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Decoded Fashion: Decoded.

Stylitics was privileged to speak at the Decoded Fashion Conference at the hyper glam Lincoln Center on Monday.  As part of the close-knit fashion-tech community, we got the inside scoop from the brightest in the biz and want to take this opportunity to share some of our takeaways with you!

The Decoded Fashion Conference, presented by Tecna Media and Lincoln Center, was the first of its kind to bring together innovators and tastemakers in two of the most dynamic industries: fashion and technology.  With highlights including speakers Rebecca Minkoff, David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, Andy Dunn of Bonobos, and our very own CEO and Co-founder, Rohan Deuskar, it was a truly inspiring day with some of the most successful, game-changing companies in the industry and some of the best street-style I’ve seen on a Monday morning to date. 

Founder Liz Bacelar sought to create a forum in which the best and brightest in fashion and technology could connect with entrepreneurs and startups who are pushing the innovation envelope and building the platforms that will drive retailers’ bottom lines.  The buzzwords of the day were social engagement, curated content, and data.  So I strapped on my heels and ordered my (skim) latte and braced myself for an eye-opening day.

Is it fashion without fur and a mocha?  The short answer: no. Sadly this is not me in the picture; I left my fur at home.  Photo c/o Social Media News NY.

“Social media should be personal.  If it seems like you’re trying to sell something, it won’t work.” – Rebecca Minkoff

After attendees settled in to the sprawling Alice Tully Hall with their various iterations of java, the conference started with a discussion on content-driven commerce with panelists Rebecca Minkoff, Carla Dunham, the director of Social Media at Saks, Amy Cole of Instagram, and Noah Brier, co-founder of Percolate.  Saks is known for their amazing shoe floor, and Carla Dunham represented the brand well in a pair of unrivaled metallic heels that I decided I must promptly own.  The panelists agreed that, while social engagement doesn’t always drive conversion directly, the consumer will remember the relationships they have cultivated with a brand via social media when they go to make a buying decision. 

Rebecca Minkoff has been somewhat of a pioneer in her use of social media with her Minkette blog.  The blog was inspired by bloggers who had dubbed themselves “Minkettes” and has served as a major platform to foster blogger relationships and tell her product story.  She spoke about a 360 degree approach to social media, in which someone wears her product and she then blogs, tweets, and Instagrams it.  While very grassroots, this type of approach drives intimate consumer engagement, which translates into closer ties to the brand.  I have to admit, I was a bit starstruck during this panel and had to resist the urge to ask Carla who made her shoes and announce irreverently that I was, in fact, carrying a Rebecca Minkoff bag…

iPhone moment: Attendees stay current on their big 5 social media channels. Photo c/o Social Media News NY.

Later, designers Stacey Bendet (in an adorable belted dress with a printed purple skirt and Peter Pan collar), Nicole Miller, and Deborah Lloyd of Kate Spade agreed that the key to social media lies in telling a consistent story via the many channels you have available, while at the same time matching the content to your medium.  Consensus was also reached on the fact that you really do need to be on all mediums, especially the “big 5” (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest).  This led to general anxiety and Deborah Lloyd admitting that she tries to vacation in places that don’t have cell reception… I hear you.  

Noah of Percolate refers to juggling all of these platforms as balancing your stock and flow.  Stock, in this case, refers to the big pieces of media: the blog posts, videos, photos, things that will be around 30 days from now.  Flow is the everyday, the tweets, the Instagrams, the Facebook updates, that make consumers feel connected on a real-time level.  The challenge is achieving a balance while telling a consistent story.  And the key to a great story is authenticity.  Melisa Goldie, Chief Creative Officer at Calvin Klein, said it best: a consumer today is more likely to avoid a brand that claims perfection in favor of one with a little more controversy.  To prove this point, she flashed a flawless picture of a half-naked man wearing Calvin Klein boxer briefs on the screen.  This was my personal highlight of the conference…

As an aside, this panel won the best-dressed award for the day in my book.  Image tweeted by @CeciliaNY

As if the big 5 weren’t enough, other media outlets, most notably video, have allowed retailers to reach a new level of consumer engagement.  Videos are no longer purely for entertainment; rather, companies like WireWax allow customers to click through from videos to purchase product directly from retailers, sometimes achieving a click through rate as high as 58% (this might be because viewers were prompted to click on a model in a bikini, but we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt!).  Others, like StyleHaul, aggregate fashion and beauty videos on the web, allowing consumers to access beauty and fashion advice from real people offering more authentic, trusted content.  Increasing the interactivity doubles the time people spend on videos, and allowing them to buy directly from video maximizes conversion.

The fashion elite check in. Photo c/o Social Media News NY.

“In three to four years, the consumer is going to expect an extremely personalized, curated experience.” – Rohan Deuskar, Stylitics

Daniel Saynt moderated a panel on social curation, which turned out to be the buzzword of the day.  Moral of the story?  Curation used to be an exclusive dictatorship.   Today, everyone can play, and everyone can win.  

Founder and CEO of Tumblr, David Karp, deftly dressed in a suit, a skinny tie, and some white kicks, noted that, while Tumblr is ultimately a creative platform, it has amassed a large community of curators who filter this original content, allowing the creators to draw a much larger audience.  This trend of curation has clearly carried over into the fashion and retail arena.

From enlisting celebrities and stylists to curate content on sites like Ahalife or Feyt to using a crowdsourcing model to curate content from fellow users like Buyosphere, it’s all about cutting through the clutter and delivering what the consumer wants in the quickest way possible.  E-commerce has shifted from search-based purchasing to recommendation-based purchasing, essentially influencing consumers to buy things they didn’t initially realize they needed (which is great news for my wallet).  

Great minds sit alike. Photo c/o Social Media News NY.

“Analytics are a new ‘superpower’ to be embraced by retailers.” – Rohan Deuskar, Stylitics

Another significant Decoded theme was the importance of data, not just for retailers, but for consumers as well, and establishing the connection between this data and actual sales results.  Rohan, CEO and co-founder of Stylitics, said that the “willingness of consumers to share more has opened up doors.  Analytics are a new ‘superpower’ to be embraced by retailers.”   Lilly Berelovich, President of Fashion Snoops, emphasized that consumers, too, are using this data to figure out what to buy.  ”It’s no longer a crystal ball,” she says.   Geoff Watts, co-founder of Editd, says the burden has shifted to the retailer to react to what the customer is demanding.  In essence, the retailer now has the ability to know exactly what the customer wants, and the customer expects to get it.  However, providing preference data isn’t enough; it’s about tracking action, and how these actions translate into sales.  

In addition to personal style data, sizing data is playing an important role, especially when it comes to e-commerce.  Companies like Clothes Horse use a customer’s basic measurements coupled with an algorithm to make specific sizing recommendations in hopes of minimizing online returns.  Vik Venkatraman of Clothes Horse says “there are going to be a lot of ways for people to discover great product; however, discovery isn’t enough - you need to know if the clothes will fit.”

The Crystal Ball Approach to Consumer Behavior, featuring our very own Rohan Deuskar, 2nd from left and lost in thought.

“The company may own the copyright, but they can’t exclusively own the brand.” – Melisa Goldie, Calvin Klein

All of these real-time analytics beg the question, though, of what will happen to the creative process and the traditional runway model.  By the end of the discussion, panelists were questioning the relationship between designers, buyers, media, bloggers, and data, and whether the traditional Fashion Week will cease to exist.  The crowd was up in arms at the mere suggestion.

This model fell even further into question when the conversation shifted to consumer-powered design and the changing role of the consumer in the creative process.  Companies like Stylyt are allowing customers to participate in the creative process, letting them customize virtual items and then manufacturing them as limited edition pieces.  Nina Cherny, co-founder of Stylyt, says that involvement in the design process is a way to engage with consumers and gauge what they will actually like and buy. The concept of consumer-influenced designed made some of the designers nervous.  Ari Goldberg of Stylecaster, however, said that co-creation and collaborative design is the future, and brands that understand what consumers want are the ones who will still be around a year from now.  

As Melisa of Calvin Klein puts it, in an era of social media, the company may own the copyright, but they can’t exclusively own the brand.  Panelists agreed that the next collections won’t be influenced by the latest movies or celebrities, but very possibly by a popular Pinterest board.  (Which very well could be ours!  Are you following Stylitics on Pinterest?)

“I like to change behavior, not human nature.”

After an exclusive networking lunch peppered with scintillating conversation on topics that will change the face of retail as we know it (that occurred while I was relegated to the public dining room downstairs, unfortunately), a final theme emerged: bridging the gap between online and offline shopping.  Trying on a garment increases a customer’s likelihood of buying it by 6 times, but every second between the time the buying decision is made and the point of purchase decreases the likelihood that the transaction will take place.  New technologies designed to streamline checkout are further cutting out the human element of shopping, while still enabling customers to have the tactile buying experience.  In-store kiosks allowing customers to shop online from the store, tablets that enable customers to purchase directly from the dressing room, and Mobibucks, which allows customers to pay directly from their mobile phones, all seek to minimize this lag.  As one panelist put it, these technologies aim to “change human behavior, not human nature,” by getting customers from decision to payment as fast as possible.

Sporting sequins. Photo c/o Social Media News NY.

In closing, while engagement, curation, and data are clearly the future, you can’t have a sustainable business without authenticity and a great product.  According to Rebecca Minkoff, “social media should be personal.  If it seems like you’re trying to sell something, it won’t work.”  The role of technology is becoming increasingly important in the retail landscape, as two important groups of tastemakers from the fashion and technology industries join forces.  The Decoded Fashion Conference was merely a preview of the exciting collaborations, technologies, and products that will govern the future of retail, and we feel honored and excited to have taken part.

By the end of the conference, all attendees came to the consensus that we had solved the world’s problems and it was time for cocktail hour.  Because, as Daniel Saynt put it, “it isn’t fashion without an after party.”

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