What Challenger Brands can steal from Fashion

Triona O'Brien

The fashion and apparel industry is expected to be marked by double-digit sales growth by 2020 driven by an expanding global market. Yet established fashion brands and retailers have never been under more threat. Factors like declining barriers to entry, technology that evens out of the playing field and online distribution channels like Amazon all contribute to squeezing margins for those who hold a traditional inventory position.

Death of the brand?

In an age and an industry characterised by fickle and near instant changes in consumer taste and preference, the threat of the death of brand loyalty looms large. For those who lack agility due to legacy assets, processes and bureaucracies, the future is uncertain.

Established brands might be best advised to reinvent themselves to keep up with innovative start-ups who are redefining customer expectations.

Take Start Today for example, who recently launched the fashion brand, Zozo. What they sell is average enough - inexpensive jeans and t-shirts - but how they sell it is radical and innovative.

Zozosuits Image

It all starts with their patented Zozosuit - a bodysuit covered in more than 300 stretchable markers - which is sent out to consumers for free. Once you’ve put it on and measured yourself with the Zozo app, algorithms process all the data to determine the precise fit of your clothes.

New consumer expectations

Jeans and t-shirts have never felt so snug. “The time where people adapt to clothing is over,” Yusaku Maezawa, Start Today’s founder and CEO, said in a press conference. “This is the new era where clothes adapt to people.”

Yusaku makes an interesting point. Fashion might not just be bringing the latest trends to the catwalks, maybe as an industry it’s heralding a new level of expectation from your average consumer.

Technology is a key driver here, with virtual fitting rooms, AI virtual shopping assistants, voice-powered shopping, visual search, and smart speakers all starting to crowd the market. The consumer experience, and evolving new norms, are raising the bar with increasing frequency.



Tech in fashion

Unsurprisingly, the tech giants are circling. Google have teamed up with Levis (and Intel with Hussein Chalayan) to explore the opportunities in smartwear. Fabrics with circuitry and sensing capabilities woven into their fibres that could turn human bodies into dispersed computers. The idea is that you’ll then be able to swipe and tap the fabric to do things like control music or get directions.



Anything is possible. With smartwear. Take the gaze activated dress for example. Yes, this dress knows when you’re looking at it. Embedded with eye-tracking technology, the dress responds to the human gaze. Staring at this dress activates tiny motors which moves certain parts of it in a glow-in-the-dark kinda way. It’s as weird as it is compelling, and it’s only just baby steps into where this could go.

DNA in your jeans

Innovations in smartwear have the potential to rival the smartphone revolution. Additionally, biotech is introducing new materials to market that will transform the manufacturing process. Instead of stitching clothes together with needle and thread, by 2025 a garment could be grown in the laboratory with DNA.

Digitally induced new norms

Marks & Spencer is an example of an established brand currently reinventing themselves, having recently partnered with True, the retail innovation and investment firm, in a bid to drive the retailer’s transition to being a ‘digital-first’ business. True’s business model will allow the retailer to access the latest innovative technologies and expertise from within the sector that can best support its digital ambitions.

True COO Mike Tattersall added: “Marks and Spencer exemplifies a business that has not only helped shape the British retail landscape, but understands the need to evolve – and the importance of innovation to achieve this.”

Marks and Spencer chief executive Steve Rowe said in a press statement: “Our partnership with True will give us unparalleled access to the latest innovations and technologies that have the potential to transform the way we operate and run our business.


If partnerships interest you, walk this way to a recent blog we wrote on this very subject. For bonus points, download this - Brand Love: When Opposites Attract.



No one size fits all solution

Fashion brands feel the need for reinvention more than most. To keep up with evolving consumer new norms, reports suggest 25% of retailers globally will adopt online Try-Before-You-Buy schemes by 2019.

While this model meets evolving consumer demands and encourages sales, there is a downside - it is threatening to overwhelm retailers with a huge surge of international returns that undermine profits. As Derek O’Carroll, CEO of Brightpearl, puts it, “Consumers will buy more, but retailers must be ready for a potential flood of returns. With shoppers indicating that they could return an extra three items a month on average, it could spell an unmanageable tsunami of returns for some merchants.”

Reinvention runs through the DNA of the Fashion industry. Standing still in this industry will set your further and further behind. From Coco Chanel reclaiming sombre funeral wear with the original “little black dress” as the height of fashion in the 1920s, to embracing the excesses of the avant-garde movement, and through to today’s smartwear and digital first experiences - the world of fashion is always on the cusp of revolution.


But what of other industries?

Are raised consumer expectations - new norms - coming to an industry near you sooner than you think? How will your brand adapt? And before you tackle that, will you even recognise the signs in time to do anything about it?

Rather than think of it as a threat, if you are a challenger brand, reinvention could be your opportunity. Established brands have numerous advantages over challengers. They can lean on their name recognition, customer bases, and (currently) stable revenues. However they may be guilty of relying too heavily on the past and not have the appetite, enthusiasm nor agility that challengers and startup teams can bring to the table.

Getting a head start and reinventing your brand to meet the new norms of tomorrow is a high risk/return trade-off but if you get it right, it could have a big time pay off.

If you’re looking for tips on brand reinvention, here’s one we prepared earlier -

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