Q&A


Image source: Sid Jatia

With experience at Razorfish, Electronic Arts and now sports apparel company of the moment Under Armour, Sid Jatia knows more than most about the development of a successful e-commerce and omnichannel strategy. Ahead of his appearance at our NYC Summit next month, we caught up with the Under Armour VP (Direct-to-Consumer/Digital) to thrash out what exactly a digital-first sensibility should mean in today’s retail landscape, and also to ask him to predict the technologies that could change the game altogether in the future.

Could you connect the dots between previous roles on your CV, and how they led to your current one at Under Armour?

The last 15 years of my life have had a very strong influence of Customer Experience and Technology, starting with the graduate programme at Parsons and a series of fortunate opportunities at Electronic Arts, Razorfish and now at Under Armour. Specifically in my tenure at Razorfish, I led several global retail and e-commerce clients through business transformation utilising technology as the great facilitator and customer centricity as the major outcome, whether it be optimising online businesses, creating new business models or making the hottest customer experience in a retail store.

What brought me to Under Armour was the forward-looking vision that was in the works around connected fitness and how a traditional manufacturer – now a retail and e-commerce player – can transcend to become all about the athlete’s (customer’s) goals vs. their own. On top of that, former clients and colleagues who now work at Under Armour have inspired me. Their swearing by the authenticity and fervour of the brand certified the decision for me.

In your view, what does it mean to have a digital-first sensibility in apparel retail today??

In my mind, digital first in apparel is all about putting the athlete as part of the conversation in the full lifecycle: design/manufacture →plan/buy → merchandise →shop→feedback. It doesn’t preach e-commerce over retail. It is all about enabling convenience and personalised experiences for our athletes.

On the more interesting side, this sensibility has given rise to a new category in apparel focused on ‘wearables’. Right now, this category is dominated by technology companies, but slowly we will see more and more retailers becoming the centrepiece of that conversation. A perfect example is what Tory Burch is doing with Fitbit, which makes perfect sense in my mind. It allows for two brands which have their own unique strengths to come together on a digital-first sensibility, and create great products for the marketplace.

You have a lot of experience in shaping omnichannel strategy. What are the biggest tools and techniques that retailers should be using to optimise their omnichannel output?

It’s extremely important for retailers to focus on what really matters for their customers, vs. all the things they could do. Stop the search for a perfect recipe of flawless customer experience across all channels, and focus on how each experience can become incrementally better. Can you bring efficiencies of online such as deep product information, peer validation and searchability to the store? Or can you bring immersive experiences to the web? But the ability to execute this is still limited due to organisation silos and workflows which have been designed for a non-omni world.

Looking ahead, which new technology do you think could be the biggest game changer for the retail landscape in the future?

Honestly, getting to scale in a retail setting is extremely challenging due to integration and operational challenges, so no one technology can really drastically change what retail is. But if I had to put my money on a couple of things, I would really give a closer look to sensor enablement in retail.

The current landscape is a little fragmented, with different types of sensors ranging from BLE to RFIDs to NFC – but once we figure out which sensors are versatile enough to be embedded in all products, and can be streamlined during the manufacturing process, it will give the products a brain of their own. When combined with native mobile phone capabilities on consumer devices, emerging interactive touch/gestural technologies in-store and the new age of content distribution systems, we might see a different face of retail sooner than we expect.

To hear more from Sid Jatia, book your ticket for the Decoded Fashion NYC Summit on October 28-29.

Reported by Claire Healy

Decoded Fashion - Weekly Stories - Sean Q&A
Image source: Sean Rad

When it comes to true connectivity, fashion retail could learn a thing or two from Sean Rad – founder and CEO of one of our era’s most defining phone apps. Since launching in 2012, Tinder has gone from strength to strength, making 8 billion matches worldwide in just three years. But in an increasingly crowded dating app marketplace, what is Tinder doing differently? We spoke to Rad about creating connections, keeping things simple and why data isn’t necessarily enough.

How did you come to found Tinder? Could you connect the dots between previous roles on your CV, and how they led to your current one?

I’ve always had a deep curiosity for how people communicate and connect with each other. My first venture, Orgoo, a unified communications platform, aimed to improve the underlying tools we use to communicate. Next, I started Ad.ly, which was the largest celebrity endorsement platform for social media at the time and dealt with the challenges brands had with reaching their respective audiences on Twitter and other social media platforms.

Tinder is designed to break down the physical and emotional barriers that exist when trying to meet new people. Tinder seamlessly connects you to new people around you – whether you are looking for friends or a date – who are also interested in getting to know you, too.

You’ve previously described Tinder, on the surface level, as a “fun, light experience”. How important do you think this is when it comes to creating successful mobile technology – not only in dating apps, but also in other areas like fashion?

Solving a real problem for your user base, in any industry, can be a big challenge, but the user experience shouldn’t be. Keeping things simple and easy is the best way for users to find value in your product.

How is Tinder keeping ahead of the dating app crowd? Apps like Happn and Hinge are just some names experiencing growth in 2015.

We really don’t keep tabs on other companies. We’re focused on our own mission and let our users guide what we focus on. We listen to our users and work hard to build the best experience for them. In just three years we have users in every country around the world and have made 8 billion matches. Twenty-six million matches happen each day – and our user base is still growing. We are creating connections that otherwise would never have existed if it wasn’t for Tinder, and in that sense we feel like we are truly making an impact on the world.

One of the big topics at the NY summit will be how retailers can learn from their consumers through data. How has Tinder’s development been informed by user preference and behaviour?

We learn a lot about our users with every swipe they take. We use data to deliver a better experience via better recommendation, and also to inform the decisions we make internally. The more we understand about our users and what within the app is resonating with them, the better we can determine which changes to the app will have the most significant impact. That said, data can only take you so far. It’s important to also seek a qualitative understanding.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from the creation and marketing of Tinder?

We can’t live without human connection.

To hear more from Sean Rad, book your ticket for the Decoded Fashion NYC Summit on October 28-29.

Reported by Claire Healy

Decoded Fashion - Weekly Stories - Reformation Yellow
Image source: Reformation

In a fashion retail scene where success and sustainability are rare bedfellows, Yael Aflalo is an exception to the rule. Since founding her eco-friendly e-brand Reformation in 2009, cool girls everywhere haven’t been able to get enough of the B-Corp’s wear-everywhere designs and empowering spirit. Come 28 October, you can catch her Fireside chat at the close of day 1 of our New York Summit. In the meantime, here’s our quick fire Q+A with one of the year’s most enviable – and ethical – e-brand successes.

How did you come to found Reformation? Could you connect the dots between previous roles on your CV, and how they led to your current one?

I founded Reformation in 2009 after working on my previous clothing line Ya-Ya for 10 years. Reformation is an extension of my background in fashion design, but a shift in purpose. While I was working on Ya-Ya, I grew frustrated with the amount of waste produced by fashion and started to dislike the industry’s common practices. On a work trip to China, I was overwhelmed by the pollution that I saw first hand, and I knew that I had to make a change. At the time, there weren’t many brands that were making clothes that I would want to wear that were also sustainable. So that’s what I set out to do with Reformation: make beautiful clothes that are also sustainably produced.

In a world guilty of huge amounts of clothing waste, how exactly has new technology helped you carve a business that leads with sustainability?

We lead with sustainability across all areas of our business – from the start with fabric sourcing, to what customers do with our products after they are done wearing them.

Reducing waste in the fashion industry was one of the main motivators for starting Reformation. We started by recycling vintage and deadstock fabrics. That doesn’t necessarily require new technology, but does require setting up a supply chain that emphasises reuse. We still source vintage and deadstock (currently about 40% of our fabrics), and are developing new, low-impact fabrics using recycled yarns or innovative textile fibres like Tencel.

We also partner with a clothing recycler to create an easy, web-based service for people to recycle their stuff when they are done wearing it. They can even use a dashboard to track their environmental impact and see where their stuff ends up. And we work hard to practise sustainability in everything in between: from sustainable local manufacturing, to green operations and biodegradable packaging. To us, it’s about leading the movement towards a world where sustainable manufacturing is the status quo, and where customers can feel empowered to make small shifts that make a big difference.

Reformation’s focus on sustainability goes hand in hand with a strong message of self-confidence for women of all shapes and sizes. How do you think technology can help brands create clothing with the individual customer – her fit and her tastes – in mind?

It’s about listening, getting feedback, and creating a business model that is agile and quick enough to respond to what customers are saying – with the products they buy (and don’t buy), with feedback to customer service, and even in Instagram comments. With Reformation’s business model and technology, we’re able to go from design to finished concept in a matter of weeks. This allows us to constantly innovate and truly design based on our customer’s feedback.

What is the importance of B Corp certification, for you personally and in the current retail landscape as a whole?

Applying to be a B Corp seemed natural. We didn’t have to change business practices to be eligible for certification because sustainability has been at the core of who we are and what we do from the beginning. But the B Corp assessment helped us report what we do to make a difference in the world, and identify best practices and areas to improve as we grow. We hope other apparel companies join to foster more transparency, move past compliance, and truly do the right thing for customers, employees and the environment.

What would your advice be to young creatives setting up their own e-brands?

Find your own way. The more you define your own method and voice, the more important what you do becomes. Your point of view and your vision are the things you have to offer, so use them.

To hear more from Yael, book your ticket for the Decoded Fashion NYC Summit on October 28-29.

Reported by Claire Healy