The “fashion month,” as we industry professionals call it, and its countless runway shows and presentations of all kinds – from menswear, to Resort, and Haute Couture – is almost over for this season, and yet, we journalists are far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, our reviews and trend reports are still causing much ink to flow. All the more reason to see how our fashion-partners-in-crime, the store executives and buyers, are coping with our fast-paced fashion schedules. In an ultra-connected and constantly evolving industry, the concept of “buying” itself needs to be redefined. Times are changing, and so do buying habits. To get to the bottom of it and understand the challenges that retail executives and buyers are facing today, we spoke with Holli Rogers, Farfetch's Chief Brand Officer and Browns' CEO, and Ida Petersson, Browns' Womenswear Buying Director, to find out what it takes for brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce platforms to not only survive, but to thrive. Here’s what they had to say.
Holli Rogers and Ida Petersson. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
On curating fashion and inspiring customers.
Holli Rogers: "The vision that I had when I first came to Browns four years ago was that I wanted to talk to a consumer to whom no one else was really speaking. There are so many people in the industry that are doing the same concepts, in terms of sales and e-commerce, which is why it's important to cultivate your difference. For us, it was imperative to talk to a cooler customer, one that has a critical eye on the fashion industry. Our customers are very smart and educated, which is why we need to give our best to inspire them. Even back in the 80s, people used to go to Browns (ed.: the iconic luxury boutique in London’s Mayfair district) to find designer pieces that they know they wouldn't find anywhere else – we want to keep this spirit alive."
Ida Petersson: "When it comes to curation, it is important that we have our own voice in this massive sea of players (ed.: other concept stores & online retailers). A voice that is very clear and very true to who the people are that we are targeting. Browns has always been about luxury, and we have to maintain this heritage. Yet, at the same time, we want to be adventurous and experimental and show our willingness to discover and promote new and young talents. Our customers come to us because they know that, and because they know they will find something they won't find anywhere else.”
On supporting and nurturing a new generation of designers.
Ida Petersson: "Young designers are the future. We want to be out there for them and help them to be known in the world as well. There are so many hidden jewels out there: creative minds that have an amazing understanding of traditional craftsmanship and deserve to be supported and part of our platform. And it's not only about selling their collections: so many young designers need to be nurtured and mentored as they are new to the buying and production processes. This is the reason why we actually created two sub-departments at Browns, one for women's and one for men's, that are solely dedicated to supporting these young designers. It allows us to give back to an industry that has made all of us."
Browns x Fantastic Man window display at Browns East shop in Shoreditch, London. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
On how social media affect both designers and buyers.
Holli Rogers: “As Ida said, we want to stand behind this new generation of young designers, not only in London, but globally. In this context, the Internet has been a fantastic resource for finding new talents. Instagram, especially, allows you to find designers and brands that you would have otherwise never discovered. And it also encourages designers to think out of the box and question themselves. In the pre-digital age, designers would mainly focus on their product; today, Instagram allows them to portray and promote their brand like never before. However, from a sales perspective, we want to be very careful with the use and eventually abuse of Instagram for e-commerce purposes, because I think that it completely goes away from why people love it to start with. We'd rather use social media channels as research and inspiration platforms.”
Ida Petersson: "The Internet has definitely changed the way we find talent, but our buying strategy has not changed. I think the strength of Instagram today is that it allows young designers and independent brands to portray who they are and what they stand for with a minimal financial investment. As buyers, we have so much more choice now than we ever had before – we are literally flooded with young talent from all around the world. The challenge today is to actually be able to discover, select, and support the designers of tomorrow. Sometimes it's a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, but I don't mind that. The extensive search is absolutely worth it.”
On digital technologies and how they benefit in-store fashion retail.
Holli Rogers: "At Browns East, we already have new technologies that help the customers through their journey and make them find what they want. We call it a multi-channel approach: sometimes customers are inspired by products they see on our brownsfashion.com website, so we give them the opportunity to actually select what they want online and set up an appointment in one of our stores (ed.: Browns on South Molton Street in Mayfair or Browns East in Shoreditch) to try on everything they've booked in. This online customer journey can happen for them, whenever and wherever they want it to happen, and it can be translated into an actual, real-life experience. The combination of both the e-commerce platform and the activity in our stores is essential to our customers today and has great potential to evolve further."
On reinventing Browns' iconic flagship store.
Holli Rogers: "We just like to disrupt ourselves and challenge everybody's perception of what Browns is. I knew that the decision to mark our 50th anniversary by closing our original store and reopening Browns on Brook Street next summer would be met with a lot of pushback. So many people are so tied to Browns' original space, but the area where our original store is set has changed and evolved, and so have we. My role is to look at the big picture and to define where we want to be in the next fifty years. This needs to be in a different space for a variety of reasons. Mostly, because we want to improve our customer journey outside of the traditional retail model, and engage them in different ways by hosting creative projects and events – which is something that the current store's space and architecture doesn't allow us to do. We want a physical space that meets our digital needs."
Ida Petersson: "In the future, brick-and-mortar stores can only survive if they captivate the customer's attention and inspire them. Browns East has been an amazing experience to us because we've managed to engage the consumer in a way that goes beyond the simple fact of coming into a store and buying something – and we ultimately want to be able to do that for the Mayfair customer as well."
Inside Browns East's shop in Shoreditch, London. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
On what it takes for brick-and-mortar stores to engage their customers.
Holli Rogers: "You have to give your customers a good reason to go into the store – you can't just be another store with stuff hanging on rails. You need to immerse your customer in a cultural lifestyle concept, in something creative and valuable that goes beyond retail itself – which is why the customer and VIP journey is very important. You also need to take into account your store's interior design and architecture and how it interacts with both the customers and the products. At Browns East, our floor fixtures are mobile and can, therefore, be completely reconfigured, which means that we can change our store's interior design every 3 or 4 weeks, as we please, and make sure that our image and creative direction is never stagnant. Most companies are not willing to invest in mobile interiors, but for me, it was really important that we could be unrestrained, free, and creative in our way of presenting ourselves. Today, people are not interested in products only; they want experiences and feelings. The only way to achieve this, and meet their expectations, is by being authentic to who you are and taking care of people."
On how sustainability will influence the future of retail
Holli Rogers: "Creating and supporting a circular economy is very important to us. A year ago, we initiated an on-going collaboration with a company called Armarium, which looks at the lifecycle of a product by offering runway looks and luxury ready-to-wear for rent. We did a few events with them, where we gave them part of our stock to rent before the mark-down period because looking at and exploring other, more sustainable ways of consumption is essential to us."