Fashion retailers need to learn from tech companies and embrace failure

As Senior Editor on WGSN’s Retail Intelligence team  I spend a lot of time looking at fashion innovation and smart retailers.

One thing I’ve noticed a lot recently is how smart fashion brands are increasingly taking tips from the tech and start up industry on how to evolve, particularly around e-commerce, mobile and the means by which they get their product to the customer. But almost as important, is taking on the mindset of these companies.

Start-ups pivot, design iteratively, they test and learn, and when things do not work, it’s not failure, it’s just one option that has now been ruled out.

Speaking recently at the Fash Tech Summit in London, the co-founder of app Grabble, Daniel Murray said: “We have to be comfortable making mistakes,” and that it has a hiccups channel within the business, where it notes the mistakes that have been made as the app develops and evolves, embracing the lessons learned from them.

Meanwhile, at Google, Pia Stanchina, the search giant’s industry manager for digital Acceleration: Fashion & Luxury Retail, says that businesses should “embrace failure”.

Failure is scary and the prospect of it can be paralyzing, but as fashion cycles continue to gather pace and technology rapidly evolves, embracing failure as part of the development cycle is going to be central to keeping up.

In design, some brands across the fashion industry are doing this. For example, Zara designs iteratively across the course of a season, evolving (rather than repeating) its successes to create a sense of newness in store, creating smaller runs and more frequent drops.

But for this sort of strategy to be successful on a broader business basis, retail leaders need to create a culture of innovation, and manage the business for the future, not just on a quarterly basis. That means accepting that lots of projects will have zero return for a number of years, but that the future of your business depends on it.

As we look this week at the collapse of a number of UK high street stalwarts, this kind of thinking has never been more essential.

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Check out: Petah’s article on tech, the future of retail and app algorithms here.

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