Chinese Lanterns, Filled with Sunlight, Fish and Hope.

Chinese Lanterns, Filled with Sunlight, Fish and Hope.

In the classic short film “The Red Balloon,” a boy living in a colorless part of Paris befriends a bright red balloon, which follows him to school, waits by his door, provides the warm companionship that is otherwise absent from his life.

When the street photographer James Prochnik started taking pictures in Chinatown, he found echoes of the movie in the ubiquitous red shopping bags that filled the neighborhood. At the right hour, when the sun was low in the sky, the bags appeared lit from within, an array of Chinese lanterns glowing benevolently in the crowded streets.

In other neighborhoods, including Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where Mr. Prochnik lives, shopping bags come in all colors — nothing to shoot there. But in Chinatown, where the red symbolizes good luck, red trumps all other shades. Some bags carried produce from street markets; some carried nothing but air, buoyed aloft on steamy updrafts.

Mr. Prochnik, 52, saw the bags as symbols of continuity and identity in a city where ethnic enclaves are everywhere threatened by gentrification. And the bags themselves are threatened by proposed legislation to ban them or impose surchargeson each bag.

“They’re a symbol of the resourcefulness and hardworking nature of the Chinese community in New York,” he said.

“I support the environmental concerns for banishing them, but it’ll be a loss.”

In the more recent movie “American Beauty,” a character videotapes a white plastic bag swirling in a winter breeze, and says, “This incredibly benevolent force wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid, ever.”

Mr. Prochnik found a similar message in the bags of Chinatown: that good luck can be summoned; that gentrification can be suspended; that Chinatown can remain Chinatown, even as the rest of the city transforms around it.

“The color almost manifests that belief in good luck, happiness and wealth,” he said. “They take on a magical quality.”

And after they have served their function of ferrying Chinese broccoli or cheap mangoes, Mr. Prochnik sometimes uses them to filter the light of his camera flash. Because good luck is something we should never squander or discard.

John Leland, a Metro reporter, joined The Times in 2000. His most recent book is “Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons From a Year Among the Oldest Old,” based on a Times series. @johnleland

The article appeared first in nytimes.com.

Get In Line

Get In Line

The Cult of the Line and Weekly Drops.

Shoppers standing in line to get into a Supreme store in Tokyo. For many, the lure is as often the wait as the wares. Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

Theolus Jackson slouched against the stanchion separating him from the entrance of Supreme, the streetwear emporium on Lafayette Street in SoHo. He had registered on the company’s website to pick up a ticket assuring him a spot near the head of a line that by 10 a.m. that day spooled around the corner toward Broadway.

Wearing loose trousers, a football jersey and earbuds, he bided his time. “Most of the time I have my music, so I’m not bothered,” Mr. Jackson said. “I come every week — I like the vibe — and I just chill.”

The ostensible draw for Mr. Jackson and his comrades on that balmy June morning, the so-called drop prompting a couple of hundred fashion die-hards to snap open their wallets, was a jacket ($298) and companion shirt ($158), stamped with the image of a Richard Prince-inspired cowpoke, which sold out within moments after 11, when Supreme opened its doors.

Did it matter? Not much. Though upmarket streetwear — hoodies, sneakers, skateboards, ball caps, sanitation-worker boiler suits — is the ostensible lure for these hunter-gatherers, the wares are just part of the draw.

“These kids don’t come to go into the store,” said Jeff Carvalho, the executive editor of Highsnobiety, a content-and-commerce website and magazine focused on high-end streetwear. “They want to be in the line.” Casting an appraising eye on the restive Thursday morning scene, he drove home the point.

“The line is the new community,” Mr. Carvalho said. “When 200 to 300 kids are lining up outside of a store, it’s because they want to be part of something.”

Mr. Carvalho and Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety’s editorial director, make it their business to monitor the weekly drops at emporiums like Supreme, Nike Lab and Palace, the London-based skate-fashion store with a new outpost in New York.

On this day, they had offered themselves as field guides to what promised be a highly engaging hybrid of tribal rite and street theater, a latter-day alterative to the once-ubiquitous bands of adolescents raucously swarming malls.

“Come get your number — hurry before they pass you over,” a gangly guy in a tank top yelled to a companion. “You only have a certain amount of grace period.”

Like other fans of the streetwear brand, Kenta Kashiuagi shows off his reward in Tokyo: a new Supreme T-shirt. Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

His shouts and those of companions volleying from one end of the street to the other pricked up the ears of hypervigilant store personnel ready to pounce on infractions.

Glancing at them furtively, one petitioner stammered: “I can’t talk to you. I’m going to get thrown off the line.”

But overbearing security and a building sense of pressure did not seem to ruffle the mood. For many of these strivers, the chance to swap insider intelligence and bask in camaraderie was, after all, the point.

“Those things make the kids more agreeable to doing something that on surface you think is a sort of absurd proposition,” said Noah Callahan-Bever, the editor of Complex, an online youth-culture magazine that has chronicled the evolution of the line phenomenon in a series of videos.

Absurd, for sure, when a “luxury” recliner can be reserved at the multiplex on an app like Fandango, and a puffer coat from Vetements summoned at a click at ssense.com, rendering the queue all but obsolete.

Jay Hines, a fashion stylist, talking to shoppers outside Supreme’s London location. Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times

Yet the line persists, a global trend stretching these days from Tokyo to Tucson and Berlin to the Bronx. Its members, millennials and their younger Gen Z kin, share a mind-set, making common cause of a yen for authenticity. What’s more, they defy facile stereotyping.

“One time I saw a guy with a three-piece suit,” Mr. DeLeon said. “He was wearing immaculate Moscot tortoiseshell glasses. He told me, ‘I’m a lawyer meeting with a client, but I want first to get a sweatshirt here.’”

A mere half-dozen years ago, a shared lust for skateboard and locker-room gear sustained the community. “A limited-edition sneaker was so rare that when two people were wearing it, you knew something connected them — certain music, certain art, certain fashion,” said David Fischer, Highsnobiety’s Berlin-based chief executive. But time, as he noted, wrought changes.

Today, the queue is partly a resellers’ market: energetic young entrepreneurs snapping up wares in multiples, then flipping them at soaring markups on eBay or selling them for pocket change to finance their own buys. On this day, the spirit of commerce was lively on Lafayette Street, with vans lining the far side of the block, the trunks popped to display boxes and bags packed with limited-edition inventory from Nike, Supreme and other vendors — a lure for passers-by.

“Reselling, it’s an easy way to make money,” said a tank-top-garbed youth who goes by the street name Young Sin. “I do this every Thursday. You can’t get locked up for it.” Young Sin, Y S to his friends, planned to pick up a cap for himself and offer additional, marked-up items to all comers.

“I like Supreme,” he said, shrugging, “but they could be Old Navy as long as it helps pay my rent.”

For many others, though, the wait itself is sufficient reward. Some could have taken a page from Andy Warhol, who observed in his loosely structured 1975 memoir, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol,” that lining up for movie tickets offered distinct pleasures. “The possibility of never getting in is exciting,” Warhol mused. “But after that, waiting to get in is the most exciting.”

Traveling in packs has additional perks. “The death of the shopping center has created this void in kids’ lives,” Mr. Callahan-Bever said. “It’s being filled in part by this society of kids, some known to each other only from the internet, all of them into this niche product that acts as a social identifier. For them, standing in line for a T-shirt or baseball cap is a way of telling the world that you know about something that not everyone is hip to.”

Professed connoisseurs, plenty of these queuers like the kick of the chase. “You can’t find this stuff at Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s,” said a 40-something, suede-clad man at Supreme, too press-shy to provide his name. “I like the exclusiveness of people always seeing me and saying, ‘Wow.’ It’s kind of like being a movie star.”

As David Andrews noted playfully in his 2015 pop culture rumination, “Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster?”: “I can attest to the sense of togetherness that sometimes develops with the strangers around you in line.”

Shoppers standing in line along Lafayette Street to get into Supreme’s SoHo store. Jackie Molloy for The New York Times

“We become a little band of survivors, with a grim gallows humor to match,” Mr. Andrews wrote. “We’re all in this together.”

Will Gamble, a student at the University of Exeter, is a regular at Supreme’s weekly drops in London. “The line,” he said, “is quite a sociable thing. I’ve made friends purely from going to Supreme every week and seeing what’s going on.”

Shared interests with his queuing companions vary from gallery hopping to sports to music. “We’re big fans of Radiohead, and we like a bit of art,” said Mr. Gamble, the preening owner of a “pill shirt,” a Supreme item influenced by a signature artwork by Damien Hirst.

“I meet up with one of my friends,” he said. “We wait, we take photos — it’s almost the whole day.”

What, after all, is the point of the wait if you can’t share? As Mr. Fischer, at 38 an old hand in this unlikely ritual, views it, “Standing in line and finally getting the product, that’s only one exciting part of the cycle.”

The peak experience: going social with your trophy.

“Once you have it,” he said, “you get to snap it a couple of times on Instagram.”

And after? “It’s on to the next thing,” he said.

Ruth La Ferla, The New York Times

How to Build a Great Online Fashion Brand

How to Build a Great Online Fashion Brand

or 34 Digital Marketing Steps by I love Retail.

Overview

The Online Fashion Retail Industry, particularly at the luxury end, seems to be doing well. Over the past few years, lot of money has been invested into fashion retail businesses like Moda Operandi ($46 million), Nasty Gal ($49 million), ShoeDazzle($66 million), BeachMint ($75 million) and Gilt Group (whopping $236 million). Valuations of these companies might seem inflated, but these companies are growing fast with the help of clear revenue stream and a value proposition that’s beyond price advantage. But while some companies in Fashion technology are successfully raising more money and growing, there is another segment that’s struggling to survive. These businesses are stalling because of their inability to adapt to the shift in the media consumption behavior of the consumer.

Content is the new social currency
Today, we’re spending big chunk of our lives staring at our computer and mobile screens, soaking more information than probably our brain can process. The impact of this changing pattern in content discovery and consumption is big, especially in the fashion industry. Today, we’re what we share and this is what’s building identities of individuals and brands. If you can be the source of new fashion ideas and inspiration, you can be the fashion; people will follow you and buy from you. This article is for you, if you’re a Fashion start-up aiming to exploit the curated fashion opportunity. You will learn how to be unique and selective to draw people away from biggies like eBay & Amazon, but broad enough to scale and yet offer a luxury buying experience.

We will take a look at companies such as NastyGal, digital-driven fashion brands, selling clothing directly to the consumer at high gross margins, without fixed retail costs and above all – low customer acquisition cost because of Social Media. These companies are targeting the new age Internet generation while taking a dramatically different approach. They have re-defined fashion retail by mastering what runs the internet – ‘the content’. They sell more than just clothes, they sell online fashion experience. With the power of curated content, these companies have become a stamp of approval for their customers for fashion discovery. These new wave fashion retail companies share a common trait; they are tech savvy and understand how to leverage the ‘new’ internet and especially social media as a marketing & distribution channel.

But first, let’s talk about the fundamental difference between the business of selling fashion and clothing. The business of selling clothes runs on the equation of need or demand; demand for ‘nice’ & ‘affordable’ clothes which can be bought conveniently from the comfort of home using the internet. On the other hand, the business of fashion runs on the ‘desire to be in vogue’. Both these businesses have different audiences and require different styles of marketing. Perceived value is essentially two of the major differentiating factors between both.

The key to building successful e-commerce businesses lies in creating a life time customer value so that customers not only come back for more but also share their experience with their friends and family on Social Media. In Fashion retail industry, brands set the foundation to build lifetime customer value on the things such as:

  • Perceived value
  • Personalized Shopping Experience
  • Honest, Openness & Realness
  • Fashion Supply Management
  • Involving their customers – Crowd-sourcing

Perceived Value

Perceived value is what a customer believes merchandise to be worth, when he or she agrees to pay (or not to pay) for ownership of the product. Compared to the real value of the product, perceived value is more difficult to measure directly; yet it has a greater impact on its value to the customer. Having said that, perceived value of products offered by a brand is also measured by the brand loyalty, awareness and positive associations which the brand has engendered in its target market.

Sophia-Amoruso2-I-love-fashion-Retail

“eBay taught me a lot about perceived value, and how to make things look their best, because that’s really the difference between literally putting a plus-size ladies anorak on a hanger and taking a picture of it, and putting it on a cool girl and making it look like something beyond your wildest dreams that you can snag for way less than Comme Des Garçons.” – SOPHIA AMORUSO – Founder, Nasty Gal

Most fashion retailers who’re successful online are the ones who have kept content as the focal point of their business. Their content is created by a production team (mostly in-house) in the form of stories, product descriptions, fashion shoots, style guides etc. In case of bootstrapped Fashion businesses like NastyGal.com and Pinupgirlclothing.com, this role is played by the company owners. However, as the company gets bigger, there is a whole team of creative professionals; working together to ensure the entire content production process runs seamlessly. In larger online fashion retail companies like Gilt & ASOS, the production team is built up of several departments ranging from:

  • Photoshoot Operations
  • Stills studio
  • Video Production
  • Model Casting
  • Photo-editing
  • Copy-writing

It’s what this production team produces that gets liked on Instagram, Facebook, Tweeted on twitter and pinned on Pinterest.

1) Be good at communicating visually with your customers
Talking about physical fashion stores, product display is a critical component of a customer’s showroom experience. Brand owners invest heavily on displays to make the product look larger than life. On the other hand, with emergence of social commerce when information sharing is becoming more and more visual, you can’t go too far if you don’t have a streamlined process for content production. With product photos, imagine as if your customers are looking at your product from your eyes. Let your photos communicate as much visual information that your customers need to be convinced about the product value. Here are some of the angles to be covered when you present your product as picture to your customers:

  • Fasteners (close-up shot of any buttons, hooks or laces in the cloth)
  • Material of the fabric (extreme close-up shot to capture fabric details, you might need a macro lens)
  • Feel of the fabric (nicely lit environment can take care of this)
  • Stitch, Seam & Lining (one close-up picture that captures both)
  • Emblems (zoomed & cropped shot of any emblem that shows how the emblem attached to the cloth)
  • Brand Tag (it can be captured in any of the above shot)

Using of videos as medium of visual communication in Fashion Retail
Videos are an excellent medium of getting your brand into the brains of your customers. In other words, it helps you secure mind share of your customers, which is more important than market share.

Freepeople hired ‘TheMill’ & ‘SwellNY’ to create this video presenting their Boho & Indie clothing in form of a short film.

2) Pay attention to the product’s packaging
Some online fashion retailers show attractive product packaging to visitors to increase perceived value of their products. Their effort here is to compensate for the experience lag as compared to if they were in a physical showroom. Showing product packaging gives customer glimpse into product’s delivery experience before they place an order. MrPorter ensures that the packaging delivers everything which customers can expect from a high fashion store. From the embossed pattern on the paper, to the crisp foiled logo and high quality boards and papers, to the hand finishing and fabric accessory ranges. They show their packaging on their website. Mrporter-Packaging-Fashion

However, it’s extremely important for a fashion brand that when a customer opens delivery box, the fashion item and packaging should look at least 10 times better than what it looked on computer or mobile phone screen when ordered it was ordered. This requires not only setting high standards for the product that you’re selling but also high standards of product packaging.

3) Use product descriptions to give a character to your product
With increasing maturity of Social Media as a marketing channel, new age fashion retailers no longer have to write spammy meta tags and product descriptions to please Google. You can now focus on writing crisp meta tags and product descriptions to communicate the product’s value to the customer and story behind it. Tell a story with every product they sell and so much more life to their products.

4) Beware of Inflating Perceived Value
While you or your production team works on increasing the perceived value of your products, don’t cross the line by inflating perceived value so much that it no longer matches the experience of the customer when she opens up the box. Online Fashion Retail businesses thrive on repeat orders, more average order value and lifetime customer value. But if you inflate the perceived value, the repeat orders and average order value will remain low and logistics too will remain complex as there will be lots of customer complaints and returns.

5) Avoid selling on your homepage
Fashion retailers use home page to engage with the visitors / customers, by communicating the message of the business and build relationship & trust. Leading Online Fashion Retailers don’t show product pricing on their homepage. Instead, they encourage them to experience their store from their home page before going into product pricing.

6) Tell a story with your ‘about’ page
People who’re selling behind the scene need to be excited and this excitement and passion for the business must show on the website. Customers want to know with whom they are dealing with and they appreciate transparency. Show them the people behind the brand who are running the show.

About page of WarbyParker.com shows their ability of storytelling and thus reinforcing their success on social media.

7) Always be new
While working with many e-commerce businesses, we have experienced how unorganized many retailers are about uploading/adding new products to their store. But first, why does it even matter? It matters because if you’re adding new products and they are going unnoticed by your returning visitors, they might feel they’re shopping from dead stock. There is a psychological difference between ‘uploading’ new products and launching them as new fashion collection.

FreePeople.com ‘Work it girl’ banner in which they give an opportunity to their customers to know FP Girls as they pose in their new collection. In Online Fashion Retail, it’s crucial that your store looks new to your customers when they visit. To look new, you need loads of content and of course new products.

Saturday highlights their new arrivals prominently with a yellow bar saying – ‘new this week’. Modcloth launches around 10 to 15 items every day to keep their store fresh for their returning visitors.

Personalized Shopping Experience

8) Know your customers If you’re serious about creating a lifetime customer value, you have to know your customers closely. Online Fashion Retailers are innovating new ways to collect customer information and use it to provide a personalized shopping experience.

Shoedazzle collects customer’s shopping preference in the form of Quiz before giving them personalized shopping experience and product recommendations. A Fashion Retailer must try to collect as much information as possible from customers whenever they have the opportunity, without overwhelming them.

9) Sell a Look
Adding related products section (for example – ‘you might also be interested in’) to the product page is a popular way for e-commerce retailers to encourage users to buy more products, related to what they originally came to buy. When you see these recommendations, you might wonder – ok, I might be interested in buying ‘this’ with ‘this’ but will they go well together? It’s like saying that you can buy this tie with this shirt but how will this tie look with the shirt – go figure out yourself. Until you don’t have enough customer data and an efficient algorithm to show intelligent related product suggestions, instead of showing related un-matched products, it’s better to show a complete look like how ASOS has done.

ASOS putting the pieces together by displaying a complete look in their ‘complete the look’ section on the product page. When a user is looking at one product they’re shown the complete set in the up-sell section. It has everything, from Strappy Sandals, Tee and even the Nail Paint to complete the look in the product picture.

10) Make it easy for them to buy right fitting & size
While e-commerce itself is maturing day by day, customers still take it with grain of salt. There are aspects of it that can’t be changed due to its sheer nature. While customers have the opportunity to buy clothes from the convenience of home but there is no way for them to be 100% sure that what they are ordering will fit them. Fitting remains among the prime concerns of the customers when they shop online. And when not handled well, it’s a source of additional cost for retailers as the orders with incorrect sizes from customers translate into support, and return requests.

ModCloth shows this video to make it easy for their customers by by correct size.

11) Use cookies for a personalized shopping experience
Cookies (AKA browser cookie) is a text string that is stored in a web browser. It’s data sent by a web server to a browser and then sent back unchanged by the browser every time it accesses the server. Prime objective of cookies is to enrich the browsing experience of user by personalizing it according to user’s behavior. For example, it enables user to save username and password into the browser so that he/she doesn’t have to remember it. In e-commerce, following four are the most commonly used cookies:

  • Website functionality cookies: These type of cookies enable a visitor to use features like shopping cart and wish lists.
  • Website analytics cookies: Online retailer use these cookies to measure and analyse how customers use the website. This allows retailers to improve their shopping experience.
  • Customer preference cookies: When browsing or shopping online, these cookies enable website to remember preferences of the customer (for example user name, language or location). This makes browsing experience of the user simpler, easier and more personal.
  • Targeting cookies: These cookies are used to deliver targeted content. These cookies also limit the number of times customer see something on the website (some advertisement or any other content).

Examples of usage of Cookies: Gilt remembers gender of a user and redirects him/her to the specific category each time he or she opens gilt.com.

12) Invite customers to be part of a community
When talking to many online retailers, we have noticed that word ‘membership’ in Internet retail is losing its meaning. When a user is invited to register on a store, the benefit that’s projected to a user on the registration page are mostly usability related, for example:

  • Save credit card details for faster shopping
  • Manage order history
  • Gain access to your Wish List
  • Track your orders easily etc

It’s not that the above benefits are not important but these benefits cannot build communities. A customer won’t come back to a store just because he/she won’t have to enter his credit card or billing information again. Of course, this helps in retaining customers but it may not be as helpful in building a long-term relationship with them. The projected benefit of registration by an Online retailer should go beyond usability and give user an opportunity to be part of the business. Your real job starts after they have registered, see how you want to engage with them.

This is how ModCloth invites its users to ‘join’ the ‘community’ instead of just saying ‘register’. Please note that when customers registers on your store, he/she consents to the collection of their personal information. It’s then up to you how you use the information wisely to enrich customer’s experience. So when a user registers to your store, he must actually be treated as a member and not just a user.

13) Personalized Email Marketing
Fashion retail stores are using emails not only as a marketing channel but also an instrument to build relationship with their customers. They create intelligent email marketing campaigns to give personalized shopping experience to their customers. They collect email addresses and other customer information when they subscribe and combine it with their purchasing behavior. This enables them to send the most targeted content, product recommendations and deals via email.

14) Use Pop-up sign-up form
Pop-up sign-up form is one common feature used by all the leading fashion stores. If you enable a popup sign-up form on your store and a new visitors opens your website, a sign-up form emerges and greys out the site in the background to show only a popup signup form. This is a great way to increase the number of newsletter subscribers or registered users of your store.

While there are many bad ways of setting this evil pop-up, there are also many ways of doing it right. Pop-up Newsletter sign-up form when you open DKNY.

The Hook: Fashion retailers like KarmaLook use a hook such as discounts and style books to entice a visitor into becoming member of the store.

15) Keep the ideal frequency of your emails proportional to your ability to deliver value with each email
Those of you who’re wary about the frequency of your newsletters to your subscribers, you might be pleasantly surprised to see how many fashion retailers are pushing the limits by bombing their subscribers with tons of high quality fashion content every day. But, why they’re able to get away with such high email frequency (while you may not) is because of their ability to offer value to their subscribers consistently in all their emails.

Honesty, Realness and Openness

We’re living in an era when brands have to be completely transparent and honest. Companies today no longer have the same information benefit over the customers which they used to have earlier when there was no Internet as they could run business in isolation with the customer.

An unpleased customer today can cause more damage to a brand with the help of social media than any time in the history.

16) Be honest with product reviews
If you’re in retail, you probably know the importance of showing product reviews. Reviews can greatly influence a buyer’s buying decision. Thus many retailers moderate reviews so that only positive ones are allowed to display on the product page irrespective of whether or not the product is right for the customer. Better are the reviews, more the product will sell.

Unfortunately, you can’t go too far with this kind of opaque approach as you will fail to build trust for your brand. Brands today have to be completely honest with their customers. The objective of showing reviews shouldn’t be to sell a product but to help customer make a wise buying decision, even if it means allowing negative reviews about the product that you’re selling. More because, returns & refunds are expensive. If you allow your customers to know both positives and negatives about the product before purchasing, you will be able to save money from return orders and refunds.

This is why, GAP generously shows moderately negative reviews of their products.

Gap-Review

The objective should be to foster a relationship of trust with the customer. ASOS also offers this great feature in which shows summary of all the product reviews as below.

It goes without saying that this will require you be more diligent and intelligent with reviews moderation. While you become more generous, don’t allow reviews with profanity or the ones that link to your competitors.

17) Stay Real
Social Media is democratizing luxury and fashion. Luxury brands can no longer be dictator of fashion and tell someone “You’re not pretty enough to carry our products!” Since customers are empowered with social media, if fashion brands give such dictator impression today, customers will say – “Alright, go to hell!”.

A community is built on real life pictures which are not always perfect. Any product picture that’s taken by your customer from her iPhone is as important to your business as the one taken by your production team.

The picture that’s shared by your customer on your website or social media may not be as good as the ones you might take in your studio, but it will have a much more positive impact on your sales because the former is more authentic.

18) Be Open with your customers
If you screw-up, don’t censor. It’s OK to mess-up. Be open about it. If a particular vendor is consistently getting negative reviews from customers due to quality or misfits, instead of blocking the reviews, block the vendor. Take it as an opportunity to engage with the customers who placed the order. Write a blog post about it, explaining what went wrong. Your customers will appreciate it and be more loyal to your brand.

Vendor rating: Discontinue with the vendor who is consistently getting negative feedback from customers. Retailers such as ModCloth rate their vendors as per customer reviews and feedback. That they can get rid of negative reviews from the source.

19) Send out a clear message
In Online Fashion retail, what differentiates one store to the other is the way they tell their story. For example, when you go to Everlane.com, first thing you see is this message, with which they try to position their brands in the mind of the visitors / customers.

The biggest benefit of showing this message is that it forces you to have a clear business model and stick to it too; because it’s seen by everyone – you, your employees, investors and customers.

20) Put your own brand first
What do you put first – your house brand or other brand you sell? Depending on your business model, you may either sell fashion products as a house brand or sell other brands or both. It’s common to see retailers selling brands other than their house brand, showing their brand logo identity prominently on the website as ‘featured brands’ or designers. Although, it does makes it easy for visitors to find their favorite brands quickly and the retailer gets passive trust benefit from the featured brand for their own retail brand; but it also gives customer a sense of what the store owner puts first – their own brand or the brand they sell. The new age content driven fashion stores show others’ brand names or logos on their homepage. For them, their own brand is bigger than the brands they sell.

21) Incentivize customers in the form of referral programs
Apart from affiliate marketing, online fashion retailers use incentivization as tool to fuel their brand’s word of mouth. For example, Gilt runs a $25 referral program to reward their customers to encourage them to share Gilt experience with their friends. Such programs can help you increase the reach of your brand from your own customer base.

However, don’t base the word of mouth of your fashion brand entirely on a referral or reward program. If your products, content and entire business model aren’t compelling, referral program won’t do any good to your brand. You will only end-up wasting time and money in implementation of a reward program which will never work because the product and brand aren’t worth sharing yet.

Fashion Supply Management

There are various ways how retailers source unique fashion items to sell on their online fashion store(s). For example: trade shows, Fashion Designers, Import etc.

  • Trade Shows: If you’re not a fashion designer, you can go to fashion tradeshows and checkout the ready-made collection of designers. If you like a designer, you might have to go through multiple rounds of negotiation with vendors (for price, minimum order, ship-date, exclusivity, etc.) before you come to a mutual agreement.
  • Working with Fashion Designers: Working with fashion designers gives you better control on the placement of fashion brand using the kind of fashion you want to promote. A designer takes your requirements and submits sketches of the designs. Once you give them your approval on the design along with a purchase order, they buy bulk material and hand it over to a manufacturer who then manufactures the order on a mass scale as per the order size.
  •  Importing Fashion clothing: Other than this, lot of retailers import their products and sell them at good margins. As profitable it may sound, it has its own challenges as you little control over logistics, quality and exclusivity of the product. NastyGal sources a big fraction of its clothing from outside the US.

22) Explore ETSY for vendors and design inspirations
You can find small to medium size vendors for your store at Etsy who not only match with your brand image but can offer you great deal in terms of price and delivery

A Beautiful dress by Zhu Linhui from China, who sells some amazing fashion clothing on her ETSY shop. You can contact such extremely talented designers at ETSY and source unique fashion products for your own store.

Having said that, not all of sellers on ETSY have the capacity to handle higher volume orders. You should be ready to help them in finding manufacturers from your own network so that they can scale-up quickly to fulfill your order on time.

23) Avoid Selling non-exclusive products as far as possible 
It can damage your brand if what you’re selling is also available on other websites or a local mall of your customers. The products you’re selling need to be unique to your store or else you have to be ready to take-on the price war with your competitors. And it’s a lose-lose battle, if you’re in fashion retail. Comparison shopping engines have made it easier for customers to compare prices; you might want to stay away from this never-ending battle as far as possible.

If you’re trying to create a brand, make sure you have a clause of exclusivity with your vendors so that what’ you’re selling is exclusive to your store.

24) Keep the first buy small
If you find a good vendor who is offering you great designs, quality & price, don’t place a big order without getting the opinion of your customers. First place a small order and put them on your website to see how quickly they get sold out. Make an effort to collect data from your customers about their experience using the product:

  • Direct feedback: Enable mini survey tools like Qualaroo on the product page and ask question from visitors about the product’s perceived value.
  • Product Reviews: Reach out the customers and ask them to come back and leave reviews about their purchase. Design your message in a way that customers give you data about the product’s size, fitting, feel, value for money etc.

If a product is a hit, you can contact your vendor to know if they have enough material to handle a bigger re-order and ask vendor to deliver before the product goes out of stock. This can help you keep check of dead stock as you know that it WILL sell for sure.

25) The products you sell, should all seem to belong to the same family
In Online fashion retail, it’s important that the product selection is in-sync with brand’s own aesthetics, theme & values. Bigger fashion retailers usually have style director who oversee and edit the upload of new products (in case of start-ups, this role is played by the company owner). They ensure that the selected products are not only sophisticated, high-end, creative and editorial but the products are also in-sync with the brand itself. Not only all the new products belong to same family but also the product presentation (which at times includes the type of models who pose wearing it). For example, if you look at the product pictures at Modcloth, they all are shot and edited to achieve consistent colors & lighting environment.

26) Keep check on products going out of stock 
If the product’s sales curve is picking up and it looks like it’s going to sell-out soon, the purchase team places a re-order on time so that the product doesn’t goes out of stock. The product remains live if the vendor (seller/designer) is able to deliver the re-order before the product goes out of stock; but if it’s late, retailers set it as ‘notify me’. But if you decide to turn the page OFF, don’t forget to place a 301 redirect to the category pages so that it doesn’t negatively impacts the experience of crawlers and users on your website.

27) Never let the inventory size exceed your ability to present it on your store
If the number of products on your store are so many that you’re unable to write quality product descriptions & meta tags, your store is either overloaded with stock or it’s time to hire more people in your production team. In other words, an Online fashion store should have only so many products on the website that the retailer is able to write quality product descriptions, meta tags and click professional pictures with the available resources at your disposal.

28) Use discounts strategically
Using discounts to get rid of dead-stock is a no-brainier. Use of strategic discounts helps in keeping the collection moving; which means that at times stock rotation is more important than profit in the business of fashion. You can offer strategic discounts to get rid of dead-stock and introduce new collection to keep the stock fresh for the customers. Organize clearance sale every month (offering discounts from 10 to 25%) to keep the stock rotation going and heavier discount (in the range of 40 to 75% on return bases) twice every year to clear the remaining dead stock and keep your brand as new as possible.

29) Be selective with what you want to sell
When e-commerce businesses grow in sales, they often run into the dilemma of scaling inventory to match increase in sales. The biggest challenge in scaling-up the operations is to match the demand in a way that customer and brand doesn’t suffers during the transition. Some fashion retailers are too reactive to customer demand for adding new category of products. Be thoughtful when you’re adding new categories – see if the new product category in sync with the core of your brand. For example, if you’re predominantly selling vintage fashion clothing on your store, it may not be such a good business decision to add new ‘organic’ category to your online store just because you have some customers demanding for it or you have found a vendor who is offering you great organic clothing at good margins and you ‘think’ your customers would love. With such an approach, you might end-up diluting your brand by trying to sell everything.

Crowdsourcing & Fashion Retail

In the traditional Fashion industry, what’s sold in the market comes from the taste-makers sitting at the top, telling the world what to wear. However, a big shift has started to happen as modern Fashion Retail companies have broken and changed the flow of fashion upside down with the help of crowd-sourcing. They have given customers a voice and enabled them to tell the brand what they want.

30) Give opportunities to your customers to be part of your business
With ‘Be a Buyer’ program, ModCloth enables its customers to either vote a product into the inventory or skip it.

They simply post a product from places like ETSY on their blog and let their customers comment vote in its favour or against it. If it gets thumbs-up from the community, they go ahead and actually get it made. Similarly, with programs such as ‘make the cut contests’, the message Modcloth gives with their ‘Make the Cut Contests’ is ‘You came. You sketched. We produced’. They give a theme to their community and ask them to submit sketches of creative, wearable styles that fit the theme. The rewards they offer is engaging too – $500 per winning sketch and the product is named after the winning customer who designed it.

Olapic is a great tool to show user generated photos on your store. With this tool, you can collect, curate and display high quality photos of your product that your customers are already posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more. It’s used by the likes of Nastygal to allow their customers to click their own pictures wearing the dress they just bought. It’s a great way to engage with your existing and potential customers.

31) Expand the role your customer-care team
The role of customer care is changing dramatically in the fashion retail industry. Their scope of work has gone beyond just handing product’s availability, order and delivery related troubleshooting to give style related advice to the customers.

These interactions with customers are going more personalized in nature as they are seen by retailers as opportunities to build stronger relationships with the customers. These conversations also leave retailers with a goldmine worth of customer information which can be used for better brand positioning.

32) Hire people from your customer demographic & psychographic
It may not apply to other industries but in Fashion retail, it can play a big role in the company’s growth if it hires people from its target customer segment. The characteristics of employees of a fashion brand should match the characteristics of its customers. For example, if you’re selling to women, aged between 20 to 35 years, who love vintage fashion, try to hire from the same segment. In such case, a 28-year-old female photographer who loves vintage clothing, will give you a better delivery than a 45 year old male who likes Indie clothing. So as far as possible, hire people from your target demographic & psychographic.

33) Be the style maker with fashion blogging
There are many retailers out there who have little idea when it comes to using blog to drive exposure for their business. They’re stuck in the mindset of only writing to sell whereas fashion blogging has evolved so much today that Fashion bloggers are being invited in the fashion shows and sitting in the front row. You need to evolve beyond typical content creation mindset, for example:

  • Show behind the scenes in your blog
  • Tell them what issues you face as a retailer, ask for help from customers
  • Share interesting interaction between your employees and customers as stories
  • Reach out to other bloggers. Go an extra-mile – Name an item after blogger and award them with a gift.
  • Run contests for bloggers.
  • Drive traffic from news trends on celebrity dressing

Make sure you post what’s valuable to your demographics & psychographic even if that doesn’t relates to what you’re trying to sell.

Bloggers like Manrepeller have used Fashion blogging to build a wide audience for their brand and generate revenue using advertisement and social e-commerce.

34) Implement
We hope you learned something new from this article and that you use it as a resource as you start or continue your journey as a Fashion Retailer. Don’t forget to give a shout out on Twitter @ilovefashionret (using the hashtag #ilovefashionretail) and share this resource with your friends and colleagues.

Hey B*tch I’m From Downtown

Hey B*tch I’m From Downtown

On March 22, PLEASE DO NOT ENTER’s “Boutique Ephémère” infuses a downtown Los Angeles twist to the West Hollywood landscape, through a bold graphic, musical and architectural installation by French LA-based artist Sébastien Léon, bringing a new sense of place to the iconic Melrose Avenue building, through graphics, sound, and light.

Léon’s intervention starts with the wrapping of both the entire facade and the two adjacent billboards, with his signature line art in bright pink. One of the billboards features the provocative statement, “Hey B*tch I’m From Downtown”, as an affirmation about the blossoming renaissance of the Downtown art and fashion scene, and the geographic origin of Please Do Not Enter. The installation continues with a multichannel sound installation which the artist composed in collaboration with sound designer Machine Head. The duo transforms the wood ceiling of the boutique into a soundboard, playing a cinematic soundscape inhabited by squeaking planks and flamenco steps. Léon adds a final touch by bathing the whole interior of the boutique with bright pink LED lighting, offering a vivid impression to both visitors and passersby.

8382 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90069 (West Hollywood)
The store will be open from Monday to Sunday (11am-6pm) till May 31, 2017.

STAYING SUPREME

STAYING SUPREME

What the Fashion System Can Learn From Supreme-Style Product Drops

Most people with knowledge of the streetwear market are familiar with the concept of a “drop,” a controlled release of new product at a clip that’s far faster than the traditional fashion cycle and designed to drive consumer excitement with a stream of constant newness. It’s one of the reasons lines at Supreme stores tend to snake around the block every Thursday morning, when the company releases new items.
Supreme, which is vertically integrated and controls the vast majority of its distribution, creates seasonal collections, but drops new product in weekly batches. These drops generate so much interest that entire forums are dedicated to celebrating purchases and guessing which particular pieces will sell out first. What’s more, on the first “drop day” of a new season, traffic to the brand’s website can spike by as much as 16,800 percent, according to Samuel Spitzer, who leads Supreme’s e-commerce operation. E-commerce has become an important part of the business and while Supreme does not disclose sales figures, Spitzer says that on drop days “we get a very, very high rate of orders per second.”
According to Chris Gibbs, owner of multi-brand retailer Union Los Angeles, the system of “drops” stems from a cluster of Japanese streetwear labels, including Hiroshi Fujiwara’s Goodenough, Nigo’s A Bathing Ape, Jun Takahashi’s Undercover, Hiroki Nakamura’s Visvim and Shinsuke Takizawa’s Neighborhood, which all set up shop in the backstreets of

Tokyo’s Harajuku district in the early 1990s and were, themselves, inspired by the DIY methodologies of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s legendary London store Sex, as well as Fujiwara’s involvement in the International Stüssy Tribe.
You want to try to give customers a sense of consistency and create excitement.
“Japan’s streetwear is very retail-based. They’re thinking about the end consumer at the very beginning and all throughout the process. They’re thinking what the retail price is when they’re looking at the fabric,” says Gibbs. “That culture and that market is more organised from my experience,” adds Ryan Willms, who handles marketing and art direction for Stüssy’s North American operation.
“There’s just so much product releasing at all times that you want to try to give customers a sense of consistency and create excitement,” continues Willms. “People are a lot more aware and the customer just demands a lot more now. I think they just want more product more often.”
In addition to delivering new items every week, brands like Supreme and Palace, a London-based streetwear label, keep distribution tight and quantities limited, undersupplying demand. Together, the strategy generates excitement and encourages customers to constantly re-engage, creating a kind of consumer ritual.
For Brendon Babenzien — previously the design director at Supreme, who, after a 10-year hiatus, relaunched his label Noah in October 2015 — the decision to embrace weekly drops was rooted in practicality. “We’re small. You don’t want to have a tonne of stuff at once. This is just an honest, genuine way to do business: Here’s what we need now, let’s put it out and let’s continue bringing product in throughout the season when it makes sense.”
At a much larger scale, Stüssy has made a concerted effort to drop new product on a weekly basis, but Willms says the process is not without its challenges and requires close coordination with suppliers. “We see from the outside Supreme does a good job, but I’m sure behind-the-scenes they’re scrambling around to get some of those things done on time as well,” he adds.
“Brands like Supreme and Palace don’t follow the same seasonal calendar as high fashion brands at all,” observes James Gilchrist, general manager of Comme des Garçons USA and Dover Street Market New York, which stocks both brands. “Actually, their approach makes a lot of sense compared to the way high fashion brands are currently delivering.” As Gilchrist points out, traditional fashion deliveries are structured around far fewer,

bigger shipments.
You don’t want to have a tonne of stuff at once… Let’s continue bringing product in throughout the season when it makes sense.
Gosha Rubchinskiy, a buzzy brand operated by Comme des Garçons, has fused the traditional delivery schedule with something closer to how streetwear brands like Supreme operate. “This was just how things naturally developed; it was not an intentional part of a strategy,” says Gilchrist. “Gosha does a fashion show and is a wholesale business, so he has to work to that calendar and the collection is separated into deliveries in the showroom that govern when certain things will drop. However, the distribution and the quantities produced are very tightly controlled and limited in a similar way to Supreme or Palace.”
Rubchinskiy also makes exclusive product for Dover Street Market that is released throughout the season, further fostering a sense of newness. But Gibbs says Rubchinskiy’s delivery schedule isn’t that different from the rest of Comme des Garçons’ labels, which are typically delivered in four batches throughout a season. As a result, he’ll rarely order from Rubchinskiy’s fourth delivery, since by the time it ships to Union, the store has most likely already begun marking down product.
Gibbs says the drop model works better for vertically integrated businesses, as piecemeal delivery of a collection can be challenging for both multi-brand retailers — which pride themselves on maintaining a carefully calibrated merchandise mix — and brands that depend on wholesale distribution for a significant chunk of their income.
But like Rubchinskiy, Los Angeles-based designer John Elliott, who splits his label between a core line of basics and a seasonal collection that gets shown on the runway, has adopted a hybrid approach. Elliott ships his core product — including t-shirts, knitwear and sweatpants, which comprises 60 percent of his business — to department stores on the traditional calendar, but also does a healthy direct-to-consumer business based on weekly drops via his own e-commerce site. On Mondays, Elliott’s website is updated with pieces from his seasonal collection. On Thursdays, higher volume items like t-shirts, hoodies and sweatpants are released in new colours. Traffic to the site increases by an average of 60 percent on “drop days” over other days, says the company.
“For us it’s a result of probably three things,” explains Elliott. “One would be cash flow, two would be the fact that we produce 90 percent of our stuff in a really small factory in Los Angeles and the third would be that if we were to drop [the collection] all at once, our customer would choose some big winners and probably pass on some stuff.” The

approach also means Elliot can drop product like coats and heavier knits when it’s more seasonally appropriate, he says. In addition, the system allows the label to shine a new light on different items each week, which has helped to boost sales for non-core categories like denim.
What’s more, Elliot feels weekly drops lend themselves to a strong marketing narrative. For each drop, the label shoots a new lookbook, then delivers each of the featured items, a process that requires a lot of planning with regards to production schedules and purchasing. “The most value is in showing a collection, telling a story and giving your customer a taste of what’s to come.”