FEI Hosts Future of Fashion
Babson’s Fashion Entrepreneurial Initiative (FEI) is a group of Babson students and community members involved in the fashion industry who aim to identify action steps to create economic and social value. Last month, FEI hosted its second-annual “Future of Fashion” panel in which representatives of well-known international companies discussed upcoming innovation in the fashion industry. The esteemed panel included Karen Lyon, VP of Marketing for Life is Good; Lisa Penn, Consultant, Wolverine Worldwide; Kohei Kubota, Managing Director, Baycrews Co. Ltd.; and Kyle Garry MBA ‘06, Divisional Vice President and Merchandise Manager, TJX. Each panel member began the session by presenting a short background on themselves and the companies they represent.
Lyon: Life is Good was started by two brothers in Needham, Massachusetts. They wanted to create a business selling t-shirts to college students across the east coast. They were disappointed by all the negativity in the world, which led to their decision to spread the power of optimism. Life is Good spreads optimism through art and donates 10% of net profits to the Life is Good Kids Foundation. Life is Good targets two key consumer demographics. The first is our “Heritage Consumer,” who is 45 years or older and is loyal to the brand because they grew up with it. The second is our “Core Optimist,” who is 18-24, college-educated and may be starting a family. The company builds a community of optimism via the hashtag “#ThisisOptimism,” which customers have been excited to engage with.
Kubota: I am very honored to be here. I am in my second year of Babson’s 2-year MBA program and have worked in fashion for 15 years. I work for my family’s business, Baycrew’s. This is where I started my career and where I have gained experience with international buying. Our target market is upper-middle-class Japanese women in their late 20’s to early 50’s who are focused on fashion. Our price is upscale, so our company’s mission is to constantly provide new value to customers through products and services.
Garry: TJX is the world’s leading off-price retailer. I specifically work for the Marshall’s and TJMaxx divisions as a Merchandise Manager. TJX is a very global company with buying offices worldwide. We want to bring customers the latest fashion. Our target market is upper-middle-class women in their 30’s or 40’s who love the “treasure hunt” that our stores provide. Our core customer visits our stores multiple times a week. We currently have 3,800 stores and aim to reach 5,000 worldwide in the coming years.
Penn: I have been in the fashion industry my entire life. My family owns a third-generation premium footwear and apparel business, which I started working at when I was 12. I was a consumer studies major at Syracuse University. After college, I worked in advertising and marketing for Rockport, Reebok, and Timberland. I was a Regional Manager at Timberland before I realized I wanted to do product management. I worked as the Director of Product for Stride Rite Children’s Group until 2014, and have served as a consultant for Wolverine Worldwide since.
Professor Caroline Daniels, who hosted the event, then asked each panelist a question.
Daniels: Babson students can conceptualize, innovate, and take action. We keep reading about the struggles facing retail, but each company represented here is in the growth phase. What do you see in the future? Where are the empty spaces? Where are you headed?
Lyon: Growth comes from new product categories, and distribution is key to building brand awareness. E-commerce significantly grows each year. We’re always looking for more distribution opportunities, including smaller retail stores in the United States and globally. It is interesting how Life is Good hasn’t changed as a brand- the market came to us. More and more people want to wear products that reflect who they are. Another opportunity for us is licensing- bringing in a licensed partner that has contacts and distribution in a new category, such as college and beach apparel, eyewear, and greeting cards. The brand uses different art styles to appeal to various markets, but the message stays simple and positive.
Daniels: Baycrew’s is jumping into e-commerce, which deals a lot with analytics. How are you figuring out what customers are thinking and how are you collecting the information?
Kubota: Consumer behavior has changed a lot over the last decades. Sometimes, consumers know more about the market than fashion companies do. Many of Baycrew’s customers have already captured what they want and therefore only purchase what they need. Our company was founded 40 years ago and has matured with the market. People really love fashion in Japan. They need personalization of products, such as the ability to choose styles and colors. Personalized coordination is next for us. For example, if a customer needs a t-shirt, the salesperson will recommend a matching trouser or cardigan. Having an employee develop a great, coordinated outfit will be satisfying for the customer.
Daniels: TJX is growing at a rapid rate. It’s not a commodity business; your buyers must really be good. What is your secret sauce? Do you have massive amounts of customer data?
Garry: Our business model is based on flexibility. Typical department stores have a long lead time and they try to predict the future. We hold onto money as long as possible to see what customers react to before putting merchandise in our stores. It’s kind of like getting answers before the test. We focus less on individual customer data and more at what people really want at the time. It’s an intersection of art and science. Our value proposition is that we sell the same brands as department stores for 20-60% off. The good news is that value is always in style. Our model works whether business is good or bad. It’s really the people on our team that make it great.
Daniels: What do you see coming down the pipeline? There has been a lot of innovation in footwear.
Penn: Simple color and style customization is already popular with brands including Nike and Converse, but there are growing opportunities in true customization, such as how a product fits. People have walked away from the importance of fit, but it’s the big white space in customization. This area is difficult to scale to a wide audience, so not many retailers have done it yet. ThirdLove, a bra company, uses an app to measure customers to make sure they get the right size. In footwear, there are several tech companies working on apps that will 3D model shoes onto your feet so you can figure out the correct size to order. Beyond that, everyone wants to be closer to the market. It comes back to your company’s business model. It’s a large undertaking to shorten development lead time, but will be helpful in the future to get products to customers fast.
Thank you to Karen Lyon, Lisa Penn, Kohei Kubota, and Kyle Garry for taking the time to speak on campus, and the FEI for planning this great event!
Interested in FEI or have a suggestion for future events? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!