Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Paul Lee, CEO of B2B marketplace FashionGo and its parent NHN Global, discusses why he seeks efficient shopping experiences and how his company is assisting the industry as wholesale moves online.
Name: Paul Lee
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
I would describe myself as a very efficient consumer. Having the ability to search for a desired product quickly and seamlessly—be it online or at storefront—is crucial for me. I adhere to the mantra that one thing that you can’t get back in life is time; hence, I try to be efficient in all aspects of my life, including shopping.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
Excellent customer service. To me, that entails meeting or exceeding expectations with the purchasing experience—sales, browsing experience, on-time delivery, etc.—as well as quality of the product.
What’s your typical uniform?
My typical pandemic work outfit is a short-sleeved, collared shirt and shorts. I prefer T-shirts, but I have many external video meetings on any given work day. My pre-pandemic attire was similar except jeans instead of shorts. My weekend attire is mostly athletic gear due to my beloved hobby of boxing that I’ve been actively doing for many years.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
I am a huge fan of the seventies, driven by my affinity for movies from that era. The bell-bottom jeans, leather jackets worn with very long hair—I just think the fashion from that era was ultra-cool. Close second would be the eighties. I was a teenager in the eighties and did dress like a character from one of John Hughes’ movies—think “Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink,” etc. I’ve seen a few trends from the era making a comeback recently. Some may argue that eighties fashion did not age well, but it has a special place in my heart.
Who’s your style icon?
UFC star Conor McGregor. He may seem like an unlikely style icon, but his penchant for sharp but colorful suits makes him quite the showman even outside of the Octagon in my opinion. It’s not a favorable look for me, but I admire his awesome, bold style nonetheless.
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
We made a huge push to introduce a new trade event (FashionGo Week, an online trade show) and technology (Style Match+, a visual search tool on FashionGo) recently. It would be an understatement to say that the last six months have been challenging as far as resources and effort required to complete the projects. But we felt compelled to bring the innovations to the fashion industry, particularly in the middle of a pandemic. I am very proud of the team—they really rallied to make this all happen.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
We have a very innovative, entrepreneurial environment. Our company, NHN Global, is owned by a larger, publicly-listed parent but we luckily managed to retain a nimble, collegial culture. We strive to be on the cutting-edge of technology with our FashionGo marketplace. As our priority is to bring a solution to the marketplace by understanding key fundamental issues our audience experiences, our team holds the same work ethos and accountability in our overall approach. We also pride ourselves on making quick decisions and coming up with innovative solutions to serve the fashion industry.
What can companies learn from COVID-19?
The most important lesson that we learned is that uncertainty can produce solutions and opportunities. It would behoove companies in the apparel industry to really look for ways to pivot their businesses. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we witnessed brick-and-mortar retailers migrating to online selling as well as shifting their merchandising strategy—i.e., in season purchases versus pre-orders. Companies also have to be adaptable, flexible and nimble. As we head into fall/holiday season, there are still a lot of uncertainties regarding a potential second wave, government stimulus, etc. I can say that the horizon and window to visibility is a lot shorter now. Hence, management of inventory, for example, should reflect such reality.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
I believe the apparel industry needs to rely on consumer-driven data, rather than instincts, for both production and purchasing decisions. This is especially critical for retailers as shoppers are inundated with information via social media and are purchasing close to or in-season merchandise. Partnership between vendors and retailers perhaps becomes more important than ever. Additionally, it’s important for both brands and retailers to have an omnichannel strategy with seamless integration between online and offline. At the moment, the industry still makes too much of a distinction between the two channels.
What keeps you up at night?
I spend many nights thinking about the pandemic and the necessity for the leaders of our country/states to make the best decisions going forward. In a very complicated situation, I believe there is a balance that needs to be achieved when considering key interests of a country, such as the economy and protecting the health of citizens. COVID-19 could be with us for the foreseeable future and [thinking about] the matter in a binary fashion—full lock down or open economy—without fully assessing the potential, adverse longer-term consequences can be concerning.
What makes you most optimistic?
I am very optimistic about the innovations that are happening pushed by the pandemic. The fashion industry has demonstrated both resilience and remarkable innovations. The clear examples are digital trade shows, experiential online shopping at department stores, social and live selling, etc. There are a lot of bright, creative people in this world, and I truly believe that many industries—including fashion—will not only persevere but also thrive post-pandemic.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction/service:
We recently introduced and completed FashionGo Week, our inaugural, two-week online trade show on FashionGo. The event enabled our 1,200 brands to showcase their brands and engage with over 420,000 retail buyers on our platform. Going forward, we expect to host two such events every year. We also introduced Style Match+, a visual search tool that helps our buyers to search products for anywhere on the web and find similar products and also compare them on FashionGo. Without tooting our own horn too much, the visual search technology is really an innovation in B2B fashion.