The fashion business worldwide is at the cusp of change. Headwinds are coming in from all directions – artificial intelligence and robotics are changing the fashion business model that was largely driven by trends and gut instinct into one driven by algorithms and almost real-time data. The consumer is changing too. The always-connected millennials want instant gratification through the purchase of the latest trends, but equally, they want unique experiences. Just buying more through glitzy retail is passe. The store is increasingly expected to deliver something more. Futurists believe that this will, more and more, be the new retail format where buying will be secondary. Further, millennials are increasingly interested in knowing where products come from. They also seek answers to questions such as: Are the products sustainable? Are they traceable? How much waste is generated by them or in making them? Were fair wages paid to the people who made them? The industry has been hit hard by a slew of campaigns such as #whomademyclothes and many more.
Bestseller is an international, family-owned fashion company with 20 brands including ONLY, Vero Moda and Jack and Jones. Its products are available online and in thousands of stores across the world. The company like all others in the fashion industry is gearing up to tackle these changes. According to Vineet Gautam, “It’s an exciting world. A new wave of innovation is emerging with new materials, artificial intelligence(AI), robotics and 3D printing. Fashion is a trend driven industry and trends are largely a function of instinct. AI will turn that around on its head, by predicting trends and estimating how long the trend will last.”
With technology driving the changes in the fashion sector, the need for new products that help create platforms is essential. In comparison to the tech industry where tech is continuously evolving, fashion trends and the sheer volume of products is at a completely different level. Every year Bestseller manufactures 250 million products, many of whom will never be replicated again. In comparison, the tech industry seems almost staid. But when technology and fashion converge to create smart products, for instance jackets that can measure heartbeat or sports-wear that can enhance player performance an ecosystem is needed. Technology products are designed to function with each other, for example an apple watch works with the iPhone, which in-turn also works with iTunes and a multitude of apple devices. A smart jacket would therefore not only need to have new materials that protect the electronics and enable appropriate functionality. This capability with appropriate data protections opens opportunities for new experiences. Further, the smart jacket could need to work with smart shoes, glasses and more. Your smart jacket might even need frequent upgrades too. The fashion model of fast moving trendy goods that can easily be discarded then starts looking unviable when you add technology to the mix.
Bestseller India, which Vineet heads is part of the competitive fashion retail landscape in India. While the fashion sector as a whole has almost doubled in the last few years, the market has also become increasingly unpredictable. Erratic weather, fast-changing customer trends and the rapid entry of newer international brands has made forecasting difficult. At the same time, Bestseller India has grown rapidly because of the company’s ability to attract talent, customer focused approach and the desire to stay agile. Vineet Gautam says, “Retail transformation is for real. What worked for fashion in the past may not necessarily work in the future. In times of change agility matters, but what is also key is the ability to skill people faster in new ways and new techniques. With experiences taking centre-stage knowledge about customers, newer experiences and an alignment to causes will drive the definition of value. We can no longer be just about products, we have to be about people, platforms and game-changing innovation. That’s our promise to ourselves and our customers”
Based on a discussion with Vineet Gautam, CEO and Country Head, BESTSELLER India