Why Big Data will be The Next Big Thing in Fashion

port17x8d by stallio via creative commons

Numbers are changing the way we interact with fashion.

The authors of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think explain it most succinctly:

“As we collect and analyse far more data about people’s interactions, individual preferences will become much better known, more comprehensively and in better detail than ever before.”

Source: Business of Fashion interview

Ecommerce and online social interaction give fashion brands a vast trail of data about how we buy from them, what we like or dislike, and how we interact with our friends. Established data capture techniques – like cookies – help brands market more effectively, placing adverts in front of relevant customers. But bundles of big data scoured from a vast number of consumers could do even more.

 

What is big data for fashion businesses?

Michael Barnett’s definition of big data is useful in understanding exactly what this sort of information is:

“[It is] higher in volume, comes from more sources and isn’t as easily turned into digestible formats.”

Source: Marketing Week (registration access)

High volume is key in understanding how big data can change fashion business. As of August 2014, ASOS had 8.8m customers who’d bought from them in the last year, totalling just over 25m orders. For each of these transactions, basket size, basket spend, conversion rate and all sorts of other tiny bits of data were recorded. That’s a lot of information.

A diversity of sources – like data from social media, ecommerce and in-store spend – means a vibrant picture of the fashion customer is created. But Barnett mentions a key problem: these vast reams of data aren’t easily wrangled into “digestible formats” and often require niche skill sets to analyse, present and act on them.

 

Big data and problem solving

Despite these difficulties, big data has the potential to solve two of fashion biggest and connected issues.

First, greater granular customer data means brands have the ability to improve customer satisfaction through improving interactions with marketing, ecommerce, social media and garments. Several bits of research have found the return rate for clothing bought online is around 20-30%, often due to customers buying the same item in different colours or sizes because they don’t know what will or won’t be right. The cost of ‘free returns’ can be high, and is either absorbed by the customer or the business’ profit margin. Brand advocacy is damaged by this experience; customers who can never find the right size or aren’t presented with relevant marketing eventually stop buying from the brand.

The second issue is improved sustainability. If customer satisfaction increases due to better fitting garments and better brand experience, customers are more likely to stick with that brand – and that clothing – for longer. That means:

  • Fewer unreturned items which would otherwise go into landfill or flood the second hand market
  • Fewer journeys for return delivery trucks which means less CO2 emissions
  • More accurate garment sizing which reduces textile wastage at source
  • More accurate stock buying, reducing material wastage for the brand
  • Better ROI on marketing, helping focus costs on campaigns that will definitely work

 

The barriers to fashion’s big data

Using big data for improved customer satisfaction and sustainability is possible, but there are barriers to be overcome for fashion businesses. I’ve identified four potential barriers and solutions – undoubtedly there are more that will become apparent as the industry develops.

Read the rest of this article by clicking on the page numbers below.

How Mindfulness Could be the Key to Wearables Going Mainstream

Wearables aren’t hitting the mainstream like we thought they would.

Despite one of the most heavily-marketed tech companies entering the market, and prices of some wearables becoming more affordable, they’re still not becoming an everyday item.

Maybe wearables aren’t working because they’re being designed contrary to one of the most significant lifestyle trends in recent years: mindfulness.

Building Wearables with Mindfulness - Eleanor Snare 1
Mindfulness is a physical and emotional practice designed to help you feel more accepting and non-judgmental. It’s combines meditative and cognitive techniques, physical exercises like yoga, mindful eating, verbal affirmations and other small actions of awareness.

Mindfulness encourages the ability to be present: being awake and aware in your physical body and mind at a present moment in time. The starting point is physical awareness, which leads to mental awareness. For example, the guided meditations of Headspace, a phenomenally popular mindfulness app, start by focusing on your physical feelings then moving onto your emotional feelings.

This is a lifestyle trend, popularised through infographics, lifestyle bloggers and Pinterest quotes, but it’s also a scientifically-approved way of being. It’s slowly being recognised by organisations like the NHS as an effective mental health practice, shown to treat certain types of recurring depression and it’s being used in schools to help children develop resilience from a young age.

But in wearables, one of the most exciting technological developments of our time, it’s noticeably absent.

Building Wearables with Mindfulness - Eleanor Snare 2Wearables collect data about you when you wear them: your heartbeat, sweat production, brain waves and where you are. Lots of wearables are designed around self-improvement, using the data they collect to recommend programmes which help you run further, sleep better or lift more. Alternatively, they help you work more efficiently, enabling you to “do familiar things more quickly and conveniently“.

The data a wearable collects is incredibly valuable, and the technology can help individuals feel better about themselves through striving for and achieving personal goals.

But absent from the brilliance of wearables is the benefit of mindfulness.

Here’s an example: this wearable product is designed to let someone know when they’re feeling anxious by monitoring their breathing other physical factors. It alerts you when you’re stressed, then recommends an action, like going for a walk, to combat this symptom.

Rather than encourage mindfulness as a method of diagnosis – being present in your body and recognising the signs of stress, like headaches, shoulder tension or shallow breathing – the product will diagnose when you’re stressed.

Instead of relying on awareness of ourselves as individuals, we start relying on the knowledge of a machine.

Building Wearables with Mindfulness - Eleanor Snare 3Wearables aren’t ineffective; they’re unfinished. It’s exciting to think about what wearables could achieve if they were built around mindfulness as well as scientific data collection, and the positive impact they could have. Crowdfunding is helping make those ideas a reality: for example, Olive syncs with your calendar to track activity alongside physical stress reactions.

Imagine, instead of the wearable that vibrates when you’re stressed, a wearable that asks you questions through the day – little prompts to check how you’re feeling. These prompts aren’t hard; it’s what current mindfulness or happiness apps do through push notifications. Your wearable regularly asks you what’s going on and how you feel, then collates the information alongside physical data.

After two weeks of recording, you look at the charts and see unusual activity at a similar time every day; your heart rate and breathing exhibit signs of stress, and your charted feelings include words like ‘worried’, ‘nervous’ or ‘angry’. You check the activity log and there’s the answer: every day you see a colleague who winds you up, and every day your physical and emotional data shows a reaction.

It might sound too obvious a situation to be built into advanced technology – of course you’ll know that colleague pisses you off. But why does it happen?

A perceptive friend will be able to point out a problem we just can’t see, despite feeling the symptoms very strongly. Medical professionals help us find causes of symptoms that are alien to us, even when we intimately understand the effects. The right, mindful wearable can do the same, and help us work on those causes.

Building Wearables with Mindfulness - Eleanor Snare 4Back to the imaginary wearable. After you realise this issue with your colleague, your wearable can offer you two options: ignore or address.

Choose address and you’ll be guided through actions to help manage the stressful symptoms (like deep breathing exercises) and actions to help discover and manage the cause (like the ‘five whys’). Choose ‘ignore’ and you won’t have to do anything.

It’s important to have the ability to ignore something that’s ‘wrong’ with you. Therapeutic actions work when we want them to work; you can’t force them. Current wearables focusing on treating the ‘symptoms’ of imperfect humanity (Run faster! Sleep better! Eat healthier!) avoid looking at the causes, some of which might be painful or difficult.

Managing causes needs long term commitment from the individual, and that can be too much right now. A mindful wearable could bring the issue into the light, and then give you an educated choice about whether to address or ignore it – not avoid the issue completely by focusing purely on the symptoms.

Building Wearables with Mindfulness - Eleanor Snare 5

Wearables have such potential in helping us see the health of our bodies in a way humans crave, through logic, data, patterns and symptoms. But mindfulness has the potential to heal our bodies and brains too, through clarity, awareness, causes and being present.

Combining the two could be incredibly powerful and commercially successful. It could, finally, move wearables from the niche market of luxury purchasers and gadget lovers into the real mainstream: technology which helps us understand ourselves comprehensively, from the inside out.

Streamlining Your Wardrobe: A Detailed Guide for Businesses

 

Streamlining is the process of analysing your existing clothing, footwear and accessories collection, then editing it to fit with your chosen aesthetic and lifestyle.

The purpose is to make the collection more relevant to who you are, more usable, accessible and, often, smaller.

Wardrobe streamlining covers the analysis and edit of:

  • Personal aesthetic
  • The number of items in your wardrobe
  • How items are arranged in a functional order
  • The wardrobe design and display

I’ve used this term to include wardrobe design as well as clothing, but wardrobe streamlining could also be ‘creating a capsule wardrobe’, ‘creating a dream wardrobe’, ‘closet deep clean’ or related terms.

In this detailed guide I’ll explain the key elements of the process, who’s doing it and what it means for fashion businesses.


Buzzword?

wardrobe streamlining
A few of the Pinterest results for ‘wardrobe streamlining’

Visibility. Wardrobe streamlining is about making everything to do with your clothing clear: what you own, what your style is and how your wardrobe functions. It’s project management for your togs.


Why are people doing it?

Eleanor Snare Three Word Outfit GFN x Emmaus Haus 8
Links with wellbeing practices

Reducing the number of objects you own has a clear link with minimalism. But minimalism can have a very Spartan vibe. Wardrobe streamlining has stronger links instead with softer and more established wellbeing practices, like de-cluttering, spring cleaning and the ‘sort your shit out’ ethos.

The next step for the capsule

Streamlining is also a child of the capsule wardrobe, a mid-80s fashion phenomenon. ‘Streamliners’ often end up with a capsule wardrobe at the end of the auditing process, but streamlining goes beyond the capsule – it’s the analysis and edit of the display space too.

Claiming back time and energy

Streamlining maximises free time and minimises effort in getting dressed – both luxuries time-poor consumers crave.

Wardrobe streamlining is a solution to lots of irritating problems, especially for consumers working in jobs where personal presentation is a criterion for success.

Instagrammable closets

Our sharing culture encourages home- and style-making that’s ‘Pinterest-worthy’. Socially connected consumers want a wardrobe they’re proud to Instagram – one that looks good and functions well, which their audience will be able to see in their personal style.


Who’s doing it?

Mainly socially and digitally connected female professionals, mid-twenties upwards, often those moving into a new space (physical, professional or mental) and, for the younger audience, with a desire to ‘look grown up’.

Anyone could become a streamliner if:

  • They lack time, space and energy in their homes and routines
  • They have ‘too many clothes/nothing to wear’
  • They’re struggling with a changing identity (for example, pre-dad to fatherhood; college to graduate; married to divorced)
  • They’re aware of how clothing can represent your personality

Key characteristics

Click on the links to jump ahead.

  1. Analysis and edit
  2. Style self-awareness
  3. Time and energy saving methods
  4. Specific number of clothes
  5. Wardrobe design
  6. Digital integration

Analysis and edit

Into Mind's 10 step wardrobe revamp plan

Into Mind’s 10 step wardrobe revamp plan

Streamlining starts with an analysis of your current clothing, personal style and goals for the streamlining. Some online publishers offer workbooks, workshops, individual sessions or editorial on how to undertake analysis often using outfit diaries, daily photographs, a critical eye and an honest friend.

Editing happens post-analysis, when where you are now and where you want to be are completely visible. Editing means removing items, putting together new outfits, making a shopping list or rearranging and redesigning your wardrobe.


Style self-awareness

Some of the many images on my 'Developing Style' Pinterest board

Some of the many images on my ‘Developing Style’ Pinterest board

Part of the analysis stage of wardrobe streamlining is the development of individual style self-awareness. This can be physical, like what silhouettes suit you, or conceptual – what ‘look’ you’re going for.

Style self-awareness means being able to look at your life, activities, identity and body objectively as well as subjectively. This is often where objective ‘eyes’ come into play: the blogger, trusted friend or sales advisor.


Time and energy saving methods

A limited colour palette saves time and energy

A limited colour palette means easier choices

Wardrobe streamlining is designed to help save participants time and energy, so methods and tools that save these precious resources are an essential characteristic.

Methods include:

Streamliners might use tools they create to help them – like lists, drawings or personal photographs – or third party tools like printables, guides and workbooks.


Specific number of clothes

Kendra's 10 items for 30 outfits on Closet Confections

Kendra’s 10 items for 30 outfits on Closet Confections

Streamliners can take a similar approach to the minimalist consumer and their limited wardrobe, editing their collection to a specific, often arbitrary, number of items. This process has been popularised by individual blogging projects which then become widespread. Visibility determines how many items – ideally, streamliners want to see all their clothing, shoes and accessories in one go – but there are other variables too.

Often these arbitrary numbers are for ‘test’ periods, with the perfect number for the individual growing from their experience. It often doesn’t include underwear, sportswear or loungewear, or anything designed for specific hobbies.


Wardrobe design

Ikea's 'open shelf' designs may have contributed to the rise in streamlining

Ikea’s ‘open shelf’ designs: the streamliner’s dream?

Wardrobe design helps to make the edited clothing collection visible and easier to use: an essential element of wardrobe streamlining. It includes the organisation, presentation, storage and care of the collection – like using open shelves to see all your garments.

The aesthetic of the wardrobe design is as key to personal representation as the clothing itself. Many consumers don’t have the space for the wardrobe of their dreams, but streamlining can help them have an organised wardrobe of which they’re proud (and looks good on the internet).


Digital integration
wardrobe streamlining 8
An example Polyvore collage, with shoppable links

Digital platforms play an important role in wardrobe streamlining at every step of the process. Platforms include:

  • Pinterest and Polyvore, where new styles can be curated ready for the edit
  • Online publishers, who provide guidance and tools to support participants
  • Apps like Stylebook, with constant visibility of items and quick, easy ‘play’ with outfits
  • Online communities like WIWT, which are built around recording outfits
  • Instagram, where participants can share the streamlined, stylish collection and wardrobe

While wardrobe streamlining can be done without ever going online, digital integration has popularised the process and given participants a range of tools to support them, as well as share their experiences.


What can fashion brands do?

WhatsNu_01

Make sure you’re in the closet

For fashion brands, the first questions to ask with wardrobe streamlining is ‘Are we still in the closet?’. In a limited wardrobe, brands have less competition and more likelihood of being repurchased as the name is visible and has been chosen intentionally by the wearer.

If your brand is one of the many thrown out in the editing process, it’s unlikely a streamliner will buy from you again.

The aim for a fashion brand is to make sure you stay in the closet by providing great products with great service in a way that makes the wearer feel good.


Maximise digital opportunities

Brands who are maximising digital opportunities can benefit from wardrobe streamlining, where the digital integrates seamlessly with the physical clothing experience. Digital opportunities include:

  • Working with relevant, ‘on brand’ online publishers
  • Producing beautiful Pinterest and Instagram lifestyle images
  • Making products available on curation platforms like Polyvore
  • Using third party platforms or apps as advertising opportunities

If a fashion brand can be present digitally at every stage in the wardrobe streamlining process, it’s more likely to stay in the closet and be repurchased.


Provide ‘offshoot’ services and products

Wardrobe streamlining is about clothing and the wardrobe experience. Fashion brands helping customers complete the analysis and edit can benefit from the trend. So can those providing ‘offshoot’ services and products that make the process more enjoyable.

‘Offshoot’ services and products which benefit customers could be:

  • Clothes packaging and wardrobe storage in your brand’s aesthetic
  • Personal style consultation, analysis and suggestions
  • Online workbooks, guides and quizzes
  • Customer database that tracks purchases and can make useful ‘other item’ suggestions
  • Discounts for clothing care from trusted partners (like drycleaners)

Wardrobe streamlining is an activity loosely tied to wellbeing practices.

If fashion brands can provide a holistic range of support for streamliners, they’re more likely to keep their place in the closet.


Create displays showing function

Wardrobe streamlining encourages participants to think carefully about how their clothing is arranged so it functions effectively for their lifestyle. Fashion brands can echo this with visual displays, in store and online, demonstrating functionality.

This could be grouping items for a multi-layered outfit on one rail; one colour palette but different garments in one display; or subtle variations on one garment (such as t-shirts) all on one shelf.

The emphasis is on understanding how someone gets dressed and echoing that in retail displays, showing an empathy with your customer’s lifestyle.


Promote an aspirational brand experience

An important element of wardrobe streamlining is the inspiration, celebration and sharing of a functional, polished and beautiful clothing collection.

Fashion brands promoting an aspirational brand experience are more likely to been revered and, ultimately, stay in the closet.

While incredible images are naturally a great starting point, the brand experience needs to extend to service, retail space, interiors, storage, models and language. Out of these, aspirational spaces are as important as inspirational clothing.

If a fashion brand can make its shelving as aspirational as its shoes, it’ll stay in the closet – and probably have a Pinterest tutorial written about it.

 

 

Featured image: edited ‘hanger’ by enric archivell via Creative Commons.

Surviving the Sales: Six Simple Tips

In retail, January means sales – although with unseasonal weather last year, the influence of Black Friday on UK shopping and changes in the fashion landscape, dramatic sales periods are now happening across the year. There was a pre-Christmas sale, then a post-Christmas sale, and now the previously-manic January sales. Are they losing their former appeal? Possibly. But they’re still tempting.

If you love clothes (and a bargain), managing this sales period is tricky. It’s easy to splurge after Christmas, convincing yourself you bought plenty of presents for others and now it’s your turn. If you’re doing Dry January, or given up an expensive habit for 2015, it’s simple enough to think of that as ‘free’ cash you’ve saved – which can now be spent on clothes.

For all their pitfalls, sales are an opportunity to refresh your wardrobe and purchase items at – ideally – a pleasingly low price. But in a savings-focused culture, how do you avoid being sucked into ‘bargains’ and still getting what you want?

Surviving the Sales
Image via thoroughlybritish.co.uk

Invest in the classics

It’s an old bit of fashion advice but it’s seriously simple: don’t buy trends in the sales. Save your cash and spend it on classic garments that won’t look outdated in six months. The sales will be packed with last season’s not-so-popular trends; expunge them from your mind and focus on basics:

  • White shirts
  • Blue jeans
  • Black well-cut trousers
  • Simple heels
  • Day dresses

An alternative is to look out for natural fibres like cashmere, wool and silk, which wear well, look fantastic and have plenty of longevity. Classics, unsurprisingly, don’t date, so the sales are an opportunity to add some pieces to your repertoire you know will keep working for you.

Image via Lindsay Roberts on Pinterest
Image via Lindsay Roberts on Pinterest

Refresh your favourites

If you have a particular silhouette, print or garment you love, use the sales as a chance to refresh those items in your wardrobe. If you love leopard print, hunt down new items with the pattern; if you’re a sequin skirt fanatic, sift through the racks to find your favourites.

Approaching the sales with a specific garment, texture, material, print or colour in mind helps you avoid picking items you’ll never wear by focusing on ones you do.

Image via Justyna Buck on Pinterest
Image via Justyna Buck on Pinterest

Buy seasonal

Hey…you know December 31st in the UK doesn’t mean the end of winter, right? We’ve still got January, February and probably March to go, so buying winter-appropriate clothing in the January sales is a frighteningly sensible idea. Boots, coats and high-quality accessories (like gloves) are all good items to have on your sales list. Stick to flexible styles and colours to get the most for your money – don’t succumb to last season’s pastel-coloured coat even if it is 50% off.

Image via Katie Cunningham on Pinterest
Image via Katie Cunningham on Pinterest

Shop indie and luxury

Take advantage of reduced prices to buy designer and independent. Often both types of fashion can feel expensive at full price, mostly due to our skewed sense of clothing value encouraged by super-low high street retailers.

Investing a little more in independent or designer clothing during the sale is worth it: your clothes will be well-made, well-designed and you’ll have experimented in your buying habits without high financial risks. I recently picked out my favourite sale items at Lambert’s Yard, Leeds – keep your eye out for a blog post by them soon.

Image via Spook Manifesto on Pinterest
Image via Spook Manifesto on Pinterest

Try something new

For all the sensible advice about classics, sales are the time to try a new style, form, colour or print. It’s a perfect time to play with fashion because the options are so wide-ranging, from bizarre ‘never made it out the stock room’ garments to those you liked but weren’t quite willing to bet money on.

For every sure-fire hit you try on, pick out something totally different – you might see a new you.

Image via Charlotte Howell on Pinterest
Image via Charlotte Howell on Pinterest

Buy one, give one

Last of all, eliminate Stuffed Wardrobe Syndrome with a space-saving trick: for every sale item you buy, donate an existing piece. Keep this in mind while shopping – if you had to give away something you already owned for what you want to buy, would you?

A ‘one in, one out’ policy keeps your closet manageable and supports other fashion retailers like charity shops, as well as making you think twice before buying.

Image via Spook Manifesto on Pinterest
Image via Spook Manifesto on Pinterest

I’ve shopped the sales over Christmas and New Year, and I wasn’t hugely impressed. But I did invest in two items: a vintage black Aquascutum trench coat for £65 from eBay (down from £75) and a pair of kick-ass black leather ankle boots from M&S at £28 down from £85.

More astonishingly, I followed my own rules: donated a heap of shoes, invested in classics and shopped designer. It’s part of my ongoing sartorial streamlining – but more of that in 2015. Enjoy the sales, spend wisely and remember: an intelligent sales purchase is for life, not just for Christmas.

Why Burberry’s CFO Means Big Change for Harvey Nichols

burberry cfo to join harvey nichols

On February 17th, Stacey Cartwright will become CEO of the Harvey Nichols Group, an appointment which could dramatically alter our perception of the famous luxury department store.

Cartwright was previously Chief Financial Officer and Executive VP of Burberry for nine years, during which time she helped raise the annual turnover from £676m to an astonishing £2bn. She was also instrumental in introducing the brand to Middle Eastern and Chinese markets.

Why is this exciting for Harvey Nichols? While sales might still be strong for the brand, its online presence isn’t as effective (now in year two of its five-year e-commerce strategy) with some overly ‘quirky’ attempts at marketing. Offline, it doesn’t always deliver the added customer experience we are increasingly used to, relying on glitter and ‘new money’ to bolster sales. This is especially true in Leeds, whose claim to fame for several years was the ‘Knightsbridge of the North’. With new retail spaces opening up, this old guard of luxury shopping needs to be reborn.

Cartwright’s appointment to CEO offers plenty of exciting opportunities for this luxury brand.

1. Revolutionising their digital presence to reach a new consumer

Although not explicitly mentioned in fashion press, Cartwright was a key decision maker at Burberry during the period in which they became the go-to digital model for a luxury brand. Their approach to online content is sparkling: beautiful imagery, live shows, behind the scenes content and collaborations with top tech brands like Apple. This isn’t new for the high street (notably Asos and Topshop) but luxury brands are much slower to adopt these changes in the fashion consumer’s access to products and brand. Cartwright’s understanding of the digital development process will undoubtedly help to revolutionise Harvey Nichols’ online presence and the way they interact with a new breed of consumer.

Alongside this is the understanding Cartwright will bring from Burberry that innovation is important to financial stability, attracting aspirational consumers and retaining repeat customers.

2. Developing and pushing patriotism as a USP for overseas markets

Burberry’s reinvention as a truly British brand was essential in their entrance to China and the Middle East. The desire for luxury products in these emerging high spend markets – predicted to be 20% of the global luxury sales in 2015 – means a brand’s USP has to stand out against the competition, which Burberry has successfully done. There’s huge potential for Harvey Nichols to leverage their Britishness in order to do the same. However, it’ll be interesting to see how Cartwright juggles this potential with the retailer’s product – international luxury designers all under one roof – and what other USP might be used to expand further into these spaces.

3. Consolidating disparate marketing for a stronger proposition

Currently, as with many brands, individual Harvey Nichols stores conduct marketing and customer experiences in different ways. In Leeds, this includes discounted shopping evenings, press events and the very exciting LFW menswear designer showcase. However, not everything hits the mark (especially when in conjunction with the larger Victoria Quarter) and can lack innovation. This is especially important in a city where style is eclectic and customers are savvy to new tech, new looks and new standards of customer experience that ‘add value’.

Cartwright’s appointment has the potential to consolidate these fragmented efforts under a much clearer brand proposition, offering as unique, creative and inspiring a customer experience as the windows in Harvey Nichols so often advertise. These innovative experiences would reach an emerging UK audience of young professionals with the money to spend who are currently disenchanted with a lack of fresh ideas.

Tweet me @ebsnare with your thoughts: does Harvey Nichols need a brand refresh? Or does it already have an audience robust enough to sustain profit in a time of change?