“They’re not interested in physical anymore, which for us I find very fascinating, for me, physical is not going anywhere. “
It’s a grey day up above us and I’m sat with Rebecca Morter in the below stairs area of the latest Lone Design Club, the pop up and & ecommerce offering that she’s been building over the last few years. We’ve been discussing the changes forced upon the industry this year and how that is likely to shape the future. I’ve put it to her that the longer the pandemic restrictions go on, the deeper the changes will be rooted for post-Covid retail.
It’s really forcing us to reconsider digital storytelling which I don’t think anyone has mastered yet, a huge opportunity but something that is very complicated. I think there’s even deeper opportunity, a lot of people are going to miss the point about what this period means, it’s not going to mean that we’re suddenly all going to be online and that’s only the way we’re going to behave and consume, it doesn’t happen in a month.
Businesses are really starting to understand that we can no longer talk about physical without talking about digital, these have to be so intrinsically linked, they have to be one and the same and approached in that same conversation. But it is it’s true, we are getting a lot online which is to be expected. It’s a big space, which is another challenge with it.
Many businesses are looking to move online because of the current situation, and in many conversations I’ve been having with designers and their teams they think it’s a solution but don’t know how to plan for success, Rebecca seems energised by the train of thought and responds quickly.
They could just build their own website, but it’s hard to look for traffic, that is a huge issue. At the same time there’s a monopoly, these big companies, they’re literally eating ad spend and eating customer attention. We’ve been doing a lot of work recently about what is the value of the pop up part of Lone Design Club and the future compared to digital? We’re hearing brands say “oh, I’m just gonna go online”. Okay, but no one’s ever heard of you, does anyone know how your sizing fits, because no one’s going to purchase a dress when they don’t understand the sizing unless you’re so thorough online that you’ve literally taken an in store experience, as if somebody is right there with you, telling you exactly the size, the measurement, everything. Don’t forget the fact that no one’s standing there telling that customer not to leave, approaching them and being a great sales associate, it’s this whole reshaping of what these two mean together, that is so important, that will always be our core.
But isn’t staying ahead in an increasingly growing and targeted space difficult, that alone must present challenges, and how do you become something different?
It’s difficult, it’s a saturated market. There’s only so much space, or there was anyway. What we’ve tried to do is first of all approach shopping totally differently. It’s about an experience, that’s something that’s been missing so much, you may go in somewhere like Primark or Burberry and find something you like, purchase it, and that’s it. It’s purely transactional. Why does that have to be what wearing clothes and retail is? It should be an experience, it could it be more than that? We certainly think so much about how individuality, and how we dress is speaking about who we are. It’s an artistic representation of most of our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our own creativity, we’re choosing to use our voice to voice that. So why are we not also voicing our values, our opinions, and therefore putting our money where our mouth is. I think that’s something that fast fashion accelerated, really pushed us to that realm of purchase, purchase, purchase, don’t worry about anything else, buy it cheap. You don’t need to know the rest.
As our conversation progresses we move into the area of what it’s like to curate and look after the digital future of so many labels, many of whom over the last few years have had little in the way of physical or digital retail space, choosing instead to partner with Lone Design Club to create that outreach for their products, I ask Morter about how she connects into the responsibility and helps them deliver their identity both in sustainability and brand identity.
You’re trusting somebody else to sell and communicate your story, nobody can do that as well as the person who created that inspiration. But for these smaller brands, they have the ability to literally build that into their DNA in their core. It’s the way they communicate to customers, they’re not only selling and building a relationship, they are learning. We produce and listen. There’s so much responsibility on the brand but we’ve now got brands that just listen to their customers,” don’t produce those dresses”, “that’s too expensive”, no one wants it and the material people can’t wear or that doesn’t fit. What are they buying? You ask the right questions, it’s building that conversation, it helps for both sides.
One of the most important skills is understanding what your niche is, and who that customer is, targeting or focusing on them. By moving around, we give brands opportunity in a very lean way to test areas to understand what works for the business and what doesn’t, I’m looking at data, but also face to face conversations to get that feedback. A lot of work that we do is understanding those different demographics, locations, types of customer, and then helping channel that to a brand.
We’re chatting days away from London Fashion Week, the big event that rolls round twice a year and is seen as the biggest trade event of the fashion calendar, but an event that can feel like it isn’t working for the whole of the industry, something Rebecca had experience of with her own label prior to founding LDC.
We were like, this is not for us, this is for big brands, this doesn’t help the small guys. In fact, we’re the ones funding the space in the showrooms a lot of the time. It was going through such change and they didn’t know what they were doing, they didn’t know how to tackle it. We didn’t know what was coming. They would bring in small brands to fund a lot of it and exploit them in a way so that the money can go to the big ones. It was that that led us to start LDC, it was the same comments from other designers at Fashion Week, our PR agency, it was like there must be a better way to do this. Essentially, you’re paying for space. Yes. press people come round, well, some did, but they’re not there to bother about the little guys. It was also very much like why are we so focused on buyers and all of this, you can have conversations with people out of season, they’re not going to come and place orders in London. Everyone knows that no one will place an order, the only hope is that you can get your own appointment and if you do get the right ones it can go well but again, it’s on your own back.
While there may have been a reaction to the fashion week system as a trade experience, does it have a different positioning if switched to a consumer focus?
The big thing for us was why are we so fixated on getting orders when we lose money, we’ve got no control at all and as a small business you need everything first, so by popping up, but we actually found Fashion Week has always been our best pop up ever. In the beginning I was very much “I don’t want to do fashion week, no one’s going to come, blah, blah”. But what we actually found was for customers, it was huge. They wanted to be part of something that they’re not allowing in fashion, it’s so exclusive. It’s getting better, but it had been so exclusive and ridiculous, we were doing a private evening and they were like we have always press and buyers, we’re also gonna have VIP people, no one came. No one did a thing and it was just like, this is pointless. I mean, something so exclusive no one comes.
I actually think that fashion week itself can be so positive and this is something that I really want to see come like sustainability. I’ve been asked a lot, can fashion have a positive effect from the pandemic? If we’re honest, it’s f***ing s***, this year has been awful, everybody is thrown, there’s so many redundancies, I mean, you just can’t fathom what’s to come.
But one of the best things is that we need to be celebrating creativity, talent and innovation. That is something that can be so positive. You know fashion can make people smile, it can make us bring out our own individual. I just feel like that is something worth celebrating, to have customers happy or feel like they’re part of something innovative and exciting and creative. The majority of my friends and people I know are in this industry, it’s just been horrific. But I do believe that there is such positivity that fashion can have with these small independents and with customers. It doesn’t need press or buyers, there’s a much more positive message we can bring from them.
Thank you to Rebecca for her time, we covered a lot more than just this, and I’ll be bring you part two of the discussion next week.
Interview By Ross Pollard – Emerging Designers Editor
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