Though tech generally dominates when it comes to being called “most innovative,” apparel retailers are stepping up to the plate.
Six apparel companies made Fast Company’s The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies list this year, and four of them—Amazon, Patagonia, Stitch Fix and Walmart—ranked among the top 20.
Amazon has only been absent from the Most Innovative list once since Fast Company began compiling it in 2008. This year, the retail giant, founded ranks No. 5, praised for winning on so many levels. The reason behind Amazon’s triumphs, according to founder Jeff Bezos, is the company’s focus on long-term customer loyalty and never-ending expansion into new businesses.
The results: Amazon is considered one of the leading apparel retailers, expanding its already massive apparel empire last year with the launches of its try-before-you-buy service Prime Wardrobe and its private label activewear lines Rebel Canyon and Peak Velocity. The company is projected to dominate the U.S. apparel market by 2020.
Patagonia is one spot behind Amazon at No. 6, receiving praise as its retail successes have paralleled its championing of social causes. Since it was founded in 1973, Patagonia has grown into one of the most successful and respected outdoor brands. And the company, which has remained privately-owned, has used its brand popularity to raise awareness about social and environmental issues, investing in grassroots organizations and firms that will make its supply chain and goods more sustainable.
Stitch Fix’s place at No. 13 is a recognition of the impact the e-commerce subscription and personal shopping service has had on the apparel industry since it was founded in 2011. Its personalized services and attention to the little details of its more than 2 million users—each client’s selections are handpicked by one of the 3,400 personal stylists on staff assigned to that person—are the reasons behind the company’s success. Last year, Stitch Fix reported annual revenue of $977 million. When it went public last November, it raised $120 million and was valued at $1.46 billion.
This year, Fast Company’s No. 15 spot is reserved for the company that has maintained retail dominance in the face of adversity: Walmart. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company has not only maintained its presence as a strong brick-and-mortar (4,700 locations in the U.S. alone, and more than 600 outlets of its members’-only warehouse chain Sam’s Club), but it has also made several very strong moves in digital retail, investing in e-commerce services, fulfillment centers and technology initiatives. In 2016, Walmart acquired formidable Amazon competitor Jet.com for $3.3 billion. It then went on to purchase ShoeBuy, Moosejaw, Bonobos and ModCloth. And last October, Walmart acquired Brooklyn-based delivery startup Parcel.
Gucci also made Fast Company’s list, taking the No. 30 spot for remaking itself as a fashion-forward label beloved by millennials. Thanks to CEO Marco Bizzarri and creative director Alessandro Michele, the 97-year-old Italian fashion house is now considered hip, modern and edgy, often using social media campaigns and collaborations with popular artists and influencers to stay fresh and relevant. And their efforts are paying off, revenues are up—mainly among millennials, who now make up half of all of Gucci’s sales.
San Francisco-based online clothing retailer Everlane made the list at No. 40 it has grown at a rapid rate since its 2010 launch. It became a hit with millennial shoppers almost immediately, due in large part to its practice of what the company calls “radical transparency,” plus its environmentally-friendly approach to production. Everlane offers consumers a full breakdown of the true cost of its products, from the price of the raw materials to transportation to retail markup, and gives customers a glimpse inside the factories where its products are made. Last year, Everlane opened its first permanent brick-and-mortar, in New York, and plans to open several more locations nationwide over the next few years, each equipped with a new point-of-sale system that will make the transition from shopping online to in-store more seamless for the customer.
Joining the apparel companies, Apple took the No. 1 spot in this year’s lineup, and is the only company that has made the list every year. Standouts also include GPS navigation app Waze at No. 28, mobile flight-booking app Hopper at No. 33, leading cosmetics retailer Sephora at No. 36, artisanal candy maker Sugarfina at No. 43, and manmade diamond company Diamond Foundry at No. 45.