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What Does It Take to Be a ‘Consumer-Led’ Apparel Brand?

Apparel brands have a conundrum on their hands. As shoppers demand quicker lead times and more personalized product offerings, brands must upend their classic go-to-market processes. While overhauling product development can be an arduous task, the accelerated growth of direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales throughout the Covid-19 pandemic created a grand opportunity for brands to leverage granular shopper data.

In applying this data to their own business, brands can build a “consumer-led” retail operation aimed at developing and delivering products that resonate with shoppers.

According to Dan Leahy, co-founder and CEO of data-driven product decision platform MakerSights, brands need to acknowledge that the traditional fashion calendar runs counterintuitive to modern shopper needs.

“With that traditional wholesale calendar—you have an 18-to-24-month product-to-market process, you need to have product ready six months out from when it’s going to launch, and you’re taking orders from your key accounts,” Leahy said during a recent Sourcing Journal webinar. “But most consumers have never heard of that calendar and they certainly don’t think in those terms.”

In the Sept. 28 webinar “Consumer-Led Retail: Optimizing Assortments at Speed,” Sourcing Journal founder and president Edward Hertzman discussed the era of consumer-led retail with Leahy and Mike Maher, co-founder and CEO of DTC men’s apparel brand Taylor Stitch.

Leahy said that MakerSights has measured consumer purchase intent on future products “almost 2 billion times” since the platform’s inception, and then captured the sales data once those products hit market. If anything, the number not only shows how many data points are out in the open for brands, but also reveals the ease with which they can determine optimal SKU counts or characteristics such as sizing, style and color.

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Apparel brands aren’t just benefiting from the scale of data available in today’s e-commerce environment, but also the specificity of information that exists.

“These are key repeated questions that happen every time someone reaches a stage in their product development process, like the determination of what’s in or out of a line, or the excepted volume level within my e-commerce channel,” Leahy said.

Including the customer

Taylor Stitch wants to embody the “consumer-led” aspect of retail by making shoppers feel like they are included in the apparel design and production process.

That’s why the brand launched Workshop, a crowdfunding platform that enables shoppers to fund select products before they launch, ultimately enabling Taylor Stitch to better plan seasonal inventory depending on product popularity, and to produce less waste. Customers have four weeks to pre-order the products, which are manufactured and delivered only if they reach their funding goal. As added incentive, upon release, participating customers get a 20 percent discount.

Thus far, 46,323 shoppers have contributed to the 883 products launched via Workshop. These products account for anywhere between 20 percent and 30 percent of the retailer’s business on any given season, according to Maher.

“It generally works better for more specialized products,” Maher said. “We’re testing new silhouettes and new colors…We generally commit to a conservative amount of fabric, knowing that if we sell out we can get a second delivery and produce more product as long as it’s seasonally relevant.”

Taylor Stitch has this luxury due to two supply chain partners that built a facility dedicated to the Workshop production and releases.

“We get to control the lines,” Maher said. “They work with us to define capacity so that if we scale up, they scale production up.”

Maher described both the Workshop and the MakerSights platform as entities that are “forcing the ego out of design and merchandising” in that the customer gets a transparent look into whether the product decision was right or wrong, and can actually help influence the final design.

Along with setting ego aside, Leahy recommends that brands stop focusing on making two or three large “seasonal bets” per year, since that heightens the risks that can be incurred from a supply chain disruption.

“I can’t really control how I react to disruptions if I have so much inventory that’s flowing through a preordained supply chain path,” Leahy said, recommending that merchandising bets instead be placed “eight, 12, even 24 times a given year. That sort of agility provides much more flexibility for supply chain teams to be nimble.”



Consumer-Led Retail: Optimizing Assortments at Speed

To learn more from this chat, watch “Consumer-Led Retail: Optimizing Assortments at Speed” on demand now.