility to ourselves, to the next generation, and the earth to do better. His colleague Maxwell Osborne, Creative Director, agreed adding that there is so much product out in the world now, but where does it go? Where does it live? We have to be mindful of waste. Not-so-fun fact: Did you know the average American throws out 60lbs of clothes every year that ends up in landfills?
During Fashion Futures: The Top Players Innovating Today, Bacelar asked the panel how we tackle sustainability. Brian Phillips, President and Chief Executive, Black Frame shared that every new fashion brand must be thinking about sustainability from the start.
Customization emerged as a quickly rising theme in fashion. The panel What They Want, When They Want It focused heavily on the topic. Aubrie Pagano, CEO and Co-Founder, Bow & Drape, explained that “for customization, you must get the mix right between quality, convenience, and tech experience.” The need in retail is for newness. On the Investor Insights panel, Taylor Green, Partner, Lerner Hippeau Ventures, agreed, saying that “customization, personalization, and millennial consumers” are what’s next in tech fashion after omnichannel. Jodie Fox, Co-Founder and Chief Evangelist, Shoes of Prey, explained that her customizable shoes are a hit because people can make them something unique and something they love. Her customers don’t just want to pull things off the shelf, they want an experience. Lastly, Grant Barth, Chief Merchandising Officer, Levi Strauss & Co., explained that customization is at the forefront of Levi’s focus during his presentation on the Legacy company.
Influencer Marketing, User Generated Content, and Authenticity
Much of the conference focused on influencer marketing and user generated content as the focus of many brand’s marketing tactics. I attended several panels that either focused on or touched on this rising trend. The overall consensus was that user generated content (UGC) was the way of the future, especially on Instagram, where UGC has a 80% higher click through rate and a 30% lower cost per conversion, according to Ron Selvey, Vice President of Marketing, ReadyPulse. Importantly, influencers do not want to be paid. They want to represent products and services they believe in, is value-aligned, and that will resonate with their audience. During the Success In The New Face of Retail: Leveraging Influencers panel, both Marcel Floruss, Founder and Blogger, OneDapperStreet.com, and Ryan Clark, Founder and Blogger, @highfashionmen, shared that they both felt their biggest failures were around representing brands that did not resonate with their audience due to financial gain. Floruss explained “no money should ever be worth that.” They emphasized authenticity as the key to engaging with your audience. Clark explained that you must keep your audience centered around the values you built them around.
At the Future of Marketing Fashion panel, Anna Fieler, EVP Marketing, Shopstyle & POPSUGAR, explained that it’s not just about the reach the influencers you work with have, but the engagement. It’s better to work with an influencer with fewer followers who are very active, than with someone such as a celebrity, that does not generally have high and meaningful engagement.
As for platforms, Instagram was by far the most discussed medium. Daniel Habashi, Director of Brand Development, Instagram presented on the platform and how to use it for success in marketing fashion brands and retailers. He emphasized the importance of posts being on brand, concept driven (which may be unique to the platform), and well crafted. He also reiterated the importance and success of user generated content, and shared that 63% of millennials are coming to Instagram to learn about products and services, and 74% of them are taking action after being inspired by a post.
Authenticity was one of the most widely used words across all the panels, especially involving marketing. Maria Hartzistefanis, Founder, Rodial, shared that some of Rodial’s most expensive and well produced youtube videos didn’t do as well as their informal vlogs, because consumers want to know your authentic self, not the overproduced versions. They want to see behind the scenes. Philip Nguyen, Director of E-Commerce, Opening Ceremony explained that you have to build trust of your customers by being authentic. At Opening Ceremony, they do so by taking inspiration they get from their customers and sharing it out. Pau Sabria, Co-Founder and CEO, Olapic shared that you cannot control the brand messages going out by your customers, but they still are influential on the rest of the customer base. Embracing that, and using it towards your advantage, is central.
Lastly, integrating technology into the whole fashion pipeline was a heavy focus of conversation, not surprisingly due to the focus of the conference. We saw presentations of how the manufacturing process was being influenced by 3D printing with presentations from CLO Virtual Fashion and Electroloom. The in-store experience, focusing on using data and analytics, was a major topic of conversation. Salvador Nissi Vilcovsky, Founder and CEO, MemoMi, presented on using virtual mirrors in store can provide feedback. There was an interesting “bonus content” session on Mapping Out The Store Of The Future focusing on Perry Ellis’ new pop-up in Macys. And during the entire conference there was a Bytes + Bricks, a collaboration with The Science Project, which featured “top omnichannel technology from around the world in a unique visualization.”
Perhaps the most power presentation on integrating tech into brick and mortar came from Uri and Rebecca Minkoff during the Minkoffs Unplugged session. Their presentation took us through the Rebecca Minkoff store and showed how technology is integrated completely and holistically, from tech enabled changing rooms to ask for new sizes to each item you bring into the room being chipped and tracked so they can know what is being abandoned. This technology helps merge the rich and efficient analytics one would receive from e-commerce with the physical store experience. The Minkoffs explained that as they were building the store, they asked themselves “what are our customers’ pain points and how can we solve them with tech?” They further built out their stores to be an experience beyond shopping, including a large multi-purpose space in their new LA store for art installations and yoga classes. The Rebecca Minkoff experience was surely a taste of how stores will feature more technology to come.