The Future of Fashion: Look at Innovative Retail Models.

Besides innovating on the runways, these days fashion brands
have to think about the overall strategy of distributing and marketing products to the consumer. They have to see fashion as products vs seasonal collections. I touched on the subject before in my posts on What Fashion Industry Can Learn From The iPad Release and The Future Of Fashion: Seasons Are So Last Season..

In the last few years we’ve seen some interesting retail trends – both offline and online, that are slowly changing the ways people shop. While seasonal shopping is still a habit (i.e. going to a store every season and purchasing few key items), most people shop throughout the year, looking for unique purchases (or investments) that aren’t necessarily season driven.

I looked at some of the innovative trends we’ve seen in retail this past decade, and tried to predict what are some of the areas where we will see innovation happening next.

2000 – Designer collaborations. The trend started with Target in 2000 with their Design For All product line, which introduced the idea of exclusive collaborations between designers and retailers. Later Gap created their Design Editions, H&M invited everyone from Lagerfeld to Madonna, Net-a-Porter has been inviting designers like Stella McCartney to create exclusive capsule collections and on the brand side Louis Vuitton collaborated with top artists (such as Murakami) to infuse their heritage with some modern art. All these are examples of collaborations between 2 different entities, personalities or brands, which created excitement among consumers and make them shop regardless of the planned seasonal purchases. They invested in unique objects, rather than bought clothes or accessories because they need them.

2007 – Sample Sales.The sample sale boom started in 2007 and exploded within few months, with ideeli, Gilt and Rue La La leading the pack and growing into being prominent retailers within 2 years. Since then the 24-hour sales format has expanded with companies launching one-product a day sales like TrendyLoot, to aggregators like MyNines.

2008 – Curated collections. Curation seemed to be the new buzz word in retail. Rather than collaborating with designers on capsule collections, retailers invite influencers to curate collections. Rachel Zoe has done it for Piperlime, Gilt invited Vogue editors to make their picks, and now ahaLife is marrying curation with the 24-hour
sales format to create a new business model.

2009 – Collaborating with influencers. Brands learned that online influencers are a major force in moving their inventory, and they are eager to use influencer’s networks and fan base to sell products. From Coach handbags to Urban Outfitters shoes – bloggers are the new designers.

2010 – Crowd-funding. Kickstart was one of the most buzzed about ventures recently, bringing crowd funding trend into real scale and helping few businesses, including fashion designers to launch their collections. Recently FashionStake launched to focus specifically on the fashion niche and help designers connect with their consumers early on, before even producing their collection. They take the fashion investment to a whole new level, but giving a stake in the collection and designer’s brand to most loyal customers. This solves a huge problem for the designers, who are usually forced to take the risk and produce an entire collection without any guarantee of sales.

All these are examples of the innovative retail models we are seeing trending now. It’s becoming clear already that new formats of retailing are a much needed tool for brands, who are constantly looking for innovative ways to push their inventory, as well as for the consumers who are getting used to the new and exciting ways to shop. The question is what are some of the new formats we will see emerging in the next few years? And lastly – who are the companies that will innovate in the space? My bet isn’t on online retail giants to come up with these ideas, but on young and creative entrepreneurs, who are experimenting with the new technologies.

Some of the main trends we will see developing in online retail going forward are 1) Gaming – introducing game-like elements into the shopping experience, 2) Customization – using the new technologies to narrow the choices, 3) Consumer involvement in all aspects of the collections – from design to funding and 4) Single product focus – Burberry has started the trend with claiming the trench as their iconic product with their Art of the Trench.

I believe we’ll see more designers going after single product territory, and creating hit products consumers are obsessed about, rather than perfecting the entire seasonal collection.

As always, would love to hear your Comments or tweets @yuliz.

Startup Lessons: Worry.

This is another post in my Startup Lessons series, where I share a (very) personal insight on not only running a company but on “running” my own life – setting goals and achieving them. In this post again I would like to rely on the wisdom of my Kundalini Yoga teachers, without whom I wouldn’t be able to accomplish most things I’ve done in the past 4 years on my entrepreneurial path.

One of the most profound things I’ve heard from my teacher Sat Jivan Singh was about the act of worry, which all of us entrepreneurs tend to suffer from. Our business lives are full of instabilities, and worry sometimes even shadows our successes and milestone achievements. My yoga teacher said something very simple, nevertheless it completely changed my thought pattern: “Worrying is like praying for your worst fears to happen”.

Think about it for a moment. When you worry, you actually waste your imagination on creating the worst case scenario (or sometimes many of them). You think about every small detail that can go wrong, and paint picture so realistic, that it would only make sense now to happen. If you believe in the power of thought, you must know that an experience like that can be very powerful and not only affect your thinking patterns, but the reality itself. Understanding this simple formula was so powerful for me, that I actually started to notice the worrying thoughts even before they formulated into concrete scenes, and stop them at that point, or hopefully even earlier.

As an entrepreneur you can’t live by the mantra “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”, because there are too many “worst” things that could happen when you risk your life and career on one idea: your product could be having million bugs (they all do), your customers could be unhappy, your team might stop believing in you, your investors could be disappointed by you, your parents could annoy you with their “I told you so” and your friends could laugh at you by wasting all your time on building something they thought was stupid at the first place.

The truth is the only worst thing that could happen is you not realizing your potential. Everything else doesn’t matter.

You can’t realize your full potential if your imagination is busy preparing for the worst case scenario. For me, developing a positive and structured thought pattern was crucial to my success. It followed three important steps: 1) Having the most positive thoughts about yours and your company’s future, 2) Formulizing them into concrete milestones, 3) Making a commitment to pursue them, even if takes longer than you originally thought.

As always, you are welcome to share your comments, experiences (and worries :)) via comments or tweets @yuliz.

Startup Lessons: Commitment.

Continuing the Startup Lessons series I would like to share some of my personal insights into what drives startup success. I credit almost everything I achieved in the past 4 years to Kundalini Yoga practice and my teacher Sat Jivan Singh. Of course, when I stepped on the entrepreneurial path I had lots of skills and experience, but none of it would bring me here if I wasn’t in the “yogi state of mind”.

The difference between any other type of yoga and Kundalini, is that the later focuses on the energy flow more than anything, or in the words of Yogi Bhajan (the first person to introduce the system to the West in 1968) it’s "The energy of the glandular system combines with the nervous system to become more sensitive so that the totality of the brain perceives signals and interprets them."

It’s not a coincidence that Yogi Bhajan’s Wikipedia page describes him as a “charismatic spiritual leader and successful entrepreneur” – most of his lessons are extremely relevant to any seasoned or aspiring entrepreneurs. I will try to describe the various effects of yoga on my life as a company founder in the future posts, and would like to start with one of the first lessons I learned. Not surprisingly, it’s the first step in Yogi Bhajan’s “Seven Steps to Happiness”. The first step is COMMITMENT.

I think it’s the most important thing for any new venture you start. Will you be able to commit to it fully for a long period of time? It might sounds easy, but I see many people around me underestimate the power of commitment. I see people jump from one idea to another, from one business model to another, from one branding to another, lacking commitment. The truth is every single idea in this world has a chance to succeed, only if you spend enough time exploring it, researching, building, optimizing and eventually monetizing. Yes, it might change visually and textually, but if you are committed to the core idea and its execution – you will find a way to make it work.

It’s so easy to come up with excuses why something didn’t work, and it’s much harder to commit pouring all your energy into making something work. Don’t get me wrong, I myself suffered from lack of commitment in the past few years as an entrepreneur, but what I found was when I stuck to something long enough, and was persistent enough, it usually worked. Yes, it took me long months and even years, but isn’t anything significant takes years to achieve? We are so used to this fast paced reality online, when trends change so quickly, companies come and go and users are always on the lookout for the next thing. But if you look at the most successful companies out there – it took them years to get where they are, and if you look at most founders’ bios it took years before then, and sometimes many failures on the way, to get where they are.

When people ask me how is it that I succeeded to do X and Y, mostly my answer is I’ve been persistent and doing it long enough to make it work, at any price. Sometimes sacrificing my sleep, my financial savings and sometimes even personal life… I spent total of 10 years building my career in the online media, in various roles. 3 ½ of them were on my own, as an entrepreneur. It’s a long time period, by any means, and frankly I don’t even feel accomplished… yet. But this is the choice I’ve made – I’ve committed to my business like most people commit to a marriage or a family. And I believe this is the only way to make it work.

What I also noticed is how the low points became starters for new and better things to come. They are essentially part of the experience and I learned to look at them as obstacles that eventually lead to something bigger and better, once I stop looking at them negatively. Thanks to my commitment, I have a strong sense of my path and truly believe every single experience is leading me there – be it positive or negative from the outside.

People tend to look at your accomplishments and see the end result, without realizing all the struggles and obstacles you had to overcome. Best example for me would be the Fashion 2.0 meetups I’ve been organizing for more than 2 years now. Yes, it looks like a success story right now, but not many people know how many of our first events looked like a failure to me. There was one time, at the very beginning, when about 40 people RSVPd for an event and barely 8 showed up. I was devastated and wanted to shut down the entire thing. I’m glad I didn’t… Something kept me going, learning from that mistake and making sure to bring interesting speakers and have a better focus at the next events.

Another low point was back in 2008 – the toughest year for most startups, not to mention those in the fashion space. We failed to raise another round of funding for It Designer – the first crowdsourced fashion line – after our seed money, raised from couple of angel investors, was spent. The choice was to leave my entrepreneurial dreams aside and go back to the corporate world, or somehow start making revenue. This is when my second startup – Style Coalition – was born, and this is what I’m most passionate about today, focusing almost my entire time on and seeing amazing results. It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have that low point, which made me realize how committed I am to stay independent and have my own business, even if it’s different from what I started.

I admit if someone would have told me 3 ½ years ago it’s going to take so long to get to this point, I’m not sure I would have ever started, but now I’m fully committed to this journey and feel more alive than ever.

As always, would love to hear about your experiences via comments or tweets @yuliz.