Too often these days it seems there’s only one type of news: bad. But despite the gloomy headlines, it’s important to remember that all is not lost.
We caught up with several apparel industry executives at the Sourcing Journal Summit last month and found that although there’s plenty to complain about, there’s a lot to look forward to as well. Many that we talked to were upbeat, choosing to focus on the silver lining around the clouds, while others shared how they’re making their own good fortune by taking positive steps within their businesses.
“I’m really optimistic for the transformation of the industry—it forces retailers how to rethink their strategies,” said Bjorn Bengtsson, chief merchandising officer of apparel retailer Untuckit.
Bengtsson’s sentiment was echoed by others who recognize the retail apocalypse narrative is flawed because it paints a picture of destruction rather than acknowledging that retail is not coming to an end, just changing.
“I’m really optimistic about retail because of continuous opportunities,” said Kristine Olson, director of sourcing and production, Bonobos. “There are a lot of retailers struggling, but there is a lot of upside potential.”
For Jennifer Spoljaric, senior vice president of merchandising and production at Tommy Bahama, those that can capitalize on analytics will find themselves in the best standing. “The customers that can do more with less and driven by data are going to be more successful in the future,” she said, though she acknowledges it is challenging. “It’s not easy to come up with that scenario. It’s easier said than done.”
Christopher Bray, director of financial and strategic advisory firm MMG Advisors, sees the number of store closures this year as its own positive. “We are just way too over-retailed, and we have three times the retail per capital for any other country. It’s more than people want and a lot of average stuff that’s not exciting. Less is more,” he said.
Andrew Olah, founder of the Kingpins denim show and CEO of Olah Inc., agreed that average stuff isn’t going to excite anyone. But thankfully, he sees the industry moving in a better direction. “I’m optimistic about beautiful and compelling products,” he said. “The only thing that drives the business are compelling products.”
Facilitating these more inspired creations is technology, which is exactly what Frederick Magner, director of Americas for apparel product consulting firm Alvanon, is most looking forward to.
“I’m optimistic about the 3-D technology and all the technologies related to production,” he said. “It’s going to aid in a much faster turn. With the 3-D technology out there in supply chains, it will reduce lead times dramatically, and I’m excited for the new generation of designers.”
While the insiders we spoke with agree that technology will lead the way to the future of retail, another common theme was the ways in which companies are evolving their practices to focus on people and collaborations—both inside their businesses and extending up and downstream.
Textile manufacturer Texollini, for instance, is reaping the rewards of being more collaborative, according to vice president of sales Jim Andriola. “[Texollini] made a decision to no longer work in a silo but instead work in concert with new technology companies, with brands and retailers all over the globe. And it has had a significant impact in the new products we’re putting forward,” he said, adding the culture shift has allowed the company to become a trendsetter. “We’re out there and in concert with everyone.”
Nancy Tripodi, director of business development at the Connor Group, a global sourcing organization, also recognizes the need for working in a new way.
“I am really trying to figure out ways to innovate the Asian business model. I am going to be partnering with current clients and future clients to really bring new ideas to the table” she said. “Instead of just executing what clients want, it’s really partnering together to again innovate, bring new ideas to the table, research and development.”
Equally important to external relationships, companies have found the biggest rewards when they’ve supported their teams over the last year. At textile innovations firm Loomia that’s meant “empowering employees,” according to CEO Janett Liriano, while Spanx senior product manager Alexandra Gagnon said her company has focused on creating a “positive and nimble” team as it grows.
At Bonobos, the focus has been on educating its team. “We had our guide shop managers from around the country come to New York, and we had a job training to teach them about our product,” Olsen said. “We did a deep dive into how we create and make our suiting and gave them valuable information that they can share with customers in terms of producing our product and how we’re doing it.”
Reporting by Genevieve Scarano & Emily Goldman