September 28, 2022

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Fashion Briefing: Facilitating values-led shopping is the new retail standard

This week’s briefing looks at retailers’ answers to the rise of values-driven shopping. Plus:

E-tailer Maison de Mode launched in 2015 to exclusively sell “ethical” luxury fashion, based on specific criteria. And Thirteen Lune came to market in 2020 to be a source of products by Black and brown founders. 

That’s just a sampling of the shopping platforms that now make it easy to vote with your dollars, so to speak. And the space is getting increasingly crowded, in a good way. 

On Wednesday, Neiman Marcus released its first environmental social governance report. Among included targets is a promise by the company to increase its revenue from the sale of sustainable and ethical products by 2025. A key to doing so will be two new “sustainability edits” offered through Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, dubbed “Fashioned for Change” and “Conscious Curation,” respectively. Included products must meet set criteria within one of five attributes, including sustainable materials and responsible manufacturing. 

Independent of an established retailer, Barcelona-based Ethical Clothing launched in the U.S. and Canada early this month. The 3-year-old sustainable fashion search engine by entrepreneurs Ben Heinkel and Jack Hesketh sells nearly 100 brands under an affiliate model. Its goal is to be the “Lyst of ethical fashion,” said Hesketh. At the same time, the founders aim to strike the notion that “ethical brands aren’t the most fashionable,” he said. Currently, Lyst doesn’t offer a filter-by-values tool of any kind. 

For its part, buy-now, pay-later service Klarna launched a Sustainable Collections category on its popular shopping app in early February. The idea was to offer a curation of sustainable fashion brands meeting collaborator Good On You’s set criteria. It was driven by increasing consumer demand, according to the company. 

It has the data to back that up: Klarna’s June 2021 Reopening Report showed that 35% of consumers in the U.S. place sustainability in their top-five considerations when shopping. That number grew to 48% for Gen Zers. And the company’s January 2022 Luxury Report showed that 67% of Gen-Z and millennial consumers consider luxury brands’ sustainability practices when shopping with them. 

Google is also meeting demand by serving up values-based filters. According to the company, global searches for “Black-owned shops” grew by 9x in 2021, compared to 2020. It’s now offering businesses the option to identify as Black-owned, Latino-owned, Woman-owned and Veteran-owned on Google Shopping. And consumers can filter their Shopping searches accordingly. Google plans to expand its tools facilitating values-based shopping, according to the company. 

Likewise, Microsoft Bing launched its Ethical Hub in December. And Amazon launched a Climate Pledge Friendly program, offering similar guidance for conscious consumers, in 2020. 

But pulling off these programs is no easy feat. For example, on-boarding brands to the Ethical Clothing platform is a manual process, Hesketh said; because greenwashing is prevalent, verifying brands’ claims is necessary. 

Currently, the company only makes money on the sales of 10% of its assortment, as many featured brands don’t offer affiliate commission. The aim is to eventually win them over as an official partner, based on sales data. 

Ethical Clothing currently hosts a 12-question quiz on its site, dubbed the Fashion Footprint Calculator. It tallies how one’s current shopping behavior impacts the planet, indirectly pointing them to the platform’s sustainable options. 

For the next two months, Ethical Clothing will focus on improving its SEO in the U.S., before the founders go on to fundraise in the fall. Funding research-style content and an influencer marketing program is among their priorities moving forward.  

According to Stephanie Horton, director of marketing for commerce at Google, demand for brands reflecting consumer values will only get higher. 

“Just as new modes of shopping – like omnichannel, for instance – have proven their staying power, so have behaviors like values-driven shopping,” she said. “Consumers are increasingly aligning their shopping habits with their values, considering a business’s mission, vision and impact before buying with them.”

The significance of the Miu Miu mini skirt

On Monday, during its full-year 2021 results presentation, Prada Group spotlighted Miu Miu’s ”high visibility marketing and communications” for the year, which were “coherent with the brand DNA.” 

It offered three examples of this in a slideshow. Among them was the brand’s 2022 ad campaign featuring Hailey Bieber wearing the brand’s now-notorious crop top and micro-mini skirt set. Compared to the brand’s spring 2021 campaign, it saw an 8.3% higher engagement rate, according to Prada. The viral mini skirt itself was a second example. It was called “the most in-demand item of the collection,” with “outstanding visibility in media exposure and celebrities.” Prada also acknowledged the “dedicated independent fan pages and social media accounts” that have sprouted up for the style. 

Among those accounts is @miumiuset on Instagram, which has 4,400 followers. It’s so far posted 68 examples of celebrities, models and influencers wearing the look. They include Nicole Kidman on the March 2022 cover of Vanity Fair and Lara Stone shot for Vogue Czechoslovakia. 

According to fashion shopping app Lyst, demand for mini skirts on the platform is at a three-year high, and it currently sees 900 searches a day specifically for the Miu Miu skirt. Among the style’s pop culture moments, Paloma Elsesser’s i-D magazine cover for spring 2022 has spurred the biggest spike in searches. After its release in late February, Lyst saw a 127% jump in shoppers browsing Miu Miu on its app. 

“Luxury fashion houses have been paying close attention to the popularity of the Y2K aesthetic among fashion shoppers and TikTok users, and Miu Miu’s ability to incorporate elements of nostalgia in its spring 2022 collection paid off,” said Camilla Clarkson, communications director at Lyst. “The skirt’s influence has only grown stronger among fashion consumers.”

It’s certainly a throwback look. On Wednesday, fashion-focused Instagram account @vogueandchocolate posted a runway shot from Isaac Mizrahi’s spring 1994 show, in which Kate Moss is wearing a just-as-short pleated mini. 

Miu Miu’s sold-out style that originally retailed for $950 is now selling on Grailed for $2,400. And fast-fashion brands have wasted no time in recreating the look. Fashion Nova’s version is now on sale for $20.99. 

What could prove good news is that, comparatively for a steal, fans can get in on the look via a $194 pair of underwear. Miu Miu’s nude-hued logo patch briefs are a key component of the look, shown peek-a-booing out from the low-slung skirt in brand imagery. They’ve been spotted throughout fashion month, including paired with trousers. However, at the moment, they too are sold out. 

Clarkson compared the hoopla around the mini skirt to JW Anderson’s crochet cardigan that “took TikTok by storm a couple of years ago and played into the cultural movement of craft and crochet.”

“What is especially important here is Miu Miu’s ability to speak authentically to a variety of different groups of fashion lovers, while being strongly rooted in culture and playing into the mood of the moment,” she said. 

4 questions: Banana Republic president and CEO Sandra Stangl on BR Athletics

On Wednesday, Banana Republic rolled out a gender-inclusive category dubbed BR Athletics. It’s the retailer’s second category launch in three weeks, following its debut of BR Baby. 

BR Athletics’ name is somewhat misleading. Rather than leggings and sports bras, which “mall brands” are increasingly adding to their inventory, BR Athletics is centered on preppy pieces with influences from streetwear and classic country club attire. Monograms and varsity patches decorate styles like cricket sweaters and varsity cardigans. Together, the pieces call to mind Ralph Lauren, but also Brooklyn Circus. Brooks Brothers, but Rowing Blazers and Aime Leon Dore, too.  

Sandra Stangl, president and CEO of Banana Republic, shared the strategy behind the new line.

Why is this collection a fit for Banana Republic and your customer?
“We continue to spend a lot of time connecting with the desires of our customers, understanding what they love about the brand. And we’re seeking out exciting new avenues that will establish [us] as a premier lifestyle brand that’s inclusive and approachable, while at the same time remaining true to a certain spirit of irreverence and daring. BR Athletics is a realization of this approach.”

What’s behind the recent category additions, including baby?
“Both BR Baby and BR Athletics seek to mix the mainstream with the unexpected and deliver elevated, thoroughly modern lifestyle collections. We approached both lines by examining what made Banana Republic successful in the first place — taking the things that people already know and have nostalgia for, and framing them in new ways that feel fresh.”

For BR Baby, we wanted to evoke a whimsical and adventurous spirit, with pieces featuring playful animal prints, fantastical maps and illustrated palm trees. [The line] represents a clear vision of the brand today, committed to designs that are inclusive, crafted with sustainability in mind and made to last.”

How will you market the BR Athletics collection?
“In-store will be an immersive shop-in-shop experience; customers will step into a green ‘clubhouse room,’ immersing themselves within the look and feel of the collection. Digitally, [via desktop], mobile and app, [there is] a dedicated shop with large-scale imagery. And we have some exciting custom content development coming soon. The campaign images were shot by renowned photographer Micaiah Carter, who’s worked with luxury brands and publications including Vogue and Vanity Fair.”

How is Banana Republic responding to the evolution of workwear?
“It comes down to understanding the desire to let go of conventions and embrace a level of play and imagination, as the concept of ‘work’ continues to evolve. It’s a dynamic – a tension [of] the tailored with the casual, the suit pant and the denim jacket, a relaxed silhouette like a jogger paired with a heel. This is the new way to dress: always put together, but not always so classic and serious.”

Inside Cynthia Rowley’s summer 2022 dinner-slash-content creation machine

On the evening of March 10, I showed up at Lotte New York Palace’s Villard Ballroom at 6:30 p.m. for a mysterious event the e-vite simply described as “Cynthia Rowley presents a Musical (chairs).” 

“To participate, we’d like to dress you for the occasion followed by dinner at 7:30,” it also stated. 

What I discovered upon entry was what I’d only describe as a feast for the eyes. The ballroom featured two long dining rooms overflowing with dramatic candelabras, decadent cakes (which Rowley later told me were fake, ordered from Pretty Shitty Cakes on Etsy), colorful place settings and bouquets from NYC florist McQueens Flowers. A male violinist wearing Cynthia Rowley pajamas played between them, and chairs facing out circled them. 

Joining me were 80 or so other guests, including Rowley’s daughter, Kit Keenan, a former “The Bachelor” contestant who has 370,000 Instagram followers, and Chelsea Vaughn (120,000 followers), from the same “Bachelor” season. I also spotted Kate Bartlett, who has 1.2 million followers on TikTok, where she documents her life as an NYC fashion student. And I met a Teen Vogue reporter from Forbes editor, who became my dinner companions. 

“You create a beautiful environment, and you invite fun, exciting people, and then you just let the magic happen,” Rowley later said of the strategy, which she’s mastered via other activations. For example, she promotes her surf collection via regular “surf camp” influencer trips to Montauk.

A photographer roamed the room taking snaps, while a drone circled overhead, capturing video. “But some of the best, most beautiful shots were from the guests,” Rowley said.

The event has already been covered by WWD, and Goop will be “doing a little something, too,” Rowley said. 

Each attendee wore a unique Cynthia Rowley look – around 60 were samples from a collection launching in the summer. For me, Rowley chose a pink shift mini-dress with trompe l’oeil bows down the center. It was important to give people free rein to style their look, particularly as some of the attendees are known for their great fashion sense, Rowley said.

The event was originally slated for New York Fashion Week, but Rowley decided to hold off due to Omicron variant concerns. Even so, she stressed that it was not meant to be a substitute for a seasonal runway show. 

“We launch a new product every week, so there’s always an excuse to do something,” Rowley said. “You could call this a show, a presentation, a dinner – we’re just doing events and gatherings. And I never like to do things traditionally.” 

Prior to dinner, attendees played a game of musical chairs, as a DJ spun upbeat music. Influencers walking around the room no doubt resulted in imagery akin to models walking a runway. Rowley hinted that she plans to replicate the “Musical (chairs)” event in other cities. 

Up next, the brand is hosting an event in Marfa, Texas, followed by another event in May, then surf camps in July and August. Then it’s back to a runway show. “We always do a huge outdoor show in September,” Rowley said.  

Co-founder Fenco Lin on Cider’s new unicorn status and Curve collection

DTC fashion brand Cider has a unique ability to both engage and convert a community, which has worked to fast-track its growth since its launch in 2020. 

The Hong Kong- and Los Angeles-based company has already amassed 2.7 million Instagram followers, plus it has a top-20-downloaded free shopping app on Apple and engages with 2,400 Discord members, which it calls InCider BFFs. 

“We have a dedicated Discord following that we amplify across all social channels,” said Fenco Lin, co-founder of Cider. “We consider ourselves a Gen-Z whisperer. We’re able to launch fun and engaging projects by collecting community suggestions for [everything from] T-shirt slogans and product names to sizing.” 

Along with its social-first approach, its affordable styles, waste-minimizing pre-order model, and focus on inclusivity and self-expression – in both its marketing and its merchandising – have earned it a cult following among Gen Z. 

In September, the company quietly closed a Series B funding round of $130 million, earning it unicorn status. The round, which was the company’s fourth in a year, was led by DST Global, with participation from Greenoaks Capital and A16Z. It plans to use the funding for brand building, technology innovation – including for manufacturing and data-driven acquisition – and global expansion via e-commerce. It currently sells to consumers in 100 countries. 

Since then, the company has introduced swim and curve product categories. The latter, launched in November, currently features sizes up to 4XL, or 20, “but that’s just the beginning,” Lin said.

In addition, she said the company is dedicating its resources to building out the curve product assortment and is now launching new styles via monthly product drops. Curve currently makes up 10% of Cider’s total inventory, but “we plan to develop this percentage to match our non-curve line,” she said.

Cider is marketing the curve category via influencer and UGC content. It promotes general size inclusivity across its marketing channels through the UGC and models featured, Lin said.

Quoted

“We are applying mid-single-digit price increases to our spring/summer collections. This is not having a negative impact on [sales] volumes.” –Oscar Garcia Maceiras, CEO of Inditex, addressing inflation on the company’s fourth-quarter 2021 earnings call on Wednesday

What we’re reading and hearting

Saks and Kohl’s could soon be sister companies: On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that private-equity firm Sycamore Partners and department-store chain Hudson’s Bay are preparing a takeover bid for Kohl’s for upward of $9 billion. Sycamore owns retailers including Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant and Express, while Hudson’s Bay is under the umbrella of HBC, owner of Saks and Saks Fifth Avenue. Recent efforts by Kohl’s to boost its performance include forging a partnership with Sephora, first announced in December 2020.

Maternity-specific fashion is out: Eleven-year-old Hatch was early to cater to pregnant women seeking an alternative to traditional maternity wear, with its concept of clothes that can be worn before, during and after pregnancy. Now, Rihanna is furthering the notion that being pregnant doesn’t necessitate taking a nine-month break from one’s style. ”I’m not going to buy maternity clothes. I’m not gonna buy maternity pants, jeans [or] dresses, or [do] whatever society told me to do before,” she told Bustle at a launch event for Fenty Beauty at Ulta Beauty on Saturday. At the event, she wore a crop top and maxi skirt from Coperni’s spring 2022 collection. The next day, captioning an image of Rihanna wearing a micro-mini skirt and thigh-high boots, Kim Kardashian posted to her Instagram Stories, “OMGGGGGG @Badgalriri best pregnancy style ever.”

We’re months away from a Telfar store: As reported by Essence, Telfar Clemens revealed on The Breakfast Club radio show on Tuesday that his brand will open its first store, in New York City, this year. The store’s location has not yet been chosen, and Clemens declined to divulge more details – but judging by the speed that Telfar styles sell out, it’s set to attract lines around the block. 

Resolve to embrace (custom) color: Black-on-black is so last year, judging from fashion’s newest campaigns and collections. Teaming with Pantone to develop custom, ultra-vivid hues is an emerging trend: After Tom Brady’s Brady brand introduced Brady Blue in late December, Valentino launched Pink PP (standing for designer Pierpaolo Piccioli) at its Paris Fashion Week show on March 6 – 48 of the brand’s 81 runway looks featured the shade from head to toe. Most recently, on Wednesday, Net-a-Porter rolled out its spring campaign, “Go for bold,” driven by its shoppers’ “appetite for vivid colors across all categories,” according to the luxury retailer. As part of the campaign, creative technologist Ommy Akhe created an AR filter allowing Instagrammers to add a “rainbow haze” in their favorite colors from the campaign to their personal videos.

Inside our coverage

Micro-warehousing is catching on: To answer consumer demand for same-day delivery, brands and retailers are increasingly opening micro-warehouses, or small storage units of select inventory located throughout the cities where they’re offering the service. This has allowed Skims, for example, to deliver a 500-SKU subsection of its product catalog to its L.A.-based customers in under two hours.

Vestiaire Collective is moving in on The RealReal: Announced on Tuesday, French luxury resale company Vestiaire Collective has acquired U.S.-based luxury reseller Tradesy for an undisclosed sum. The deal expands Vestiaire’s U.S. customer base, and puts the company’s valuation and member count head-to-head with that of The RealReal: In 2019, The RealReal’s valuation was $1.7 billion, while Vestiaire Collective just reached that mark. And Vestiaire now has 23 million members, compared to The RealReal’s 24 million. 

Stephanie Horton is making over Google Shopping: The former Farfetch, Alexander Wang and Shopbop exec is now hellbent on making Google Shopping a source of style inspiration, as well as a go-to for shopping transactions – and she’s making progress. “We’ve seen searches for ideas increase by 60% over the last year, which shows that people are turning to Google for more than just: ‘I need to find something right now, quickly,’” Horton said on the latest Glossy Podcast.