The Innovators Who Listened

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The Innovators Who Listened

By Susan S. Nichols - 04/30/2015

This issue marks the 8th annual anniversary of Apparel’s Top Innovators and during this time we have profiled and honored hundreds of apparel companies and retailers — from household name super-brands to up-and-coming entrepreneurs. It’s been fun! And now to add to the prestige of the awards, this year for the first time we will be honoring the winners at a special reception and dinner at Apparel’s Executive Forum in New Orleans this September.

In that first 2008 report, we extolled how Under Armour’s sales had grown to $600 million by 2007! And you would have read about this concept:  “Among Nau’s many revolutionary ideas is the creation of ‘web fronts,’ retail stores designed around self-serve kiosks that promote an online shopping experience and encourage customers to have their purchases sent home.”

Or who can forget the  “Play List Jacket”  by Bagir Ltd., which allowed the wearer to control volume and skip songs on an iPod while eliminating unsightly bulges and sloppy dangling wires?

Our industry’s innovations are moving along at an amazingly rapid pace, but the commonality among these winners is a drive to create and execute on a plan that is both exciting and financially meaningful to the business, whether that be a new product, a reimagined process, the adoption of technology, etc.

I had the opportunity to meet executives from two of this year’s Top Innovators, Rebecca Minkoff and JustFab, who coincidentally were speaking on a panel at Executive Summit of the American Apparel & Footwear Association earlier this spring.

You can read both of the profiles herein, but what instantly struck me in these executives’ remarks was how highly in tune they are with their customers.
 
Rebecca Minkoff CEO and co-founder Uri Minkoff has been credited with pioneering the company’s industry-leading social media efforts. Said Minkoff of the early days:  “We knew we needed a new way to stand out. We decided everything had to be about a direct dialog with the customer. … In the beginning we spent an hour a day talking to consumers online, which then was taboo.”

The company also has engaged with bloggers from its infancy and it leveraged Snapchat more than 20 months ago. And Minkoff himself logs long and late hours to stay very engaged in customer feedback:  “Sometimes the truth is in one comment and sometimes you can find a narrative or theme,”  he says.

The one thing Minkoff never underestimates, he says, is technology investment. And while its tech-savvy  “Connected Stores” are still few in number (the plan is to open two to three stores in the United States per year and a Hong Kong store was opened last month), the brand that started with accessories is now selling two and a half times the apparel than it expected to in its stores.

For online fashion subscription retailer JustFab, which offers a curated
service based on personal preferences and caters to  “fashionistas without a
trust fund,” it can’t be easy keeping up with the sentiments of 35 million users. So how does it?

“We conduct extensive customer research,” says senior vice president of marketing Traci Inglis.  “And we stay very informed of what customers are saying and make major design changes based on what they say.”

JustFab takes into account how customers need to shop as well. For example, it learned that a lot of Friday shopping for Friday night dates and activities takes place, and thus is looking at store expansion.

Inglis says that for JustFab, social media is a conversation.  “We look at all comments with a sales lens. We will test the ideas to see if they are scalable. It’s a very effective marketing option and we can see a hard ROI there.”

Read on for all the inspiring stories. And drop me a line if you want to join us in New Orleans and meet some of these very clever innovators.

Susan S. Nichols is publisher of Apparel.
She can be reached at [email protected] 

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