Innovators is a weekly conversation with leaders pushing for change through the lens of innovation. Each episode is a frank conversation about the challenges and opportunities faced by the visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs driving the world’s leading fashion, beauty, retail and tech businesses forward. From sustainable fashion pioneers to the inventor of Amazon Alexa, tune in with our host, Liz Bacelar, to hear behind-the-scenes revelations and insights from the world’s top innovators.
Kevin Ryan: From recession into a prosperous new normal
Physical retail is dead as we know it. There is no turning back. But Kevin Ryan, one the most admired investors and entrepreneurs in the United States, also has good news. On this episode of the Innovators podcast Kevin explains how he believes we will be much better off a year from now, he reveals how the number one threat the world faces today can be eliminated this November, and he shares a piece of advice to all business owners who are fighting to survive in the New Normal.
Peter Diamandis: A look to the future
We have the tools today to make the change the world needs, says engineer, author and futurist, Peter Diamandis, on this episode of the Innovators podcast. As we head into 2020, this conversation explores why there’s a crazy idea behind every breakthrough innovation, how the next decade will be a critical time to reinvent much of humanity, and the one thing you need to know to prepare for this future.
Mastercard: Creating experiences beyond transactions
Mastercard is on a mission to curate and create priceless experiences that money cannot buy, says Raja Rajamannar, CMO of the technology company, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. At any given time, the company is hosting over 750 of such experiences globally. During this episode, Rajamannar tells us how this strategy addresses customer passion points, what he's doing to drive loyalty through purpose, and why the company is launching an industry first: its own sound.
Orlebar Brown: Trusting partners for growth
When you start a business, you should always be thinking about what your end goal is, says Adam Brown, founder of luxury swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. In Brown’s case, it was the eventual acquisition by none other than Chanel. During this episode, Brown tells us just why the acquisition is a match made in heaven, how he is bringing sustainability into the brand in a creative way, and how brands can get the luxury consumer to forget about the price tag.
Neighborhood Goods: Making retail relevant
Traditional retail exists in a vortex of information, which doesn’t make sense for today, says Matt Alexander, co-founder and CEO of new department store Neighborhood Goods, on this episode of the Innovators podcast. The company’s inaugural space, which launched in Texas in late 2018, carries a selection of new and established brands and focuses on driving customer relevance through data. Join us for this episode as we explore why experiential retail needs to go beyond putting a ball pit in the store, and how modern brands are using physical space for entirely new reasons, and why legacy retailers may have the ability to play catch up after years of ignoring customer needs.
Christopher Raeburn: How to scale circularity
Big businesses have no excuse for not doing the right thing, says Christopher Raeburn, founder of British designer brand Raeburn and creative director of Timberland, on this episode of the Innovators podcast. Christopher is bringing his learnings from his own brand to create a responsible, innovative new Timberland. Join us as we explore why a reduced, remade and recycled model is essential for fashion, how education is a missing link and how to turn “trash” into opportunity.
Thom Browne: Choosing authenticity over hype
A brand’s success depends on authentic relationships and good design over hype, says Rodrigo Bazan, CEO of designer label Thom Browne, on this episode of the Innovators podcast. Join us as we explore what that means in practice, including how music and celebrity help fuel its success, why the brand believes in sportswear over streetwear, and just how its thinking about the balance of data and design today.
Browns Fashion: Enhancing customer experience through tech
The only way to embed technology in the store is to focus on what will benefit the customer, says Holli Rogers, CEO of Browns Fashion, on this episode of the Innovators podcast. The British luxury retailer has been experimenting with parent company Farfetch’s Store of the Future strategy since it was announced in 2017. Join us as we dive into Browns’ resulting version of augmented retail, Holli’s experience being one of the first employees at e-commerce business Net-a-Porter and what out of the box thinking she’s now applying to sustainability.
Katharine Hamnett: Backing a Global Green New Deal
Introducing legislation along the lines of a Global Green New Deal is mandatory for the future of our planet and the existence of the fashion industry within it, says designer and activist Katharine Hamnett on this episode of the Innovators podcast. Join us as we dive into what such regulations need to include, what activism today should really look like both for businesses and for us as individuals, and why she doesn’t believe the answer is about reducing how many clothes we all actually buy.
Roland Mouret: Rethinking single-use plastics
“Being creative gives us the ability to help change the world”, says Roland Mouret, a designer on a mission to eradicate single-use plastics in the supply chain, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. He’s doing this by taking a small step that could add up to big change if adopted across the industry. Join us as we explore why he’s on a mission to make sustainability sexy, the major trend he thinks is dying out in fashion right now, and how the climate crisis is redefining power and the luxury industry.
Ganni: Taking risks for long-term return
Understanding cost and thinking long-term is key for fashion to become sustainable, explains Nicolaj Reffstrup, founder of Danish fashion brand, Ganni, on this episode of the Innovators podcast. After all, who is going to pay for it? Join us as we discuss how Ganni is making investments as well as flexing its muscle to drive towards a more sustainable future, the new business models its testing to do so, and why it’s focused on bringing a tech mentality to every way that it operates.
MatchesFashion.com: Why retail ‘experience’ is jargon
Creating retail experiences is essential for successful brick and mortar today, but it’s not a silver bullet, explains Jess Christie, chief brand officer of MatchesFashion.com, on this episode of the Innovators podcast. This is a luxury retailer that opened a new physical store in London’s Mayfair last year and hosted more than 100 different events in its first 9 months. Join us as we also explore exactly what that takes to pull off, what it means to think about personal shopping through the eyes of technology today, and the role content plays in connecting online and offline together.
Stadium Goods: Riding the sneaker culture boom
The success of Stadium Goods comes off the back of unprecedented consumer desire for sneakers and the need for a rich brand experience in which to buy them, says the platform’s co-founder and co-CEO, John McPheters, on this episode of the Innovators podcast. This is a consignment site that launched in 2015 and was acquired by ecommerce marketplace Farfetch in 2018 for $250 million. Very few emerging businesses have seen such rapid growth. Join us as we explore the cultural relevance of sneakers today, the evolving role of exclusivity and desire in luxury as a result, and just how what McPheters is doing is really about teaching the industry to give up control.
Brian Solis on rewiring the connected generation
Living in such a connected world is damaging our ability to think creatively, says Brian Solis, a world-leading anthropologist and futurist, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global. By being constantly online, we are constantly distracted, he suggests. He refers to this particularly applying to "Generation C", where the C stands for "Connected. "We all live in a similar lifestyle. And when you live that lifestyle, you're rewiring your brain. You're speeding it up; you're moving faster, you're becoming less patient, you're becoming incredibly narcissistic. The world literally revolves around you," he explains. "You have followers, your friends, you feel like you need to constantly feed that system, but you're also feeding off the system. So you might find yourself endlessly scrolling for no good reason whatsoever." Solis experienced this himself: after writing seven best-selling books, he struggled with distraction while trying to write this eighth. Getting caught up in cycles of sharing and consuming social media is one of the main reasons why people get less and less creative over time, he suggests. "The real problem is that I'm placing greater emphasis on what happens on this screen than I am in this moment right now. That means that I'm not placing value in the people that I'm around, or the places that I'm at, which means that becomes forgettable." But his quest to understand society's digital realities, behaviors and expectations did indeed end up inspiring a new book after all. In Lifescale, he reflects on how we ended up opening ourselves up to so many distractions and what changed to make people value this way of living – points that he also touches on in the podcast. In this conversation, recorded with the Current Global's Liz Bacelar at our Innovation Mansion at SXSW this year, Solis explains his techniques to taking control over tech, shares how brands can be more authentic by being more empathic; and reveals what the key is to transforming us into the leaders of the future.
Universal Standard on leveling the playing field for ‘plus-size’ fashion
"We really and truly believe that the plus size woman will never be serviced as well as she will be when there's no such thing as plus size," say Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler, co-founders of size-inclusive label, Universal Standard, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global. Fashion tends to segregate women who are on the larger end of the spectrum, they say, and so they're on a mission to level the playing field and make clothes for everyone. To that end, the brand, which had already gained a cult-like following for its size-inclusive clothing since launching in 2015, introduced an even larger range in 2018, from 00 to 40 – an industry first. Understanding how women of all sizes shop has been key to the brand's success, which last year also raised its first round of investment from the likes of GOOP's Gwyneth Paltrow, TOMS' Blake Mycoskie and Imaginary Ventures' Natalie Massenet. Much like many direct-to-consumer counterparts, the e-commerce experience is playing a major part in its popularity: all of its SKUs can be viewed at every size available within the range, making it easier for women to compare and make confident decisions; and its Universal Fit Liberty Program allows shoppers to replace their purchase, free of charge, within a year of completing it, should they go up or down in size. During this conversation, recorded at the Current Global's Innovation Mansion at SXSW this year, Waldman and Veksler break down the many product development challenges that come with the industry's traditional fit formula; tell co-host Rachel Arthur what they're putting in place to reduce hostility to women of larger size ranges, and share why their bold moves are shifting the way the whole industry approaches this market.
LEVI’S ON THE RISKS OF THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
"[The fashion industry] is 60% larger than it needs to be relative to the actual quantity of demand," says Paul Dillinger, Head of Global Product Innovation at Levi's, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global. He is referring to the fact six out of 10 garments produced every year are being discarded to landfill or incinerated within the first year of their production. The result is that those working in this world need to either think about how you can eliminate overproduction, or instead build new business models around only making and selling the four that are actually wanted, he explains, even if it affects business growth. An alternative response to that concept is the so-called "circular economy", whereby items are not discarded but put back into the system, which to overly simplify matters, enables businesses to continue with growth while aiming for lesser impact. But Dillinger believes such moves are merely providing brands with a guilt-free alternative to keep overproducing at a point when the technology for a truly circular system isn't yet scalable. He instead refers to the idea of credible "circular industrial ecologies", which are much more complex to operate and achieve. "One of them is a corporate compliance officer selling a new shiny penny to a board of directors in the C-suite, and the other one is a studious and scientific approach to really tackling a real challenge," he explains. At Levi's, Dillinger is otherwise looking at key areas like reducing the brand's use of water. "I think people's right to drink fresh water should be prioritized above a company's right to access fresh water for production," he explains. In this conversation, hosted in front of a live audience at the Current Global's Innovation Mansion at SXSW 2019, he explains what that looks like through theinnovative work he's been doing with hemp. He also gets technical with host Rachel Arthur about the many ways in which Levi's is working to make its supply chain responsible in one of the most complex industries in the world.
Dirty Lemon on feeding a constant need for newness
"We're operating under the thesis that billion dollar brands will not exist in the future," says Zak Normandin, founder and CEO of Iris Nova, the company behind wellness drink brand, Dirty Lemon, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global. "I know Dirty Lemon isn't going to be popular in a few years. And I want to already have three type of products in the pipeline that we're launching right now, because consumers are very transient in their decisions to buy products," he explains. Dirty Lemon launched in 2015 and quickly gained the type of cult following that only brands born online manage to achieve. It did so through a mixture of being at the right place, at the right time – in this case, right in the middle of the wellness boom – and carefully crafted branding that positioned it as a lifestyle offering, rather than just a product. But Normandin, a CPG entrepreneur at heart, has much bigger plans than creating fleeting frenzy around a single product line. From inception, his Instagrammable bottles could only be bought online, with purchase being completed via text message. In 2018, it launched the Drug Store, an unmanned retail concept where customers could pick up a Dirty Lemon drink and simply walk out, texting to complete their purchase as they did so. This innovative retail model, alongside a stream of new product launches happening over the next few months, demonstrates Normandin's ambitions to keep reacting to customer needs and behaviors before they move onto the next hot thing. During this conversation, recorded at this year's SXSW at the Current Global's Innovation Mansion, Normandin also share with Liz Bacelar the new products launching under the Irs Nova family, what the retail experience is doing to inform future product development, and how Coca Cola is not only one of the brand's biggest investors, but also its competitor.
Why Pinterest pushes shopping over commerce
There's a big difference today between the role of commerce, and that of shopping, says Tim Weingarten, head of shopping product at Pinterest, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global. "Commerce has this implication of pushing for the transaction – about reducing friction in the conversion. Whereas shopping is one of joy. It's one of serendipity, it's one of discovering something you didn't know existed," he explains. It's that mentality that underpins everything his team does at the company, focusing primarily on how to better the user experience with discovery and personalization at its core. This includes the introduction of a series of tools that filter and predict needs – from Pinterest Lens, which allows customers to find items from the database by photographing similar ones, to the newly announced Catalogs feature, where brands can upload their entire product catalog as shoppable pins. What makes Pinterest stand out among its competitors, is that its users navigate the platform for entirely personal reasons, such as renovating their kitchens or achieving the perfect hairstyle, as opposed to pushing aspirational content to followers, Weingarten comments. Being able to capitalize on that then comes down to having the right algorithms in place. "The more data you have, the more you can personalize. But on an e commerce site, the only data they have is based on prior transactions. That's a very sparse dataset and it happens very infrequently. If you switch gears to Pinterest, what you have is someone visiting every day doing this authentic thing – saving things for particular use cases. This engagement signal can be applied to all products... And because we have this authentic form of engagement, we're able to understand what you're trying to accomplish, and actually personalize it to your tastes," he says. Pinterest has been around for nearly a decade with a quiet yet steady climb to the top. As of 2018, users on the platform had pinned 175 billion items on three billion virtual boards. The company is now on track to top $1bn in revenue, and is rumored to be moving forward with an IPO this summer at a valuation of $12bn. During this conversation recorded at Shoptalk with the Current Global's Rachel Arthur, Weingarten dissects how Pinterest is only getting better at predicting consumer needs before they're voiced; shares how the platform balances being commercial with keeping the joy of inspiration alive, and hints at the types of technologies he's looking at to further personalize the shopping experience.
Nick Knight on why AI cannot simulate creativity
Artificial intelligence is not yet good enough to simulate creativity, says British fashion photographer Nick Knight on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global. Speaking live at a FashMash event in London, he explained that AI as it stands today, is a long way from what creativity is: "When you create a picture, it is done through desire, accident, failure, fear, love, and arousal. Predicting what I will do by how I did past steps is not a good way to create my next piece of art; it's not a good way to simulate creativity." He was referring to the way in which AI looks back at past behavior in order to work out what is probable next. But that doesn't mean that it won't one day figure out how to do so, he noted, adding that he is working on new projects that will keep him on the frontline of it so as to have a say in what it could look like down the road. Knight has built his career on pushing the boundaries of image making. He has photographed some of the world's biggest celebrities and models – from Lady Gaga and Bjork to Kate Moss and the late Alexander McQueen. Almost two decades ago, he launched SHOWstudio, an online platform celebrating fashion film, and changing the way fashion was consumed through the internet. Now his next act is understanding how technologies like AI and robotics will impact creativity, and how he can become a part of such a movement. During this conversation with guest host Rosanna Falconer, Knight explains what the smartphone has to do with Shakespeare; how SHOWstudio broke the internet but created history with the first ever live streamed fashion show for Alexander McQueen in late 2009; and why he is an eternal optimist about the future.
Appear Here on why retail is more valuable than Google Ads
Successful retail decisions are made when physical space is seen as another media channel, says Ross Bailey, founder and CEO of Appear Here, the online marketplace for short retail leases on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global. Retail is failing when it's not thinking about audience first, Ross insists. The industry doesn't think twice about spending huge budgets on Google Ads, but customer acquisition can prove increasingly more valuable through spend on physical footprint, he explains. It's for that reason, Appear Here increasingly sees the likes of Google or Instagram as greater competition than other brokers. "[If you're playing] the audience game that means that as a brand, what's the best most authentic, great return on investment medium, that I can reach an audience at for that moment in time, for that campaign, for that product, for that season.And if that happens to be retail, you're going to be making that decision over what you're spending on AdWords or over what you're spending anywhere else," he comments. Appear Here launched in 2013 hoping to disrupt a long-established market that no longer corresponded to how customers shopped. While commercial landlords demanded an average five-year commitment from brands, customers were dispersing from the high street and shopping in a much more flexible, non-committal way. Today, AppearHere's short-term rental model – often referred to as the "Airbnb of retail" – sees the company operate an average of 350 stores in London alone at any given time, making it the largest retailer currently operating in the city. Bailey hopes the model gives brands and retailers much more flexibility to appear and disappear whenever they see fit, rather than wait for the consumer to do so first. For brands across the spectrum, of which he has 180,000 on his platform, there are different approaches however. For luxury names like Chanel, Nike or Netflix, all Appear Here clients, it's about reaching a new audience or promoting a particular product or campaign; for more independent brands, it's about creating awareness outside their online bubble where competition is too high without enormous ad budgets, he suggests. During this conversation Bailey also explains why he sees no problem with an in-store ballpit as a popular experiential idea as long as it is authentic to the brand; how Selfridges' early retail days inspires him to think about how to bring back showmanship; and why technology, much like children, he says, should be seen but not heard.
How Havaianas is using collaborations to take over the world
"Collaborations to me, are a love affair," says Eno Polo, US president of Alpagartas, the parent company of the world's most popular flip flop brand, Havaianas, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global. Collaborations are at the core of both the brand's success and its wide reach, but in order to become successful, they need to remain authentic, he explains. "It has to be two-way. I think a lot of brands out there force collaborations, they pay for collaborations. But if you pay for going out with a girl, I don't call that a love affair. I'd rather it be a natural feeling – she likes me, I like her – and we go out together. That's what I call a true collaboration, and those are the ones I think are most successful." Havaianas shot onto the international stage when French designer Jean Paul Gaultier accessorized his models on the New York and Paris catwalks with the flip flops in 1999, instantly turning them into an object of desire. What followed was a series of fashion brands wanting to collaborate with the now-iconic brand, hoping to borrow some of the color and freshness that only a Brazilian label could bring to the table. Today, Havaianas produces over 250 million pairs a year, or 10 pairs a second, and is Europe's number one sandal brand. Beyond its ambitious expansion plans across the globe comes a mounting pressure for the brand to tackle the issue of sustainability, which may well still be in toddler stages in its native country, but is steadily becoming a business imperative elsewhere. For Polo, the fact that the company is scaling its retail footprint and office count across Europe and the US means there is a growing internal pressure to become more sustainable. The brand is doing so by focusing on employee welfare, but also wants to tackle and own the fight for sustainability at the beaches where its products are so ever-present. During this conversation, Polo also talks through the company's history from catering to Brazil's working class to hitting the beaches of Ibiza; the importance of creating a retail experience that puts a smile on the customer's feet; and why creating such a simple product allows the brand to remain fun.
Warby Parker on why technology is the lynchpin to customer service
Technology can enable us to do great things, says Warby Parker co-founder and CEO, Neil Blumenthal, with regards to the brand's meteoric rise in the direct-to-consumer space, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global. Speaking to Liz Bacelar at this year's NRF Big Show in New York, Blumenthal explains how technology is critical to making customers' lives easier. Warby Parker sees itself sitting at the intersection of three communities – tech, fashion, and social enterprise, he notes. It's both a tech company and a retailer focused on creating products and services that tangibly impact consumers every day. Warby Parker is one of Silicon Valley's first so-called unicorns, a special group of startups that exceed expectations to pioneer within their own category by hitting over $1bn in valuation – including Airbnb, Uber and WeWork. The nine-year-old company has paved the way to creating a great retail experience that transverses seamlessly between online and offline, and as a result, inspired the business model of many single-product focused startups known to consumers today – from suitcases at Away,to footwear at Allbirds. But from its scrappy beginnings hosting a showroom at Blumenthal's New York apartment, to being one of the first DTC brands to launch a brick-and-mortar retail space, the eyewear company has had a razor sharp focus on treating the whole experience of buying glasses as a single product – from trial to wear. From its successful at-home trial program to digital eye tests, Warby Parker works with a team of in-house technologists to constantly iterate its approach to better serving the customer. For example, after receiving feedback that it was inconvenient for customers to take time off work to get an eye exam, it developed a prescription app that pairs an iPhone to a second screen to test the user's vision. Recently, it then deployed Apple's new AR technology to launch a virtual try-on feature. During this conversation, Blumenthal also shares how the brand has been built to resonate with multiple consumer segments, the importance of the social aspect of the company, and why he sees Amazon more as inspiration, rather than threat.
Heist’s Olympic designer on product innovation
You have to be bold and brave to do meaningful innovation, says Fiona Fairhurst, VP of innovation at underwear brand, Heist Studios, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global. "We're trying to make better products that make people's lives better," she explains. The first product under the newly-appointed designer's remit at Heist is shapewear that not only looks more aesthetically pleasing than existing alternatives in the market, but removes any stigma for women wearing it. Fairhurst's background is in sport, a world built around product innovation focused on the importance of performance. She rose to fame during the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 where, while working at Speedo, she introduced a bodysuit using biomimetic sharkskin technology that went on to help 13 out of 15 swimming world records achieved during the competition. It was also eventually banned from the sport because it gave competitors an unfair advantage. Her background has enabled her to strike the balance between the emotional side of design and the material innovation that leads to better product performance. Much like getting swimmers to swap their small Speedos for full bodysuits, for Heist it is about getting women to trust their expertise. "We very much want to base everything on science, technology and the innovation – and also what the consumer wants, which for Heist is about women." During this conversation with Rachel Arthur at a FashMash event in London, Fairhurst also explains what excites her for the future of material innovation, the challenge of scaling sustainability, and what game-changing product Heist is working on next.
StockX on creating a streetwear platform inspired by the stock market
"If you're dealing with finite supply, then you need to understand demand to figure out what it is people are willing to pay," says Josh Luber, founder of streetwear online marketplace, StockX, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global. "What brands have historically relied on is the concept of mass chaos and taking advantage of that hype (...) But having a pair of Off-White Jordans that retail for $490 but resell for $2400 and just relying on bots and chaos in order to distribute it is an illogical and broken system," he explains. Luber's platform, which in 2018 took on $44m in investment from Google, among others, launched in 2016 to level the playing field between buyers and sellers in a retail landscape that seems to enjoy feeding off an endless cycle of streetwear FOMO and having the latest, hottest sneaker on the market. The re-sale market used to be a Wild West, Luber explains, but data and technology are now being deployed in order to better value these products and provide an unforeseen level of transparency and fairness to both sellers and buyers. Inspired by how the traditional stock market works, the platform tracks product demand and pricing across the web in order to sell it in real time. This, as well as a tool that displays an itemized history of transactions of a product, balances the power dynamic between sellers and buyer, which historically sided with the seller and how much they wanted to sell their product for. StockX's success is also hugely indicative of how a one-time underground industry that was powered by its community and word-of-mouth access, is becoming increasingly structured in order to cater to more mature and educated consumers. In other words, the larger it becomes, the more it needs the infrastructure to support it. During this conversation with TheCurrent Global's Liz Bacelar, Luber explains how his background as an entrepreneur and IBM consultant, led him to StockX, how the platform's customer is evolving, and why discovery is playing such a huge role in its future plans.
MedMen on overcoming the barriers of selling cannabis
Cannabis consumers are not as black and white as medicinal versus recreational, says MedMen CMO, David Dancer, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global. This cannabis retailer is currently valued at over $1.5bn. Its challenge however is to design an experience that removes the anxiety of consuming cannabis that the majority of casual users still carry, as well as appease local authorities hungry to ensure strict legislations. The consumer piece can be easily facilitated by knowledgeable store associates, who Dancer refers to as sommeliers and who play a huge role in demystifying the experience, from branding to education. "We want to make sure that people feel comfortable and can ask the questions they need answers to," he explains. It also helps that curiosity around consumption is at an all-time high, largely thanks to the wellness movement. But the bigger challenge for the retailer is dealing with legislations even stricter than those reserved to selling alcohol and tobacco. Although there may be an intentional Apple-like design sensibility and minimalism to MedMen's 17 stores nationwide, much of it has to do with regulations: many products have to be displayed under locked casing – hence the beautiful display tables – while it is not allowed to have any signage or marketing on its windows. It is also restricted on locations due to zoning, such as near schools, and instead chooses areas that are friendly and feel safe, including LA's Santa Monica Boulevard and New York's Fifth Avenue. The MedMen experience then becomes a clever ballet of branding and communications, combined with a retail experience that aims to allow customers to discover and try at their own pace, or to meet their own individual needs. As the US audience begins to become more at ease with cannabis becoming a common part of their everyday lives – from smoking to CBD-infused cocktails and spa treatments – the retailer continues to navigate challenges by listening intently to what its customers and staff have to say. During this conversation, recorded with Liz Bacelar at this year's NRF Big Show in New York, Dancer also shares the retailer's heavy investment on the education piece, which includes a published magazine, and how the ever-evolving, and hyper-local, legislations pushes it towards constant innovation.
Departing Neiman Marcus exec Scott Emmons on how retail innovation is failing
Internal teams can no longer deliver the results needed to drive the industry forward, says Scott Emmons, departing head of the Neiman Marcus iLab, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. Responsible for setting up one of the most established retail innovation programs in the world, Emmons is now bringing his insights and expertise to TheCurrent Global as he joins as the company as the chief technology officer. He joins at a time where he believes internal labs should be replaced by a more open approach to innovation, where collaboration is key. "You've got to build better partnerships that go beyond the four walls of the retailer. If everything happens within those four walls then what you keep doing is the same thing over and over again," says Emmons, who launched the lab in 2012. "Because you're not bringing in fresh ideas, you're not bringing in fresh approaches to retail. You continue to iterate the things which you're good at." During his time at Neiman Marcus, Emmons was responsible for introducing innovative technologies to its stores such as smart mirrors, new fitting room technology, 4K touch table lookbooks and a clienteling tool that better links a customer's online to offline behavior, while arming associates with the tools to better serve them 1-2-1. Speaking to CEO Liz Bacelar, Emmons outlines why innovation executives have their hands tied and how innovation is often stalled by internal culture. They also discuss a solution to unlock rapid change in retail.
L’Oreal on how tech enhances the customer bond
Technology emphasizes the bond of customer experience, says Stephane Lannuzel, operations chief digital officer at L'Oréal, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global. "Every CEO should be consumer-oriented, and technology can reinforce that link," he explains. For years L'Oréal has been on an innovation path that has seen the group heavily invest in technologies that help personalize the consumer experience across the spectrum – from fully customized products to monitoring tools. At the heart of this is the importance of the shopping experience, Lannuzel notes. He references Lancôme's custom foundation, Le Teint Particulier, which makes use of a machine expertly mixing a formula to perfectly suit the individual consumer's skin tone. He explains that at the end of the purchase journey, what consumers remember is not the technology itself, but the fact that they were made to feel special. This, he concludes, is the ultimate luxury experience, only enhanced by the use of tech. There are plenty of challenges to working within such a large organization such as L'Oréal, but part of Lannuzel's role is to make it move faster. Slowly but surely, the company is thinking digital-first; so much so that the group's CEO, Jean Paul Agon, has said that digital is no longer the cherry on the cake for the company, but rather the whole cake itself. The group approaches digital innovation through the lens of key trends as opposed to the technology itself, Lannuzel further explains. This includes looking at how to reduce a product's time to market; the role of connected products and experiences; more agile operations; and the need for personalization. During this conversation with TheCurrent Global's Liz Bacelar, Lannuzel also talks about the huge role data and AI is playing in all of this – from manufacturing to consumer-facing interactions – and why there is a sweet spot when jumping on a new technology.
How Ikea is boosting sustainable and healthy living
"We've been set up as a business to understand how people live and to provide solutions that help them live better," says Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability and healthy living at Ikea, on TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Since its inception 75 years ago, the Swedish flatpack retailer has been known for affordable – and arguably, disposable – furniture that is a staple in young people's homes. But after identifying a shift in how we consume and live our lives, Ikea is on a much bigger mission, which is to think of what products and services it can provide that support consumers to live more sustainably, and more healthily, everyday, Yarrow explains. Speaking to Rachel Arthur, she says that sustainability has always been at the core of Ikea, but one of the biggest mistakes it has made is not to have engaged with consumers on their sustainable journey up until now. But times have shifted, and with mainstream consumers now maturing from supporting a single cause, such as saving water, to attempting to become more sustainable in every aspect of their lives, Ikea is aiming to follow suit. To achieve its sustainable strategy, the company's approach is threefold: look at its use of energy and resources (by 2020, it will be generating at least as much energy as it is consuming in their operations); look at people and it supply chain; and lastly, how to improve its customers' lives overarchingly. The company is due to release its new strategy in June, which will focus on its consumers and how to create affordability, accessibility and sustainability for all. Customers of the Greenwich, London store due to open in 2019 will be able to trial some of the company's upcoming features, which include upcycling stations, solar panels, green walls and rain water harvesting, among other components. During the conversation, Yarrow also talks about her background as the child of eco-warriors in England, how brands can no longer afford to just greenwash, and her belief that no one brand will ever be able to achieve sustainability alone, making collaboration key.
Lego on the importance of play at retail
Lego's most important feedback often comes from six year-olds, says the brand's head of retail innovation, Martin Urrutia. Speaking to Rachel Arthur at this year's World Retail Congress in Madrid, Urrutia says focusing on the relationship between the user and the brick, and constantly listening to consumers' wants and needs, has been pivotal to the Danish brand's longevity. "Prior to rolling out anything important in our stores we actually sit at a table and present this to children and listen to them. And of course sometimes you say 'Am I going to let a six or eight year old child tell me what to do in store?' and the answer is yes, of course. If you present this to them, if you listen to the feedback, it's going to be interesting," he explains. "I've seen so many companies changing their essence and changing many things," he says, "and the only question that comes to my mind is – have they really asked their core users what they want?" In order to serve all types of consumers with the right interaction, the brand prides itself on being truly shopper-centric. Understanding the consumer is particularly key to a brand that is in the unique position of having such a vast fanbase – from small children to much older adults. This means engaging with core fans through a continuous conversation informs not only R&D, but also store design and interactive experiences. There have been many ideas that looked good on paper but were scrapped when they received negative feedback from real consumers or partner retailers, Urrutia explains, for instance. During the episode, he talks to the idea of store experiences that engender memories, and always bringing in an element of play to everything the Lego brand does. Such is the importance of the physical toy for the 85-year-old company, in fact, that it is often found in its meeting rooms worldwide, and its workforce takes one day a year to put work aside and play with the brick themselves. This internal strategy feeds into a larger purpose that encourages customers to play and engage with the toys at any given moment – be it at home or in any one of the brand's increasing retail spaces. Throughout the conversation, Urrutia also explains about the importance of choosing the right technology for retail; both that which is easy for staff and customers alike to interact with, but also simple to update and scale. He also notes other imperative brick-and-mortar retail tools, such as an invested and knowledgeable staff, as well as ensuring that there is something for everyone within that physical space.
Clare Press on why brand activism matters today
"I think that it is absolutely indisputable that customers are asking for brands to have vision and to have purpose and to stand for more than just making something pretty," says Clare Press, sustainability editor-at-large at Vogue Australia and author of the book Rise & Resist, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent. This new wave of brand activism is backed by the fact there is plenty of evidence younger consumers are the most socially-engaged generation we've seen, she explains. The fight for social and political justice that is happening around the world, is feeding into a demanding for more from the goods and services they consume. "They're looking for brands to represent something that strikes a chord with them, and that is meaningful to them," she adds. We haven't seen consumer restlessness in as big a way as we're seeing right now since the 1960s, she explains. But addressing that as brands, also comes with balance. Numerous businesses have stepped into this space – Gucci for instance made headlines when it donated money to March For Our Lives, and the gun control movement in the US, in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Meanwhile Patagonia announced it is donating all of the $10m it saved from a tax cut in the Trump presidency towards environmental protection groups. But that only works when it's authentic, Press notes. "Customers can see when they're being green washed; when things completely lack integrity, and it can backfire. Let's not pretend that brands aren't in the business of making money. Of course, they are. However, if we can use that in order to also try to do some good, well, doing good business, I think that's a valid thing." Press' role at Vogue Australia is the first dedicated to sustainability in any of the Vogue titles worldwide. It comes at a time when the industry is increasingly focused on making sustainability and purpose a long-term business imperative, which ties to her mission to continue driving momentum in this space. It's on that basis she believes everything from climate change to gender equality, modern slavery and more are intertwined. In conversation with TheCurrent's Rachel Arthur, she explores exactly what that means, talks about the importance of every individual voice in the supply chain, and reveals just what feminism really has to do with fashion.
Beboe on creating a luxury cannabis brand
"In fashion, I sold things to people that they didn't need. You don't need a beautiful bustier dress from Dolce & Gabbana, you want it, so it is about a want-based marketing," says Clement Kwan, co-founder of luxury cannabis brand Beboe, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent. "In marijuana what we realized was everything was about the product. How high can you get? At what price? So we flipped the script," Kwan, who is a former executive at YOOX and Dolce & Gabbana, notes. Beboe launched in 2017 at a time when cannabis consumption was riding high. Off the back of the growing wellness trend, consumers have become increasingly educated on the physical and mental benefits of the plant, and a series of new products and retail models have entered the market to respond to the demand. The plant has now been legalized for medicinal use in 33 US states, and for recreational use in 10. The country now accounts for 90% of the global legal marijuana trade, valued at $8.5bn. For Kwan and his business partner, tattoo artist Scott Campbell, the ambition was to create the first luxury global cannabis brand, so its product design and marketing approach played a key role in helping destigmatize the plant and attract a more influential clientele. By creating a desirable product that acted as a conversation starter, consumers would naturally become brand advocates, he explains. The approach has so far made Beboe stand out from the crowd, and earn the nickname of the "Hermès of cannabis", as coined by the New York Times. During the conversation, Kwan tells TheCurrent's Liz Bacelar how he is applying his learnings from fashion into creating a desirable wellness and lifestyle brand, why education is the industry's biggest challenge, and what's next for Beboe's growing portfolio.
NET-A-PORTER on personalizing the customer experience
The future of e-commerce may not be about a traditional website at all, but about existing on multiple other platforms, expresses Matthew Woolsey, managing director at online luxury retailer, NET-A-PORTER, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent. The company sees many of its big customers making purchases over platforms including Whatsapp, iMessage and WeChat, which have become their primary entry point to e-commerce through their relationships with personal shoppers, he explains. "We want to be in the platform where our customer is engaging with content, seeing the product or speaking with the personal shopper. It's about what's best for her. We never want to be in a position where we are forcing or imposing a platform or methodology on our customers, because that's the opposite of customer centricity," he explains. "It's very easy to imagine a time when NET-A-PORTER doesn't even have a website, in the traditional sort of desktop sense, and really what it exists as is more of a concierge, on-demand, service offering. I think that's the future of where this industry is headed and it's something we are really well suited for because we have that infrastructure, we have that service component but we also know a lot more about our customer than just what she is buying." Data is central to being able to personalize the experience for individual customers in this way, he explains, outlining how the company is constantly looking at how to give its personal shoppers greater tools through technology. The company is currently experimenting with how it can use artificial intelligence to merge data between purchase history and fashion trends to give personal shoppers recommendations and ideas in advance that are personalized to the customer, for instance. Eventually the idea is for this to be scalable across the seven million consumers NET-A-PORTER talks to, but hitting its EIPs, or extremely important people, is the core focus, given the fact this 3% of its customer base, make up 40% of its revenue. Speaking with Rosanna Falconer at a FashMash event in London, Woolsey also reveals why the most expensive item ever bought via a messaging app is so significant, whether NET-A-PORTER would ever think about physical retail, and how to manage the modern day tension between algorithms and inspiration. _Catch up with_ [_all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent here_](https://thecurrentdaily.com/category/podcast/) _. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It's backed by_ [_TheCurrent_](http://www.thecurrentglobal.com/) _, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups._ [_Get in touch_](mailto:%firstname.lastname@example.org) _to learn more._
How Casper is designing experiential retail moments
Successful retail experience today is about trial, service and entertainment, says Eleanor Morgan, chief experience officer of direct-to-consumer mattress brand Casper, on the latest episode of The Innovators podcast by TheCurrent. Speaking to Liz Bacelar at The Lead Summit in New York, she says the company really focuses on designing experiences that are optimized for those three things rather than inventory availability and convenience. What's key is giving customers the ability to try out products, get consultation from experts in house and enjoy moments with the brand. Casper has grown from an online retailer to a brick-and-mortar business with 20 stores across the US, along with an innovative sleep bar. The Dreamery, as it's called, is a new napping space in New York built around experiential aims. It offers nap pods in a peaceful lounge along with a Casper mattress where consumers can pay $25 for a 45-minute snooze. It also serves as an extension of the brand's aim to drive a cultural change around sleep. **"**The Dreamery is a provocation and a way to essentially say, it's not only acceptable to take a nap during the day and take a break, but it's celebrated, and we can actually build a community of people that really value this and feel like it's a socially fun behavior," Morgan explains. Casper was founded in 2014 with the mission of bringing great sleep to more people. With the diet and exercise industries booming, the founders saw a gap where sleep was completely ignored. Today, Casper is worth over $750m and has plans to open 200 store locations within the next three years. Morgan attributes much of the brand's growth to staying customer centered and focused on data. The company opened 18 pop-up stores in four months to test consumer engagement before opening its first permanent location, for instance. Through feedback and reviews from its consumers, it has been able to understand what their needs are, how they purchase their products, and how to improve their shopping experience. During the conversation, Morgan also talks about the secret sauce to creating successful pop-up stores, what a modern sleep community looks like, and where Casper will be headed in the future.
LVMH’s Ian Rogers on the death of the chief digital officer
The role of the chief digital officer shouldn't exist, says Ian Rogers, who is himself the chief digital officer at LVMH, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent. Speaking to Liz Bacelar in Hong Kong during The New York Times International Luxury Conference, he argues that for any large company, the role should be merely transitional as brands become accustomed to a future where digital is simply embedded within everything that they do. "The word digital and the insinuation that this transformation is about technology is really misleading and it makes people make the wrong decisions. So what I really want to convince people of is that this is not a technological change, it's a cultural change," he explains. Instead, the role should evolve into a chief technical officer who sits at the executive table alongside more established players like the CFO and the CEO itself, he notes. Rogers joined LVMH in 2015 at a pivotal time for the group, which like many luxury players was navigating a new consumer demand for more digital experiences and introducing e-commerce to its more traditional brands. Since taking on the role, he has helped LVMH launch multi-designer e-commerce platform, 24 Sèvres, invest in affiliate shopping platform Lyst, and scale LVMH's presence on China's TMall platform from zero to 12 portfolio names. Rogers big focus is on the customer, he explains. He brings that learning from his previous career in the music industry, where he led the launch of Apple Music after it acquired Beats Music and Beats Electronics for $3bn. Understanding every customer touchpoint, which now begins with digital, is key for a successful experience that navigates seamlessly across all channels, he explains. During the conversation, Rogers also talks about how it makes sense that luxury took so long to jump into e-commerce; why CEOs don't need to know technology intrinsically; and what he's driving at LVMH to keep up with the level of experience the customer expects online.
Missguided on the relevance of reality TV
UK hit reality TV show, Love Island, is all about meeting the customer where she lives, says Missguided's chief digital officer, Jonathan Wall, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent. "Love Island for our sector, it's kind of like the annual peak, or the annual Christmas, of [other retailers]. It's our nirvana. You could not find anything else that's absolutely spot on to our bullseye customer," he comments. The fast fashion multi-channel retailer saw its sales spike 40% during the show this summer, which all came down to reigniting and re-energizing lapsed customers of more than six months, he notes. Product placement, which is essentially what this was, isn't new in strategy – but it's effective when it's done right, he explains. In this instance, his team designed looks and dressed all of the stars in the show. Wall's strategy is focused primarily on relevancy to the shopper, much of which comes from the fact his team internally are those individuals themselves. "One of the big big advantages we've got as a business, is that our customers are actually our team... Our average age in our business is 25, and guess what, our average customer age is also 25. You cannot overemphasize the advantages you get when every single day you are walking amongst your customers. It's a tremendous advantage." It's that laser-sharp focus on who they're targeting that also let's Missguided play with partnerships, he adds. The brand launched a collaboration with Playboy this summer that was met with a heavy dose of debate, but ultimately succeeded because of how relevant it was to the shopper it was intended. "It again hit the nail on the head for our customer," Wall explains. In conversation with Rosanna Falconer at a FashMash event in Missguided's hometown of Manchester in the north of England, Wall also shares his views on what's coming next in influencer marketing, which of the big social channels he's focused on, and just why he likes to court a little controversy along the way.
TheCurrent Debate: Is there real value in CGI models?
CGI models are having a moment in luxury fashion right now, but it's up for debate as to whether they hold true value for the brands embracing them, according to the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by [TheCurrent](https://www.thecurrentglobal.com/). Co-hosts Liz Bacelar and Rachel Arthur, who discuss various technologies pertinent to the industry every month on this show, bring opposing viewpoints to the table. CGI or virtual models have been used in fashion advertising campaigns to an increasing degree over the past few years, with big name brands including [Louis Vuitton](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2016/01/04/final-fantasy-computer-game-character-fronts-ss16-louis-vuitton-campaign/), [Prada](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2018/02/27/prada-enlists-computer-generated-influencer-ss18-show/) and [Balmain](http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/41164/1/balmain-cgi-models-pre-fall-2018-campaign-shudu-ai-influencer-paris-fashion-week) all employing them. Some of those involved, including one called Lil Miquela, and another named Shudu, have generated enormous buzz and impressively large social media followings as a result, as though they were indeed influencers in their own right. Most recently, [Lil Miquela featured in UGG's 40th anniversary campaign](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2018/10/22/lil-miquela-cgi-uggs/), blending in seamlessly alongside two real-life influencers as though she were a natural part of the cast. For the unsuspecting onlooker, it's not immediately clear she's not. One of the questions raised during the episode is whether such a move is merely about gaining from some of the hype such models currently present, or if they can in fact drive ROI for the brands making use of them long term. Rachel presents some interesting statistics that show how engagement of for CGI remains significantly lower than any example of a 'human' influencer, but Liz counters that view with the argument that what we're looking at here is a form of artistic expression. The duo also dive into what such flawless representations of women mean for beauty ideals in the era of fake news we currently live in, as well as the notion that we may all have a CGI or avatar version of ourselves in the future, not least the real life influencers who could ultimately gain increased revenue opportunities for themselves, even posthumously. _Catch up with_ [_all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent here_](https://thecurrentdaily.com/category/podcast/) _. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It's backed by_ [_TheCurrent_](http://www.thecurrentglobal.com/) _, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups._ [_Get in touch_](mailto:%email@example.com) _to learn more._
Allbirds on why sustainability is a non-negotiable
It’s not incumbent on the consumer to change behaviour, but on businesses to take responsibility, says Tim Brown, co-founder of direct-to-consumer footwear brand Allbirds on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast, by TheCurrent.
Supergoop! On the Clean Beauty Revolution
“The clean beauty revolution is the next big thing that’s going to hit this industry,” says Amanda Baldwin, president of suncare brand, Supergoop! She explains that from day one, Supergoop! has maintained a singular focus: convincing people to wear sunscreen every day by making it with the cleanest ingredients possible.
Ozwald Boateng on why creatives need to think like startups
Designers need to reposition their businesses as startups to tap into much-needed investment, says menswear designer, Ozwald Boateng, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. In conversation with Liz Bacelar at a Spotify event in Paris, Boateng, whose body of work propelled the craftsmanship of London's Savile Row to international recognition, says he believes the creative world needs to learn from technology in terms of how it approaches funding. The fashion industry's model of investors taking control of designers' names early on is broken, he explains, saying that we can all learn from new direct-to-consumer businesses that have overcome this by approaching differently the way that they're backed instead. "What amazes me is when you see these young creative talents, still owning sizeable chunks of the business after raising so much money and getting these valuations of a billion plus – you kind of go, my god, can that really happen, it's almost like a dream, but in the tech world, it's the norm," he notes. "This creates a huge amount of independence and opportunity for the designer – you're no longer forced to follow the rules, so that's exciting. For me as a business, I'm looking at ways to take advantage of that." Conversely, he says the technology world also needs to learn from creatives. "I think if more designers looked at the world of technology and applied their creative to the tech, I am sure we would see some very interesting and groundbreaking ideas ," he comments. He explains that designers are trained to always look forward, to spot trends and understand needs, so it's something he believes would work exceptionally well when applied to technology. "I would happily use a body scanner [for my made-to-measure suits], it makes a lot of sense. But there's a lot of things I could add in terms of how I need the technology to work," he notes. "So I see a partnership. Eventually both [designers and tech companies] will see they need each other, and then they'll just make it work." During the conversation, the duo also talk about his new uniform designs for British Airways, his time as creative director at Givenchy and the role of race and diversity in the industry. **_Catch up with_** [**_all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here_**](https://thecurrentdaily.com/category/podcast/)**_. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It's backed by_** [**_TheCurrent_**](http://www.thecurrentglobal.com/)**_, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups._** [**_Get in touch_**](mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org)**_to learn more._**
Amazon Alexa’s founder on how voice tech will impact retail
"I think you'll be surprised in a couple of years if you speak to a device and it doesn't reply," says William Tunstall-Pedoe, the British entrepreneur who created the technology that became Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa. Speaking to Liz Bacelar on TheCurrent Innovators podcast earlier this year, he says his vision for future of voice technology really is about everything around us being connected. Artificial intelligence (AI), which is the overarching phrase for the tech behind it, is fundamentally revamping how we live our lives, how we do business, and even how we shop, he explains. And it's doing so at an ever-increasing pace. Just recently Amazon released a myriad of new devices – including a microwave and a smart plug – that aim to facilitate greater connectivity in the home, taking us one step closer to Tunstall-Pedoe's vision. "The really big goal is totally horizontal, that you can talk about anything you want and be understood on any topic," he adds. On this episode, the duo also talk about Tunstall-Pedoe's passion for creating world-changing products powered by AI, how voice tech could change retail, and which one of the Alexa Skills is really the most useful to him.
TheCurrent Debate: What does VR really mean for retail?
A new feature of TheCurrent Innovators podcast is a monthly discussion between our hosts, Liz Bacelar and Rachel Arthur. The two of them – also partners of TheCurrent's innovation consultancy – come across a lot of different technologies, tons of startup entrepreneurs and many big ideas through their day jobs. Doing so means they generate many big opinions of their own – but, unsurprisingly, they don't always agree. So, they've now put what normally stays behind closed doors in the office, on record for podcast listeners. In this first episode, the two explore what virtual reality (VR) really means for the retail industry. That comes off the back of recent news that saw [Walmart filing for two patents](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2018/08/20/walmart-vr-retail-patents/) that suggest it will launch a virtual reality-based shopping experience in the future. The world's largest retailer detailed the idea of a virtual showroom and a fulfillment system that will enable shoppers to both explore and purchase products using the technology. The news follows Walmart's acquisition of Spatialand, a software startup focused on creating VR experiences, which now sits within the retailer's Store No. 8 in-house tech incubator. What's more, Alibaba and Amazon are also playing in this space. The latter has already launched [an example of VR shopping with Macy's for Singles Day](https://qz.com/835171/singles-day-virtual-reality-lets-chinese-customers-shop-macys-famed-new-york-store/), while Amazon recently opened [10 virtual reality kiosks in India](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2018/07/16/amazon-introduces-vr-kiosks-prime-day/) to promote its Prime Day shopping event. Yet, there's an argument that much of VR, when we're talking about application beyond gaming and entertainment, really is just gimmick. At a time when there's little space left for technology for technology's sake, the question is, are these retailers actually one step ahead of the game, or still just playing with something for the sake of it? Liz has some strong views on the lack of headset penetration and what that really means for consumer uptake in the long term, while Rachel argues there's still space for PR opportunities with such a technology all the same. What it comes down to is relevancy in terms of both business objectives and the target consumer. Between them, they also dive into some further case studies, explore where VR really could impact retail down the line, and jump into the virtues of other technologies in the same space as alternatives.
H&M Group on its ambitious circularity goals
"We only have one planet, and the toll [the fashion industry] has on resources today is simply unsustainable," says Anna Gedda, head of sustainability at the H&M Group, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. She was referring to the company's goal to move towards a 100% circular model by 2030, which means that everything it uses will go back into the system to be either recycled or reused. Speaking to TheCurrent's chief innovation officer, Rachel Arthur, at a FashMash event in London, she said the aim of the business is to keep all that is good with the fashion industry – from providing clothes to an ever increasing global population, to contributing to job opportunities and development – but doing so within the planetary boundaries. "If you do that, if you only use what is in the system in terms of resources, then we believe that you can continue to consume fashion in the future and you will be able to have prosperous communities that depend on the fashion industry in a good way," she explains. It's a cumbersome road ahead to get there of course, with the industry needing to rethink everything from design, materials, consumption, recycling and more. And while there are already plenty of ideas out there – with H&M's non-profit Foundation leading the way with an annual award for startups in the space – time, effort and big investment is needed to get many of them to scale. "At the moment there is not much out there in terms of what is scalable, but if we look at the pipeline of innovation that is coming, it's fantastic," Gedda notes. She's particularly enthused by some of the work that's going into recycling technology to get us to high quality upcycled fibres. She adds that what's really needed in the industry today to make all of this a reality for mass brands however, is a coordination of innovation efforts so things don't happen in siloes. "If we're going to have fast acceleration of this, then whatever is invented needs to complement something else so you can get an effective chain – whether it's materials or production – to happen. I think that from a challenge perspective, it's the lack of coordination, or the lack of a bigger platform where all this collaboration can really happen, that's the key thing I would point out." During the conversation, the duo also explore what will make the consumer really care about sustainability, how collaboration in the industry is critical, and just why AI is so pivotal to the future. _Catch up with_ [_all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here_](https://thecurrentdaily.com/category/podcast/) _. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It's backed by_ [_TheCurrent_](http://www.thecurrentglobal.com/) _, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups._ [_Get in touch_](mailto:%email@example.com) _to learn more._
How luxury can learn from streetwear’s hype culture
Luxury has a lot to learn from the way streetwear brands trade on creating desire, says Ferdinando Verderi, co-founder and creative director of NY-based agency Johannes Leonardo, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. As the creative lead behind the adidas Originals and Alexander Wang collaboration, his experience shows that relevancy in today's market is all about bringing the customer close, but keeping products scarce. Accordingly, tapping into a mentality of belonging is at the heart of what makes the streetwear industry so successful and as a result, a strategy that luxury is keen to follow, he explains. "It's easy to forget how the streetwear phenomenon started. [It] started with the will of people to belong to a real community that has a point of view that is different from others," he says. His award-winning work for adidas Originals has involved unpicking what creativity stands for, and how a sportswear giant can challenge the status quo. This has meant ideas like crossing out the brand's iconic three stripes, expressing the importance of being a work in progress (see "Original is never finished") and even turning the brand's logo upside down. When the agency helped broker adidas Originals' partnership with Alexander Wang, it consequently ended up almost laying the groundwork for what luxury-meets-street collaborations, now popularized through many other deals, entail. The collab was built on the concept of purposively disrespecting industry rules, says Verderi. Over three seasons they have done everything from a reseller-inspired retail strategy to analog marketing activity that involved text messaging. During this conversation with TheCurrent's innovation strategist, Bia Bezamat, Verderi dives into what all of that has meant, all the while also talking about why brands need to think like publishers in the way they drop content over product, how another movement will come to replace streetwear now that it's become so mass, and why distilling a point of view needs to be done in a very careful way.
Misha Nonoo on pivoting direct-to-consumer
"The scariest thing [in the world] is doing something different and not having an example to follow," says designer Misha Nonoo on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators. Speaking at a MouthMedia Live recording at Spring Place in New York with TheCurrent's founder Liz Bacelar, the designer discussed how she pivoted her contemporary namesake brand in 2016 to focusing on selling direct-to-consumer instead. "It was scary and I was doing something completely new, but at the same time it was very exciting," she explains. Such disruption is something that has become second nature to Nonoo in recent years. In 2015, she was one of the first in the industry to forgo an official fashion week presentation and host an Instagram one instead. The next year, she returned to the platform with a see-now-buy-now presentation, which users could shop via influencer platform, rewardStyle. For a designer who sees herself as an entrepreneur holding the reins for her brand's success – and her personal happiness – switching to selling directly to the consumer was a very clear direction, she explains. That said, challenging the industry's statusquo comes with a lot of hard work, which Nonoo does not shy away from. "One of the most enlightening things that I was ever told was by Anna Wintour (...) she said to me 'an overnight success is 10 years in the making'," Nonoo explains. Seven years on, she feels she is just 'making it' now. Time has also given Nonoo the confidence to know that a lot of the industry is based on smoke and mirrors. As a small, independent brand, she now feels confident in having the choice of what to subscribe to. During this conversation, Nonoo also talks about the importance of building a business based on values, how fashion week has become obsolete, and the challenges of running an on-demand business.
Tommy Hilfiger on embracing innovation
Risk, authenticity and understanding your consumer are the keys to innovation, says Avery Baker, chief brand officer of Tommy Hilfiger, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. "When you're trying to do something that really creates an impact and is somewhat revolutionary, then you've got to put all the chips on the table," she explains to TheCurrent's founder Liz Bacelar, at a live recording at Neuehouse in New York. She was referring specifically to the brand's Tommy Now runway experience, which [first launched](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2017/03/07/tommy-hilfiger-image-recognition/) in February 2017 and most recently took place in Shanghai for Fall 2018. A tech-enabled interactive fashion event, she refers to it as "the right sweet spot in terms of being aspirational and accessible" for the Tommy brand. Across the market, its set the benchmark in terms of what a digitally-enabled, see-now-buy-now runway experience could, and should, look like; arguably by putting both entertainment and commerce at its heart. "From the beginning we didn't think of it as a fashion show as we know fashion shows to be. We see this as a totally shoppable fashion ecosystem that at its heart is a media and content platform. It has a moment of theater, but it also has many layers in terms of engagement and shopability and experience and shareability. It is a multilayered platform," Baker explains. And importantly, that got big internal buy-in, catapulting the team behind the launch to make it happen: "What I found was that everyone was so excited about being part of something that was innovative, risk-taking, that was breaking the rules and writing our own story. There was a tremendous amount of excitement, rather than fear and pride to be a part of a program that was trying to be groundbreaking." That mentality of how to create experiential fashion show moments targeted to a Gen Z audience, is only a small manifestation of Tommy's bigger ambitions towards innovation, however. Beyond digitally-enabled retail experiences, the brand has also been investigating new ways to communicate with consumers through its evolving product – from smart clothing that [rewards users per wear](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2018/07/26/tommy-hilfiger-launches-smart-clothing-rewards-users-wearing/), through to speaking to a highly underserved audience through an [adaptive line for people with disabilities](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2018/04/09/icymi-resale-market-gender-pay-gap/). During the live conversation, Baker also talks about how the brand has translated its American roots and values to a global audience, how it overcame the unexpected lull, and why magic and logic need to work together.
IBM on the coming power of blockchain
Blockchain will have the same impact long-term as we have seen the internet have on commerce, says Laurence Haziot, global managing director of IBM, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. A leading woman in the STEM industries, Haziot looks after IBM's Worldwide Consumer Industries division, which includes retail, consumer products, wholesale and agriculture. She believes strongly in the potential of blockchain for the future, from the impact it can have on the supply chain to the role it will play in sustainability and transparency. While it's nascent right now, the fact that this digital ledger was designed from the beginning to be more secure than current systems we rely on, is key, she explains. That doesn't make it a silver bullet, but it does make it an opportunity. IBM is already trialling use cases of the technology as a result, including provenance for food safety at Walmart, shipping efficiencies for Maersk, and diamond authentication for the jewelry industry in a project called TrustChain. For retail specifically, Haziot is bullish on the results it could drive in terms of efficiencies throughout the entire supply chain, as well as traceability for a consumer only seeking ever more knowledge of what they're buying. It's for that reason she sees blockchain infiltrating numerous job roles. "This is not an IT play," she explains. "This is really a business topic – I think it will touch probably most of the functions in the company, from marketing to manufacturing, transportation and more." In this episode with Rachel Arthur at a live FashMash recording in London, Haziot also answers some tough questions on the limitations of the tech to validate authenticity, and leans on her experience of 30+ years at IBM to explore some of the surrounding innovations that are needed to make it viable long-term.
How Tim Kobe shaped Apple and the future of retail
The type of experiences a retailer brings to their stores shouldn't be determined by what the competition is doing, but ultimately what's relevant to each brand, argues Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of strategic design firm Eight Inc , on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Kobe is known as the designer behind the original Apple store, which arguably paved the way for what modern day customer experience in retail looks like. But his view is that too many brands are jumping on the "experience" bandwagon because their peers are, and not thinking about how important it is to be sincere to their values. "People have started to expect that the values that the brand is standing for, the thing its known for, is going to come through in the experience," he explains. It's only by doing so that will you create experiences consumers want to share, he notes. He's been doing that since he founded Eight Inc in 1989 and first worked with Apple, under the direction of late founder Steve Jobs, in 1996. His focus was on moving the store from "a transaction space into a culture space". Retail has of course evolved significantly since then, largely thanks to the evolution of technology, e-commerce and the mobile devices shoppers now carry everyday. But what hasn't changed is human connection, Kobe explains. "To me the human interaction supercedes all of the tech, all of the AI... I use the iPod as an example. No one remembers how much memory it had, no one remembers how many centimetres thick it was, or millimetres – what they remember is a 1,000 songs in your pocket. It goes back to, ultimately, any product has values if it delivers on human outcomes." It's for that very reason, he argues that the future of retail has to be about the future of human interactions. "[It's about] understanding what people are doing and how they're interacting with one another... We have to get back to understanding a bit more about the most successful human interactions that you can create. Put the technology in the background, put it behind, but let the human interactions and that contact be the thing that we get smarter at, the thing that we get better at." In this episode with TheCurrent's Rachel Arthur, he also talks about the idea of "monochannel retail", which is all about using digital and physical spaces simultaneously, dives into his work in China with brands including Xiaomi and Lincoln, and explains just how brands can get past the format fatigue we're seeing in stores worldwide today.
Bumble on innovating through kindness
Emotion holds huge value for modern business, says VP of international marketing and communications for Bumble, Louise Troen, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Speaking to Rachel Arthur on-site at the British Fashion Council's annual Fashion Forum in London, Troen says that while there is no shortage of entrepreneurs and incredible ideas, Bumble's success is based on a very simple premise. "Often people turn around and say 'what is the magic?' And really it's the fact that we built a business based on kindness," she notes. "We really think that there is a value in a company that bases itself on fundamental values." Bumble launched in 2012 as the antithesis to successful yet problematic dating apps that had been crowding the market with their models of placing men in charge of making the first move. From the get-go, founder Whitney Wolfe Herd wanted to create a platform where women could feel both empowered and protected. This, paired with the notion of kindness, is particularly resonating at a time when movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp are taking hold. As a society there's a shift in behaviour happening, Troen notes, which the business has always been focused on. What's been critical, she explains however, has been to do this with authenticity. Her advice to every other business in the space is to think about it in the same way – to question whether it is authentic to the brand to be taking a standpoint that is affecting the social agenda, or placing messages that are politically charged. For Bumble, it's working. Since launch, it has evolved into two new verticals – Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz – which similarly take the startup's motto into other areas of their female users' lives, in this case friendships and careers respectively. It now has a reported 22 million users across all services. But this has only been made possible because users have helped the platform evolve, Troen explains. Her second piece of advice to brands is to give the product to real people and have them tell the story. "We do our focus groups and we can understand what they want from protection services, what they need feature-wise in the product, what they can see, and manage the algorithm based on feedback, as opposed to drafting a marketing plan set in stone 12 months in advance, which obviously will change within a month." Through this approach, the business is able to be nimble with its responses, evolving in time with its community and the broader societal conversations alongside. Tune into the interview for a further deep dive with Troen on the importance of giving female users a voice, how the company's consumer-facing values seep into its own office culture, and how Bumble is dreaming of global domination with its steady country-by-country rollout.
Martine Jarlgaard on how blockchain can redefine fashion
"We are such a closed, centralized system. Being open and transparent is the only way forward," says designer Martine Jarlgaard with regards to applying blockchain to the fashion industry, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. In 2017, Jarlgaard piloted a blockchain system hoping to address the level of transparency that she believes is missing in the fashion industry. Today, she continues on a mission to push an open supply chain that not only enables consumers to make more informed decisions, but allows those in the chain to be held accountable, and receive the exposure they deserve. The overarching result, she hopes, is that brands will start acting more responsibly. From her perspective, systemic change is needed in this regard. "The fashion industry as it stands today is ancient, and I'm struggling to understand why it hasn't realized that and why it's not using this incredible opportunity to stand in and really show vision, and to see what the future is." Since the inception of her namesake fashion label, Jarlgaard has been investigating ways to extend the value of a physical product through tools that facilitate transparency and sustainability. The blockchain project, for example, registered and traced each step of the journey of a garment via an app from London-based startup, Provenance, which customers could access by scanning a QR code found on the label. This was one of the very first examples of fashion applied to such a digital ledger. Jarlgaard is passionate about decelerating the damage that people and the industry have already done to the planet, and deploying technology is one way she is striding towards that goal. She's also exploring mixed reality, the role of art, and what the textiles lab of the future looks like, as further crucial fields. In this conversation with Rachel Arthur, she emphasizes the huge responsibility that sits on the industry's shoulders to start driving sustainability forward, how brands need to redefine the value of a product to change the way consumers shop, and why she believes innovation is what will enable a radical difference for good.
Away luggage on going beyond the VC hype
Direct-to-consumer brands don't often live up to the hype placed on them by endless amounts of VC funding and Silicon Valley fandom, says Jen Rubio, co-founder of travel brand Away, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Speaking to Liz Bacelar, founder of TheCurrent, at the British Fashion Council's annual Fashion Forum in London, Rubio explains that from its inception in 2016, she and her co-founder Steph Korey (who she met while both working at Warby Parker), were careful not to run their business like a lot of other brands in the space. "If you go back in time a little bit, a lot of new brands and e-commerce companies were positioning themselves as tech companies and raising a lot of VC money at tech valuations that would never live up to the public market at how retail companies are valued, and then run into the trouble of needing these stores and claiming they are a retail company and not a tech one," she explains. "We saw a lot of this happening in the industry and from the beginning Steph and I said, this is not how we are going to run our business. "If you go back in time a little bit, a lot of new brands and e-commerce companies were positioning themselves as tech companies and raising a ton of VC money at tech valuations that would never live up to the public market at how retail companies are valued. And then run into the trouble of 'oh we actually need these stores so now we're a retail company and not a tech company'. They've raised too much cash, they've burned too much cash," she explains. "We saw a lot of this stuff happening in the industry and from the beginning Steph and I were like, this is not how we are going to run this business." After pitching Away as a brand aiming to make travel more seamless, as opposed to simply making luggage, the business famously received a first round of investment before even having a physical product, for instance. From the lightbulb moment for the brand's concept through to its launch, Away spoke to over 800 people about what elements would make the perfect suitcase. It is that open approach to constant feedback that it continues to focus on to this day – helping to inform its product collaborations, new features and color palettes, and even locations for pop-ups and permanent retail spaces. In this conversation, Rubio also tells Liz how its first major hurdle – airline regulation that meant their smart suitcase was no longer allowed onboard – was an important opportunity to strengthen the relationship with Away customers; how retail landlords are finally giving non-legacy brands a chance; and why understanding your consumer is key to constant innovation.
How Equinox services the luxury wellness consumer
The mass appeal of 'wellness as a lifestyle' may be something trending with consumers today, but it's a mindset that's been central to Equinox since its inception in 1991, says Vimla Gupta, CMO of the premium fitness brand, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Equinox has paved the way by offering consumers support and service beyond typical gym classes by understanding how their fitness behaviors have always been a pivotal part of their lifestyles. In doing so it's become not just a 'gym' brand, but an entire lifestyle group that will even open its own hotel in New York in 2019. Its success comes from the fact it quickly understood that with the rise of the internet, consumers were going above and beyond normal exercise behavior to better understand their needs and goals. "What we seek to do as a brand is intrinsically understand our consumer and what her needs are; what drives her," says Gupta. "And what we are seeing is the consumer has a PHD in everything; unlimited access to information." Modern gym-goers, Gupta says, are information-obsessed and think of every step of the journey, from understanding their nutrition and dietary needs, to researching the efficacy of the latest workout and even what sportswear they wear. This pushes brands like Equinox to become the vehicles to satisfy their learning needs and provide them with an experience that will correspond to their high performance expectations. At the heart of Equinox's interaction with its clients is the need to keep innovating by introducing services and technologies that help maximize the potential in their consumers lives, she adds. Technology in this case acts as an engagement and recommendation tool through leveraging individual data, such as the recent launch of a digital coach – or a bot – to its 10-year-old mobile app, which learns from a user's activities and helps them stay on track. During this conversation with Liz Bacelar, founder of TheCurrent, Gupta also divulges more on what tech means for the Equinox gym experience, how the company is evolving from fitness to lifestyle and retail, and its upcoming plans to keep enabling clients to live their best lives.
Farfetch on the store of the future
The store of the future is about solving the problems of today in an innovative and meaningful way for the customer, says Sandrine Deveaux of Farfetch, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Speaking to guest host, Rosanna Falconer, at a live FashMash Pioneers event in London, the managing director of the e-commerce company's store of the future division, explains that her focus in not just on new technology for the sake of it, but on creating better shopping experiences driven by personalization. Following the announcement of Farfetch's Store of the Future concept in April 2017, Deveaux has been building a series of beta tests in place in Browns East in London, Thom Browne in New York and Chanel in Paris. But the result doesn't mean big flashy screens or variations on augmented reality, as she is so often asked about. Instead, it's about better servicing the customer; understanding what they want when they walk into stores thanks to data, but also making things like the payment experience a much more seamless one. She says the store of the future is really about offering the experience of Apple, but the convenience of Amazon, so as to keep in line with increasing consumer expectations. And so the end goal,for her team, she says, is to provide brands and boutiques with full visibility around customer behavior and customer intent, mirroring what's possible online in the offline space. "85% of customers, we don't know anything about them. So that's what the store of the future is really getting to – it's about how we leverage the platform we have with Farfetch, and try to really look at online behavior and take that online behavior into an in-store context," she explains. This is something Farfetch calls "enabling the offline cookie". On this episode, Deveaux also talks to driving disruptive innovation through healthy internal tension, how she's changing the way luxury brands think, and why the ultimate sales associate for the store of the future might just be a unicorn.
How Walmart creates growth with design
Speaking to Liz Bacelar, founder of TheCurrent, during a live recording hosted by MouthMedia Network at Spring Place in New York, he explains how the enormous e-commerce redesign he has spearheaded for the world’s largest company, all came down to this focus on elevating the shopping experience for the changing customer of today.
Foreo on driving meaningful innovation in the beauty device market
Applying innovation to every aspect of a product or service is at the core of beauty device company Foreo's strategy, from product design to discoverability and communications, says CEO Paul Peros on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. The Swedish brand entered the market in 2013, when the concept of beauty tech was just beginning to bubble up, and move from the professional salon space to selling at retail. What became clear however was that the company had to strive not only to introduce a new technology into the consumer's home, but educate them on how that type of product would fit into the context of their lives. Peros explains that for the the at-home beauty device industry to become truly mainstream, brands need to not only offer efficacy at a professional level, but convenience that matches consumer expectations. He refers to this as "meaningful innovation". "You cannot ask a consumer to adopt a completely new practice or new product that stands in [their] way," he explains. "You cannot have products where the consumer services the product rather than the other way around." The brand has engaged directly with consumers from the get-go, which initially started as a necessity as the company lacked the resources to play in the traditional media game. However, it quickly became a vital part of its business model, helping it reach the estimated $1 billion in worldwide sales that it's expecting to hit in 2018. "At the end of the day this has become an advantage that helped us not only reach the consumers but to engage with them and learn how to evolve our product range and our communications," says Peros. At CES in January 2018, for instance, Foreo turned to Kickstarter to launch the UFO, a spaceship-like device that enables consumers to do a facemask in under 90 seconds (as opposed to the typical 15-20 minutes). Unlike traditional campaigns on the crowdfunding platform that seek funding as their primary goal, the company saw this as a chance to spend months engaging with the consumer and gathering important feedback before bringing the product to launch. Doing so has enabled it to drive engagement with a fiercely loyal beauty consumer,leading Foreo to experience exponential growth around the global. The five-year-old company now employs over 3.000 people in 20 offices worldwide. Also in this episode, Peros talks further about the secret to developing products for a consumer that lives a much faster life, and just how the beauty industry is finally getting the innovation it deserves.
How Ikea is boosting sustainable and healthy living
"We've been set up as a business to understand how people live and to provide solutions that help them live better," says Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability and healthy living at Ikea, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Since its inception 75 years ago, the Swedish flatpack retailer has been known for affordable – and arguably, disposable – furniture that is a staple in young people's homes. But after identifying a shift in how we consume and live our lives, Ikea is on a much bigger mission, which is to think of what products and services it can provide that support consumers to live more sustainably, and more healthily, everyday, Yarrow explains. Speaking to Rachel Arthur, she says that sustainability has always been at the core of Ikea, but one of the biggest mistakes it has made is not to have engaged with consumers on their sustainable journey up until now. But times have shifted, and with mainstream consumers now maturing from supporting a single cause, such as saving water, to attempting to become more sustainable in every aspect of their lives, Ikea is aiming to follow suit. To achieve its sustainable strategy, the company's approach is threefold: look at its use of energy and resources (by 2020, it will be generating at least as much energy as it is consuming in their operations); look at people and it supply chain; and lastly, how to improve its customers' lives overarchingly. The company is due to release its new strategy in June, which will focus on its consumers and how to create affordability, accessibility and sustainability for all. Customers of the Greenwich, London store due to open in 2019 will be able to trial some of the company's upcoming features, which include upcycling stations, solar panels, green walls and rain water harvesting, among other components. During the conversation, Yarrow also talks about her background as the child of eco-warriors in England, how brands can no longer afford to just greenwash, and her belief that no one brand will ever be able to achieve sustainability alone, making collaboration key.
Lego on the importance of play at retail
Lego's most important feedback often comes from six year-olds, says the brand's head of retail innovation, Martin Urrutia, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Speaking to Rachel Arthur at this year's World Retail Congress in Madrid, Urrutia says focusing on the relationship between the user and the brick, and constantly listening to consumers' wants and needs, has been pivotal to the Danish brand's longevity. "Prior to rolling out anything important in our stores we actually sit at a table and present this to children and listen to them. And of course sometimes you say 'Am I going to let a six or eight year old child tell me what to do in store?' and the answer is yes, of course. If you present this to them, if you listen to the feedback, it's going to be interesting," he explains. "I've seen so many companies changing their essence and changing many things," he says, "and the only question that comes to my mind is – have they really asked their core users what they want?" In order to serve all types of consumers with the right interaction, the brand prides itself on being truly shopper-centric. Understanding the consumer is particularly key to a brand that is in the unique position of having such a vast fanbase – from small children to much older adults. This means engaging with core fans through a continuous conversation informs not only R&D, but also store design and interactive experiences. There have been many ideas that looked good on paper but were scrapped when they received negative feedback from real consumers or partner retailers, Urrutia explains, for instance. During the episode, he talks to the idea of store experiences that engender memories, and always bringing in an element of play to everything the Lego brand does. Such is the importance of the physical toy for the 85-year-old company, in fact, that it is often found in its meeting rooms worldwide, and its workforce takes one day a year to put work aside and play with the brick themselves. This internal strategy feeds into a larger purpose that encourages customers to play and engage with the toys at any given moment – be it at home or in any one of the brand's increasing retail spaces. Throughout the conversation, Urrutia also explains about the importance of choosing the right technology for retail; both that which is easy for staff and customers alike to interact with, but also simple to update and scale. He also notes other imperative brick-and-mortar retail tools, such as an invested and knowledgeable staff, as well as ensuring that there is something for everyone within that physical space.
HBO on how Westworld Engages with Superfans
At the core of the success of Westworld – HBO’s hit show that has had the most successful series debut in its history – is its engagement with fans, says Steve Cardwell, director of program marketing at the network.
How Heist looks at inclusivity to keep innovating its tights
Inclusivity for women of all shapes, sizes and skintones is at the core of the strategy behind direct-to-consumer underwear brand Heist, according to its CEO Toby Darbyshire, who features on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Speaking to Rachel Arthur, he explains how the underwear industry is one that's ripe for innovation as a category that is underperforming against societal needs. Ait stands, it is designed to drive revenue, rather than to serve its customers, he notes. "It struck us that in the age of Harvey Weinstein, the fact that my wife, who is a pretty modern woman, walks into Selfridges' underwear section and it says 'listen love, put this on – one of sort of four or five societal normalized views of sexy – and then you can fulfill your purpose'. That seems like an industry at its fundamental that is both broken from a brand point of view but also totally out of kilter with the cultural discourse," he comments. The first product Heist decided to tackle was tights. Widely regarded as uncomfortable, Heist's innovative design includes no seams, a flexible waistband and a reduction in snagging and laddering. The brand worked with real women to ensure their concerns were met. Since then, that has also meant exploring color and shape, and it's this approach to inclusivity that keeps the brand, which recently received investment from Natalie Massenet's new Imaginary Ventures fund, driving forward. Last summer, it launched 'The Nude Project', crowdsourcing a full color palette index of different skintones based on over 100,000 customers. What's more, the team opted to make this an open source model, explains Darbyshire, meaning they are sharing the results with the wider industry in the hope it will encourage others to diversify their product offerings. Heist also launched tights to cater up to size 24 in 2017, again working with real body shapes to create the best fit. The line debuted with a successful and innovative campaign, featuring different shapes and sizes of fruits and vegetables inside Heist tights to promote a body positive and inclusive message. On that decision, Darbyshire says: "How do you talk about plus size in a way that is inclusive and isn't Dove. Not because Dove didn't do it brilliantly, because they actually did it brilliantly, but then kept on doing it for 20 years, so now no one else can do it because it's lame. It's really clever. So how not to be Dove is the challenge." Also on the podcast, he talks about innovation in the product itself as inspired by the likes of Nike and Speedo, how to successfully cut out the middleman and why they might introduce their own store next year.
How Naadam is driving the sustainable cashmere industry
Building deep relationships with the communities trading raw materials is a key factor in establishing a more sustainable supply chain, argues Matt Scanlan of disruptive cashmere brand, Naadam. Speaking to Liz Bacelar on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast, the CEO and co-founder of the company, opens up about how important it is to think about the human side of what we, as an industry, are doing. "There are fundamental shared experiences across the human experience that we don't think about when we're making clothing; that we don't think about when we're trying to look nice. That was eye-opening to me, and I try really hard to continually push that narrative for people," he says. His entire business was built first on relationships, he explains, which led him to want to support those he had gotten to know. In this case, we're talking Mongolian goat herders. His story of how he got there is a well known one – in short he spent a month with local communities in the Gobi Desert and then returned with $2 million stashed in plastic bags to buy tons of raw cashmere directly from them. Doing so allows those goat herders to earn 50% more profit. Since then, his ambition to transform the cashmere supply chain alongside business partner, Diederik Rijsemus, has grown rapidly. Simultaneously, the consumer mindset on what sustainability is and why it matters is finally starting to take hold, he notes, outlining his drive to keep pushing this forward. "All I care about is building the biggest platform to share my message which is a very simple passion around why I did it in the first place. The bigger the platform is, the happier I am. I just want more people to know that if you're really thoughtful about sustainability it can foster innovation that lets you make products across a spectrum that are more affordable for the customer and better quality." Also in the conversation, Scanlan talks about why 100% sustainability is both fake and impossible, the challenges faced by growing and scaling such a brand, and why he now operates via wholesale channels as well as his direct-to-consumer model. The death of traditional retail is hyperbolic, he says.
Facebook’s data scandal: Amnesty on the future of regulation
According to Amnesty International's Sherif Elsayed-Ali, brand transparency and regulation are key in light of the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica news, which saw over 87 million individual user accounts improperly shared. Speaking on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators, which was guest hosted by Rosanna Falconer at a live FashMash Pioneers event in London, Elsayed-Ali, the human rights organization's director of global issues and research, said data protection and privacy have never been more pertinent topics. "In the atmosphere we are in, where this is this kind of diminishing trust in technology, creating transparency adds to the trust that people will have in any company or brand in a way that can be very positive... There's something about empowering people, empowering consumers, to be able to say 'I know what's happening to my data, I know how it's used, and I know how it's protected'," he explains. For that to happen, there needs to be regulations in place for brands however, he added. By building a basic framework of minimum requirements, it will level the playing field, which is essential. The advent of GDPR in Europe – the General Data Protection Regulation proposed by the European Commission and due to kickstart in May 2018 – will help facilitate this, he notes, explaining exactly what it means for marketers within the fashion and retail industries still looking to drive microtargeting and increasingly personalized campaigns. Consent is a crucial focus he said, but so is removing lengthy jargon that makes it difficult for users to understand what they're signing up for. During the episode, Elsayed-Ali, who established Amnesty's technology and human rights program, also talks to what artificial intelligence means for the future of the fashion industry – exploring the role of automation in manufacturing for instance, and just when we can expect this to become a reality. "We're not talking decades, we're talking just years," he notes.
How New Stand is reinventing convenience retail through curation
As consumers seek to shop and live in a way that is aligned with their digital habits, retail is feeling the pressure to transform, says Andrew Deitchman, co-founder of modern convenience retail concept New Stand. Speaking to Liz Bacelar on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast, he discusses the importance of offering consumers thoughtful service in both physical and digital worlds. "In many ways when you think about what newsstands were, they were your window into the world... Today discovery obviously happens on the phone, but it also is more and more physical. We're physical beings and we like actually going into locations and touching things, so [with New Stand] we want to be able to provide that as a distribution point for content; that content also being physical products," he says. Deitchman's concept, which he co-founded with Lex Kendall in 2015, is the reinterpretation of the convenience store experience, where consumers are met with a mixture of curated products and mobile content that fits seamlessly into their busy urban lifestyles. 2017 was a big year for the New York-based company, which not only opened more stores in the city (including on public transport ferries), but expanded across the country to office buildings and airports. Beyond the store's curated selection of food, lifestyle and design objects, it also uses the space to introduce consumers to new launches, as well as leverage its wider platform for brand partnerships. At the heart of the modernized concept is the need to 'fight' for a share of the customer's time, says Deitchman, by connecting with them in a meaningful way. "You need to build from a real foundation of engagement," he says. "It's really about using that physical footprint to build a bridge into people's lives that hopefully is a sustained one that they're going to enjoy." In the conversation, Deitchman also discusses how New Stand is a media company at its core, the importance of being considerate with the data they are collecting from consumers, and how the team is planning to further expand the business building content and selling merchandise that is increasingly localized at a micro level. "I see us as an API for human engagement," he says, improving the consumer's day by adding value to their personal ecosystem.
How bioengineered spider silk from Bolt Threads is driving a more sustainable fashion future
In order to get sustainable products out the door we have to create the kind consumers actually want to buy, Dan Widmaier, CEO of advanced materials technology company, Bolt Threads, says on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Speaking to Rachel Arthur, he says it's all very well having a vision for the future driven by deep technology – in his case, best known as spider silk – but if the consumer doesn't like it, it's irrelevant. "Ultimately it is up to the consumer," he says. "[We're] seeing the speed at which consumer taste is changing – 2017 was a transformative year for sustainability. It is getting big really fast and it's becoming one of the issues at the forefront of the industry because it touches everyone... No one wants to work in an industry where you say, hey, you know what I'm going to do today, I'm going to mess up the world for the future. Everyone wants to make it better. So it's not surprising. We all want to feel like we are working towards some greater good in the world." His team is doing that by mimicking spider silk found in nature and reproducing it in a lab. This is about harvesting proteins to ultimately create sustainable, high-performance fibers and fabrics that will eventually find their way into our clothes. He launched his first product – a tie – at SXSW last year. And has since partnered with fashion designer Stella McCartney in order to drive that real consumer drive. You can't buy any of the McCartney products yet, but he promises there are big things coming up later this year. His work is oft referred to as the beginning of a new material revolution – one that looks at bioengineering, thus focused on what comes from nature, rather than from chemistry to produce polymers and plastics, as was the drive throughout the 20th Century. In an age driven increasingly by a focus on sustainability, he says it's about time there was a greater push around new materials. His team has recently closed $123 million Series D investment round, so the next step is about getting to scale. Listen to the podcast to hear how Widmaier thinks his team can get there, the kind of challenges that stand in his way between now and then, and just why sustainability is such a big agenda for fashion. The big thing, he says, is about balancing impatience with reality. "Big innovations around fundamental technologies that are at the cutting edge are more fragile in the world than people realise. So we try to balance the desire to go as fast as humanly possible with the desire to see it be a success in the long term, because we think the good transcends beyond just Bolt. We can be an example that investing in deep science and deep technology can really create lasting good and commercial value in the world."
Pandora Music on innovating in an era of change
"Everybody is always trying to figure out what's next, and sometimes you've got to live in the now," says Jeff Zuckowski, vice president of industry relations at music service Pandora, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. Speaking to Liz Bacelar, he highlights the importance of balancing newness and familiarity, and how companies should be striving to innovate in the present, and not the future in order to stay ahead. For Pandora, disruption began when consumers flocked to digital to listen to music how they wanted, when they wanted, says Zuchowski. But every disruption is preceded by a phase of resistance, he notes. For digital music, it took big industry players a while to realize the power of investing in platforms that tap into the growing consumer needs for convenience and discoverability. Although Pandora currently sits at number two in the US market behind Spotify, many would discard the company's recent attempts to stay in line with competition. Zuchowski disagrees with that notion, saying the platform already has a large fanbase (circa 80 million), which simply needs to be reignited. "I don't look at Pandora as an underdog, I look at is as a sleeping giant," he says. Pandora constantly adds touches to make the usability more seamless and relevant, he says. A recent feature, for instance, enables users to just pick one or two songs, and Pandora will generate an entire playlist off the back of them. Users can then eliminate or add songs along the way, and an algorithm will learn from their behaviour. "When we set out to go to the next level, and we had to do something to compete, we did it by using what's always been Pandora's backbone, which is the Genome," Zuchowski further explains. The Music Genome Project is a proprietary music rating system developed by Pandora where trained musicologists rate songs on 450 different attributes – such as "aggressive drumming" or "jazz influencers" and cross-reference the results with other songs in order to make recommendations. The platform is betting on its human-meets-AI approach to provide a more curated selection of music. Zuchowski's competitive nature, however, means he never thinks a project is done, a trait he believes most disruptors have. At the core of that approach is the need to go beyond his own industry to learn things from people who are in other spaces, facing similar problems. Fashion, he believes, is going through a large amount of change and could learn from talking to peers in other industries such as music, who often face the same hurdles, but at different times in culture. His advice for the industry is to "take chances.. to throw a lot of s**t against the wall and see what sticks". No one can afford to do the same thing they did a year ago, he notes.
L’Oréal on creating personalized touchpoints through beauty tech
L'Oréal is on a mission to marry technology and beauty in order to enhance their customer's lives, says Guive Balooch, global vice president of L'Oréal's Tech Incubator on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast, hosted at SXSW 2018. At the core of that purpose is the team Balooch runs, which works as an R&D lab for beauty tech. "When we started about five years ago, our goal was to make sure we could find the link between personalization and technology and find a way to get consumers the right product for them," he explains. Since its inception, the team has developed products such as a connected hairbrush, a UV sensor worn on the nail, the first example of an augmented reality make-up app, and most recently, an on-demand system called Custom D.O.S.E. for SkinCeuticals, which dispenses serum personalized to the customer's skin needs in under a few minutes. Technologies such as AI and machine learning have conditioned consumers to become more demanding than ever in finding products and experiences that are relevant to them on a granular level, Balooch explains. But if you look at the beauty market today, off the shelf products simply cannot respond to the plethora of demands that individuals have, he suggests, especially when looking at skintones. This is where a product like Lancôme's Le Teint Particulier comes in, in which consumers have a consultation that includes a skintone scan before generating a tailor made foundation for them. That's something consumers have been demanding for some time, but the tech and science until recently has just not been possible, Balooch explains. Today we're at a real inflection point however, meaning customization is only going to get better. As is the case with all of L'Oréal's beauty tech launches, the goal is to enable brands under the group's umbrella to target consumers at a one-to-one level, removing any frustrations that arise during the shopping experience, while allowing beauty associates to focus on the human side of the interaction. For Balooch, this innovation mindset will push new or long-established beauty products to start adapting to change, thus becoming smarter over time. This means evolving the experience they offer the customer by leveraging more individual data, encouraging co-creation, and even coaching consumers themselves to become smarter about how to use their products. "In 10 years time there's no question to me that every person will have the ability to have the perfect product for them. I think that there will be much more co-creation – that we're moving towards an era where the people are becoming the companies," he notes. Beyond developing a made-for-me final product, attributes of efficacy and seamlessness are always top of mind when launching new connected technologies, from the production process to the design of the hardware and software itself, Balooch says. When partaking in the D.O.S.E experience with SkinCeuticals, for instance, consumers are able to watch as the machine prepares their personalized serum from beginning to end. This not only helps create an emotional experience for the recipient, but does a good job at communicating the process in a transparent way. For L'Oréal, that marriage between design and technology is key for customer-facing experiences. "Design is not just a secondary piece of what we do today with technology. [It] can actually fuel the tech itself," says Balooch, who believes for an integrated experience, technology needs to be both beautiful and warm. The future, he believes, is a balance between such creative and engineering teams.
Shoes of Prey on beating the odds in the customization market
For the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators, Liz Bacelar chatted to Jodie Fox, co-founder and creative director of online custom-made shoe platform Shoes of Prey, about the company's eight-year evolution and how they plan on changing the way women buy and wear shoes. For Fox, the brand's success in offering customized shoes at on-demand speed, lies in owning the whole manufacturing process, which is where a lot of other similar companies fell short during the customization boom in 2010, she says. In its early stages, selling the idea of building a factory that would do one shoe at a time was met with a lot of negativity. The company now employs 200 people, however, most of which are based out of their own factory in China, and can have a pair of shoes in the customer's hands in under two weeks. The importance of creating a company anchored in technology means that as fashion evolves and becomes more embedded with tech, Shoes of Prey is at the perfect standing, Fox explains. "One of the things we as a brand are really lucky not to have is legacy (...) Traditionally fashion is a very creative environment and I do believe that there is that desire to be innovative, but the way we get those ideas into market is still very broken. And that's one of the key places that technology can power to simply _be_ fashion," she says, stating that fashion and technology shouldn't be mutually exclusively as they can both leverage one another. As a consumer, Shoes of Prey offers over 10 trillion combinations of a shoe's design, which include changing heels, silhouette and colour. Although the company began by offering a blank canvas, it soon realized the importance of striking the balance of giving consumers choice, but not overwhelming them. For this process, the input of a team of designers has been crucial in creating a controlled yet flexible shopping experience. The platform also enables shoppers who once considered customization cost or time-prohibitive to see it as a tangible choice, particularly for those who fall outside the standard shoe sizing sold across the West, a group which Fox states 77% of women are part of. For the founder, it is surprising that shoe sizing has remained untouched for so long, which means consumers have become accustomed to the fact that wearing certain shoes – such as heels – won't always be comfortable. Fox, who alongside her two other co-founders has raised 30.6 million for Shoes of Prey since launching in 2009, says success has come from leveraging a simple rule of innovation: by being an industry outsider (in her case, with a background in law) she was able to find a common problem, and create an unbiased solution for it. "One of the reasons why Shoes of Prey managed to make a difference is probably naivety, and not being indoctrinated in the expertise of manufacturing in the industry," she says. "You can't let expertise get in the way of an idea."
Gadi Amit on designing human-led wearables that evoke connections
In an increasingly digital world, designing physical products that are genuinely useful and evoke an emotion from the consumer, is a tough challenge, according to Gadi Amit, president and principal designer at NewDealDesign, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators. With tech's fast-moving evolution comes a need to design objects that are sustainable and desirable, he highlights in his conversation with Liz Bacelar. Best known as the designer behind the original FitBit wearable device, Amit thinks technology is still very much about utility, but that pioneers such as Apple's Steve Jobs and Jony Ive have ignited change. Consumers are now becoming increasingly accustomed to technology pervading many aspects of their lives, and as a result are looking for objects that enhance their personal experiences by creating deeper connections, he says. When developing a successful wearable product, for instance, brands need to look beyond designing status-seeking elements to ask basic questions, such as: "What does it do for you? How does it enhance your life?", says Amit. He reiterates that an object's uniqueness lies in its true experiential value, and not just the label. For luxury, an industry that has struggled to enter the fast-moving market of digital technologies while retaining its products' values of longevity, Amit suggests starting with the values of the brand first, and building the technology that speaks to it. For fashion the 2014 wearable boom was short-lived, as the market became overcrowded with products that consumer demand didn't respond to. Although Amit thinks this is partly because devices lacked uniqueness, this is also due to the fact that wearables are so difficult to design, he explains. He particularly contradicts a common notion in the fashion industry that technology within wearables should be made to be invisible – from a usability standpoint, there are always design elements that need to prioritize function over aesthetics, he comments. "Wearables are different animals, they're not accessories in fashion. This is a piece of technology that needs to be on the human body, and therefore needs to be designed appropriately," he concludes. The self-confessed "contrarian by nature" is tackling payments next, an industry that historically champions frictionless and simplified interactions. Research around how exchanging physical currency affects behaviors and creates subconscious connections led him to design a new device called Scrip. This _induces_ friction by asking the user to swipe at it a few times in order to share digital currency, meaning users make more conscious spending decisions. It acts as a cashpoint in the user's pocket, in which its tangibility plays a key role in triggering neural functions that automated payment systems like Apple Pay have hindered. In designing Scrip, Amit explains that it taps into the need to create objects that perfectly combine function and aesthetics in such a way that its owners will never render it obsolete.
How Google Zoo is thinking about machine learning
There's a very simple filter that comes with working at Google, and it's about putting the user first, says Tomas Roope, creative lead at Google Zoo, the tech giant's think tank focused on pushing the limits of creativity through technology. Talking to Rachel Arthur in a live recording of TheCurrent Innovators podcast from the FashMash Pioneers event in London, he says: "They way we think is always user-first. Are we really solving something for somebody here? ...At Google we're about solving problems at scale." That attitude should be applied to every business, including those in the fashion and retail vertical, he explains. The Zoo is a small team that is designed to be a conduit between creative agencies and Google's own products, its engineering teams and its data. The result is all manner of both creative and technology-driven projects for different industries, from a [coded couture dress for H&M's Ivy Revel](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2017/02/08/google-hm-dress-data/) brand, to an [advertising campaign redefining what masculinity really looks like today from Axe](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WySfa7x5q0). While Roope admits some are more PR or headline-driven than others, his process, whether the result incorporates buzzworthy terms like augmented reality, artificial intelligence or beyond, always comes back to whether the solution is something that answers a consumer need. "What shifts the bottom line is making things more relevant, and making them simpler. [It's about answering] what do people really want?" he asks. Anchoring much of that work these days however, comes data. "[At Google], we have seven to eight products that have over one billion users monthly, and so we have a really great understanding of what people are doing... and what they're thinking," he explains. That insight is what informs the work his team does as a result, while machine learning (ML) then takes it to the next level, Roope notes. He refers to ML as an area that's not yet being explored to its full potential. "We're in the middle of two massive revolutions – one of which is still the smartphone coming from 10 years ago, and now the rise of machine learning." He refers to this as not only a powerful and extraordinarily interesting tool that allows you to fix problems in a way you couldn't have done before, but as the most exciting underpinning to the future we're currently building. It's completely reshaping what our world looks like, and what opportunities there are for brands in it as a result, he explains. To get there, he says experimentation for all industries – including fashion and retail – is key. "F or me, you're not going to sit and discover the future by dwelling on it... it's all about test and learn," he explains. As to where it will take us, he adds: "There's a great quote by Bill Gates that says we tend to overestimate what's going to happen in two years, but underestimate what will happen in the next 10. If you look back 10 years, we didn't have smartphones, but in two years nothing's happened. Only when we look over a good chunk of time do we see how much it's changed."
Alipay on educating US consumers with a unified payment experience
Chinese payments company Alipay is on a mission to wean US consumers off traditional payment behaviours. Creating an integrated experience is at the center of making that happen, Alipay's president of the Americas, Souheil Badran, explained to Liz Bacelar on the latest episode of [TheCurrent Innovators podcast](https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/thecurrent-innovators/id1331242374?mt=2). "So far the whole US market has been so used to credit cards. And when you look at it from a tech perspective all the apps we use are in their own silos. They're not connected at all," says Badran, explaining that the Starbucks app is one of the few examples of an integrated experience based around the consumer's lifestyle. In order to achieve seamlessness, Badran hopes to see better collaboration with retail in what he calls the Uber experience – when getting from point A to B, the user no longer has to think about the payment aspect of it. This everyday ease of use is already being achieved in China, where Alipay's 520 million users have access to over 60 sub-applications integrated under the payment umbrella, creating a lifestyle ecosystem within the digital wallet that includes the ability to do things like pay peers and order a taxi. But going beyond payments to create a larger sense of loyalty in this way in the US, means educating the consumers out of their comfort zone of just payments, Badran adds. "[Starting with the consumer], what are they looking for? What would make you go from just using your credit card, and what would attract you back to the app on a regular basis?" Badran wants to see Alipay reach the same level of interaction in the US, as it has achieved in Asia. Current users check their digital wallets 15-20 times a day, for instance. He hopes US consumers can get to that point, in the same way they already do with their social media channels. This would include creating experience-led features and promotions based on purchase history and other aggregated data, he notes. Chinese Alipay consumers are also a big market for US retailers, which Badran has been working hard to evangelize on their value. "Back in 2013 when you talked about China in general, people understood the size, but couldn't quite grasp the value of it. I have seen a tremendous shift over the last 12 months and hopefully it will continue to grow." To target these users, Alipay is working with retailers in the US and Europe to ensure payment capabilities and promotions that intensify around peak travel seasons, such as Chinese New Year. For millennial consumers, Alipay helps quickly build user credibility by leveraging data from previous purchases. This means a merchant that accepts the payment service can have visibility of the user's track record, says Badran. He uses the example of purchasing at a luxury store, where Alipay can potentially extend the shopper's credit on the fly – unlike a static credit card limit – depending on data such as previous repayments. At present, over 150,000 merchants in North America accept Alipay as a form of payment. The future looks bright for the mammoth Asian company as it taps into the digital need for always-on convenience, as well as a demand for platforms that enable personalization and experience.
Yoox Net-a-Porter on nailing the basics of e-commerce
There's little point in looking at all of the innovation surrounding e-commerce today, if you don't first have the basics in place, Paolo Mascio president of online flagships at Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, explains on the most recent episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast. "If you can't get the fundamentals right, forget about artificial intelligence," he says. "Really, execution is the key word. It's very easy to mess up with your customers ... A bad customer experience is even worse than not giving [them] an experience at all. It's better not to open Russia or China if you can't serve them in the proper way. Discontent spreads... which is setting the base for a failure in the future as well." Both Yoox and Net-a-Porter are businesses known for their innovative approaches to e-commerce – the former for supporting brands on running their own operations, and the latter for its first-rate customer experience. While together they're focused on maintaining their market leading position, many of their partners and clients by comparison represent an industry still getting to grips with how to handle multichannel commerce. Mascio references the shift to convenience, or of frictionless customer experiences in an omnichannel world, as the foundation of e-commerce expectations today. But it's service, he says, that can be the key point of differentiation for brands – especially those in the luxury space – comparative to multi brand retailers. Underneath that, what's driving brand growth and loyalty today, is data, he notes. "Data is one of the fundamental things around which, not only our company, but the brands themselves are going to build their future." This is the big shift still taking place in luxury, he adds. "Most brands up to a few years ago thought they were all unique, now they're all struggling to distinguish themselves in the digital space." "For decades the brands have built their success around their collections, around the designers' names, and the designers' abilities, around advertising, but they haven't tracked down what the customer's behavior was," he explains, noting that today, it's the customer that has the biggest voice. Those who can understand their customer and use analytics to better serve them, are the ones who will win. On top of that, and only then, comes the next step forward, he explains. Personalization, for instance, is something Mascio is watching closely. Artificial intelligence (Yoox Net-a-Porter is working with IBM Watson), is going to be the facilitator that transforms how people shops for the very reason it enables the brand to manage customers on a one-to-one basis at scale, he says. In terms of the user interface, another area he's keeping an eye on, is that of voice technology. "I believe voice controlled systems [will] play quite a fundamental role in the future," he says. "It will take time... but then there will be a need for a brand to evolve their interfaces, so that customers can use voice to search for products in a much easier way."
How a smart jacket is bringing Levi’s into the future
The Levi's Commuter x Google Jacquard smart jacket is the first of its kind – a commercially ready piece of wearable tech that's both fashionable and washable. But more than that, it's one of the only "devices" out there aiming to tackle the idea of obsolescence, Paul Dillinger, VP of global product innovation at Levi's, says. The jacket itself is designed for urban cyclists, or as Dillinger refers to it, "for people who live in the city and need to get around". It's based on the existing Levi's Commuter Trucker jacket, but embedded with technology in the sleeve in order for it to operate a number of useful functionalities for wearers. It launched to the public in September 2017 for $350 in stores and online. "It's a classical denim trucker jacket that is designed to make an urban cyclist's life a little safer, a little lighter, a little better. To that we've then added about 15 rows of capacitive yarn in the left cuff, that forms an area that is capable to be touched." Users can tap or swipe in that spot to then control various utilities including playing music, getting GPS directions, answering or rejecting calls and more. It is connected via Bluetooth to your phone to do so. The key, according to Dillinger, was about making it still feel like a fashion item. "(The jacket) had to feel like a Levi's product not a piece of Google technology," he says. But it had to function to the same level of a Google technology too. We had to take a lot of time to weave it in so that it was working but not visible, trying to make it look and feel right." The aim now is to constantly improve on that functionality to make it increasingly more useful to the user too. "The spring [update] of this product won't be a new object, it will be new abilities. We built digital platforms so that the jacket never gets obsolete," Dillinger explains. In partnership with Google, the team studies user behaviour data to gain indications of how they should be improving. That approach is a marked difference for the two industries involved. Tech is usually designed to be replaced. It's the reason we all upgrade our iPhones. By comparison, in fashion – despite the shift towards disposable clothing at the cheaper end of the market – the ideal is for longevity. Denim from Levi's frequently falls into that latter category. "The challenge is to make it something that people will want to wear, and something that is more like a platform, that can improve itself," Dillinger notes. This is a jacket that's essentially a piece of software more than hardware then, with upgrades that install automatically. "We started selling in September. By the holidays the users got a notification on their app saying, your jacket just got better, we have capabilities that are improved," he adds. "We're giving people a reason to keep a garment longer, not less, and we're giving them an improved version of something they already know. So rather than giving you the bad feeling of something going out of fashion, we're giving you the opposite feeling by improving over time what you already bought."
CES Highlights – Henkel and Lufthansa
At CES this year, beauty and transportation were two of the most innovative sectors, from self-driving vehicles to [next generation hair and skincare](https://thecurrentdaily.com/2018/01/12/at-ces-2018-beauty-tech-ruled-the-scene/) [LINK]. In this episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast, we bring you Henkel and Lufthansa, two companies focusing on revolutionary technology in a way you wouldn't necessarily expect. First, we headed to the Henkel pop-up salon at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where celebrity stylist Kim Vo gave us an exclusive treatment with Henkel's new product, SalonLab. This customized, data-driven service offers a 3D preview of color and texture based on each individual's hairstyle. "This is the first digital ecosystem of connected devices that quantifies hair and offers personalized products and services in the salons," Anne Lemon from Henkel's digital headquarters, explains. "Our biggest challenge right now is to evolve from a beauty company to a data-driven company." This is also what makes this innovation so cutting edge, Vo adds. Before SalonLab, hair analysis was done based on the stylist's experience and expertise. Now, it is supported by scientific data. "It gives real-life results without any in-between steps," he explains. The second half of the episode is dedicated to the partnership between Lufthansa and Deutsche Telekom to bring more fashionable tech-innovation to the in-flight experience. The two German companies came together for Fashion Fusion Flying Lab, a program that challenged three startups to come up with solutions for a more contemporary as well as futuristic look and feel of the flying experience. The results of this collaboration include a better chair with privacy and multimedia possibilities, chatbots that should ease the communication between passenger and flight attendant, and improved and smarter uniforms and blankets. Torsten Wingenter, head of digital innovations at Lufthansa, told us: "The future experience of flying can't be getting from A to B with a better experience, we have to rethink what's happening on the flight and create new experiences. [Technology] can help us now in a new way to have a better experience." Deutsche Telekom, on the other hand, was interested in such a collaboration because of the possibility to look farther into the future. "We are very much into driving our brand into a digital lifestyle brand because everything will change into digitalization," Antje Hundhausen, VP of brand experience, explained. "We are absolutely convinced that this is important to bring. As tech is getting smaller and [becoming] invisible in the clothing, this has to be stylish and it has to please our customers." "[Fashion] is a big part of our DNA," Wingenter said of Lufthansa. "We have a heritage of 50-60 years of uniform fashion. It's time to take a step further and show how service on the plane could look like in the future."
Why H&M believes collaboration is the key to transparency
H&M has a big goal: to become 100% sustainable and renewable while maintaining prices low and keeping quality up. It's a big ask with some short timelines to achieve it. The question is whether the second largest clothing retailer in the world can really ever be considered eco-conscious and sustainable while pumping out fast fashion? Is it all a contradiction? One thing we know for sure – millennial consumers seem to be more concerned about manufacturing practices and their effects on the environment than ever, according to Nina Shariati, who leads transparency for the H&M Group. She sat down with TheCurrent's Rachel Arthur in Copenhagen to discuss the brand's latest projects in this space, why transparency doesn't equal sustainability directly, and what its plans are to continuously push the boundaries to appeal more to consumers with an eye for the environment. ___________________________________________________ TheCurrent Innovators is a podcast about the leaders pushing the boundaries of fashion, beauty and retail. Hosted by Liz Bacelar and Rachel Arthur, each episode is a frank conversation about the challenges and opportunities faced by top brands and retailers around the world today through the lens of technology. The podcast, distributed by MouthMedia Network, has showcased the likes of Stefano Rosso, CEO of Diesel; William Tunstall-Pedoe, founder of the tech behind Amazon Alexa; and Nina Shariati, who is responsible for transparency at H&M.
Why Alexa’s creator brought AI and voice into our lives
Artificial intelligence (AI) is revamping how we live our lives, how we communicate, how we shop. And it's doing so at a rapid pace. First Apple's Siri, now Amazon's Alexa; both already household names that are set to become ever more popular in the year to come. In fact, Amazon just decreed its Echo devices as the biggest sellers this past holiday season. TheCurrent's Liz Bacelar spoke to the "father" of Alexa, William Tunstall-Pedoe, a British entrepreneur focused on world-changing products powered by AI and other deep technology. Recorded with a live audience at the London College of Fashion, he discussed the future of the voice interface, how AI will change retail and which of Alexa's skills is truly the most useful to him. ________________________________________________ TheCurrent Innovators is a podcast about the leaders pushing the boundaries of fashion, beauty and retail. Hosted by Liz Bacelar and Rachel Arthur, each episode is a frank conversation about the challenges and opportunities faced by top brands and retailers around the world today through the lens of technology. The podcast, distributed by MouthMedia Network, has showcased the likes of Stefano Rosso, CEO of Diesel; William Tunstall-Pedoe, founder of the tech behind Amazon Alexa; and Nina Shariati, who is responsible for transparency at H&M.
Stefano Rosso, CEO Diesel, North America.
Disruption, courage and innovation are the pillars around which Only the Brave, or OTB, the parent company of fashion brand Diesel, are built. But they’re also words that Stefano Rosso, CEO of the brand in North America, lives by as he faces the challenge of rebooting the denim business in the US. In the 1970s, his father, Renzo Rosso, the iconic founder of the brand, disrupted the jeans industry by building a fashion empire focused entirely around the message that different is cool. Today, Stefano is maintaining that view of challenging conformity, all the while tackling how it looks in the digital era. TheCurrent’s Liz Bacelar sat down with him to talk about how Diesel lost its way, what it’s doing to get back in the game, how luxury can survive the tech revolution and whether virtual reality is (possibly) the future of the industry.