Fashion Fundamentals

Be the Ultimate Work in Progress: Importance of Innovation in Fashion Retail

An earlier study presented at the recent Global Fashion Conference in Porto, Portugal (Finn & Finn, 2010), discusses this in more depth but for clarity, some key points will be made here. The designs of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel first gained recognition in the 1920s, notably her design for the Little Black Dresses in the late 1920s and the Chanel Suit in the 1930s. Her innovative use of cutting, and particularly her use of wool jersey for the haute couture market is well documented (Davis, 2007; Haedrich, 1972). The re-emergence of the designer in the 1960s saw the Chanel Suit re-designed for a 1960s market with a shorter skirt length and innovative in the use of tweed wool fabric for the luxury fashion marketi . Again, the re-birth of Chanel under the leadership of Lagerfeld in the 1990s saw the Chanel Suit (now designed for a younger market) gain popularity once more. 

If you ask me, what is the biggest factor that differentiates a good Fashion brand with an amazing brand? I will say Innovation. I know that there is nothing groundbreaking about my belief and you already know that Innovation is important. Apple, Steve Jobs, we all know the story. Obviously, it’s important; even the great business schools talk about it.

However, the reason why I want to touch base with you on ‘innovation’ is that if being innovative is so obvious, then why do I keep coming across retailers who want to talk about building traffic, Social Media, SEO, great website and other things, but they do not talk enough about innovation. Is being innovative just an ‘option’?  I find it ironic to see someone in the business of ‘Fashion’ ignoring ‘innovation’.

Let me give you an example: you might realize that one of your competitor (small or big) has far more Facebook likes than you have. Let’s say they have more than 100k Facebook likes and you only have 2000. So you find a social media agency and give them a budget to make it happen. You run Facebook contests like they do, you run Facebook ads to get more people to like your Facebook page and then you also run paid ads. You do all the things that your competitor is doing right.

Maybe you do manage to get new Facebook Fans. But will they stick? There is no guarantee because there are many other factors which will decide your marketing success and innovation is one of those factors. If you’re not innovative, you will fail to deliver value to these acquired fans in the long run; and then if you fail, it’s not the failure of Facebook or Social Media, it’s your brand’s failure to innovate. Innovation is one of the biggest factors that differentiates mediocre and great.

Your brand needs to have the ability to consistently innovate in various areas such as:

  • Product: Your ability to innovate in order to improve your core product category and pioneer new trends.
  • Communication: Your ability to consistently innovate in order to come-up with new ways to communicate your brand (using innovative audio, visuals to communicate your products).
  • Marketing: Your ability to find innovative channels to reach your target customer audience.
  • Customer Service: Your ability to find ways to consistently surprise your customers with a memorable experience.

Start thinking beyond Marketing. If you’re getting beaten by your competitor, it’s not just because they have a better product, they know better SEO techniques, or they know better Social Media Marketing. It’s actually because they’re more innovative. They are better than you at innovating and be ahead of you in all the areas of their business.

In Fashion particularly, there is a strong relationship between innovation and Fashion. True Fashion brands have a legacy to design innovators. They start new trends, new styles that are first of its kind. Does your core product category have an innovative and the first of its kind design?

So from now, instead of only focusing on marketing, focus also on being an innovative brand. Instead of working in a closed box fearing failure, open up. Give yourself and your people freedom to think differently and take chances. Give yourself time and enough chances. It’s OK if you fail, but remain persistent. This is how great brands are built, brands that are an ultimate “work in progress and always ahead of time”.

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