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From Catwalk Trends to Data Trends: Must-Have Skills for Tomorrow’s Retailers

BY Jill Standish

In today’s digital world, creativity is just one skill needed for commercial success in the fashion industry. The art of design remains crucial, but leading designers are supplementing art with science – using digital technologies to connect with customers on both a hyper-local and hyper-personal level.

Investment in digital tools, acquiring digital skills and learning how to generate commercial insight from data must now be integral to brands looking to grow and one day become industry leaders. Here we outline some of the concrete steps emerging industry talent can take to help better position themselves for future success:

1. Go granular

The extent to which designers can collect and analyze consumer data and turn that insight into action is a differentiator in a marketplace where demand is hyper-localized and hyper-personalized.

It is no longer enough for designers to recognize that on-trend individuals in different countries are looking for different products; today, fashion localization happens at the neighbourhood level, with consumers dressing to reflect the style and mood not just of their country or city, but of their district. Through advanced analytics, designers have the ability to understand where this hyper-localization is taking place, and what it means for their collection.

2. Harvest social

Social channels such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook are key to deciding where to open stores, what products to stock and who to target. Designers are increasingly working with consumers to co-create collections by exploiting the feedback loops enabled by digital technologies. Working with influential consumers – who may become brand ambassadors – they can better understand where to focus their sales and marketing efforts.

3. Don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board

To develop a clothing line, designers experiment with dozens of ideas – but only a small number end up on the catwalk. Leading designers are learning that there are parallels with the “fail-fast” philosophy of digital businesses, which continually experiment with new ideas, dropping those that don’t work to focus on those that do.

In fashion, the pop-up store concept represents one example of this phenomenon: running a store in a neighbourhood for, say, three months will generate insight about what consumers respond to, how much they will pay, and a host of other vital data. Over time, this will broaden and enrich designers’ dialogue with consumers.

4. Nurture relationships based on trust

Designers can use digital channels to hone their storytelling skills, especially when they are engaging with consumers who are looking for a deeper relationship with the brands they admire. In an era when they are also focused on sustainability, this is a key differentiator. Many consumers are conscious of the fashion industry’s environmental footprint and have heard about its past ethical failures, so designers will find the ability to engage with them on such issues extremely valuable.

Moreover, digital technologies will often be key to delivering those higher standards, as they can give designers greater visibility of their supply chains and the sustainability practices of each supplier. One example of the industry’s shift toward sustainability and the circular economy is the non-profit H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award. Accenture is collaborating with the H&M Foundation on the award, which invites scientists and innovators to submit ways to make the fashion industry more “circular” and less wasteful.

5. Get speedy and agile

It used to take months for catwalk designs to reach stores. Today, the rise of influencers, bloggers and individual consumers on social channels is accelerating demand: consumers want immediate access to what they’ve seen on the catwalk and in their feeds.

Meeting the ‘see now, buy now’ consumer trend means designers may need to understand and develop accelerated production cycles, and work with suppliers and retailers to produce stock more rapidly. Digitalizing the supply chain is designers’ best hope of achieving this – particularly as they balance the demands of accelerated delivery with their desire to operate sustainably.

6. Experiment with strategy

No one business model guarantees success. So, forward looking brands are experimenting with a range of strategies to build interest and sales – offering fans previews of up-and-coming pieces, limiting inventory through scarcity marketing to create a buzz around hard-to-obtain pieces, or offering parts of the collection only in certain locations. Often, they will run several such trials simultaneously, while selling the mainstay of their offering more conventionally.

Digital technologies provide a way for designers to engage with consumers and fan bases to build demand collection by collection – but also to monitor and measure which of these strategies work most effectively.

Finding the balance

Success in fashion has always relied on technology to some extent – mainly in supporting production and enabling the supply chain. Today’s designers and tomorrow’s retailers – will use the power of technology to understand and target consumers in very different ways and build true brand loyalty. Emerging techniques can never replace the creative spark and human intuition behind the best design, but they will help emerging talent and brands ensure their clothes get the attention and success they deserve.


Jill Standish is senior managing director of retail at Accenture. Ashley-Brooke Sandall is director of strategic partnerships for the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

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