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Ralph Lauren CEO Hints at Making Moves in Resale

Patrice Louvet likes to look at the positives in life, even if what’s facing him–or his company–falls under the rubric of disruption.

And while others might see disruption in a negative light because of the change it foists upon them, the CEO of Ralph Lauren considers it through a different lens, preferring to “view disruption as an opportunity and not as a threat.”

That mindset dovetails with how the company has operated over the past 50 years, with Ralph himself a disrupter in the tie industry. “We would not be here if we did not deal successfully with disruption,” Louvet said Tuesday at the WWD Apparel + Retail CEO Summit.

Disruptive change

Louvet said Ralph Lauren has managed to tackle disruption head on in ways that embrace the winds of change without sacrificing the company’s core values.

How consumers are choosing to engage with brands—through fragmented and always-on social and digital channels—has disrupted virtually every fashion company around. Louvet’s 19-year-old Gen Z daughter Clara uses Snapchat, Tik Tok and Instagram to discover brands, which means Ralph Lauren needs to have a presence on those platforms, too. But rather than signing up just for the sake of being there, the company has to consider how its storytelling and brand messaging work on those apps in a way that will resonate with the sub-20something crowd.

The rise of digital commerce has upended traditional retail, too. While stores and the wholesale channel are still a fundamental part of retail, Louvet said their roles in the path to purchase are changing, which means fashion must adjust. That could involve more experiential stores, while also infiltrating important mobile platforms like WeChat.

And in the rush to court young customers, companies can often forget that they need to court young emerging talent, too. “Today, younger employees and younger recruits want to understand your purpose, [and] are you living your purpose?” Louvet said.

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At Ralph Lauren, that purpose is the “dream of a better life through authenticity and timeless style,” Louvet said.

Navigating disruption

Speed is critical to surviving retail today, not just in being able to move with agility but also in accelerating production when necessary to meet demand.

Ralph Lauren wants “to be where our consumers want to shop us,” but draws the line at partnering with platform that sacrifice brand integrity. It’s why shoppers can find the brand’s wares on Asos, Net-a-Porter and Alibaba but will come up empty when browsing on Amazon.

“We don’t believe conditions are set yet for us to be on the Amazon platform,” Louvet said, noting early talks to bring the Chaps brand to the e-commerce juggernaut.

Addressing the disruption stemming from the rise of resale, Louvet said the Ralph Lauren brand is not officially on luxury consignment platform The RealReal, though consumers who own the brand’s products can resell their past purchases on the popular site. Noting that Ralph Lauren believes in the resale model, Louvet said a glimpse into what future wardrobes might look would likely reveal a “section for rental, a section that’s pre-owned or resale, and a section in the closet that is new.”

So what does resale mean for the Ralph Lauren brand? “The good news…is we’re all about timelessness; we’re all about quality. We are well positioned to be in the resale model,” Louvet said, adding cryptically, “You can expect to see more from us in that space.”

To compete effectively today, speed to market is “critical,” said Louvet, who has helped steer Ralph Lauren from a 24-month-long design process down to nine months now for much of the product range, with certain SKUs targeted for six-month or even three-month turnarounds.