London fashion week has all the elements of a City junket – parties, expense accounts and networking as an excuse for work – but for some reason it doesn’t really hit the radar in the square mile.
This is changing, however. Fashion tech is on the rise, and by bringing two multi-billion dollar industries together perhaps it won’t be long before LFW adds some glitz to the rounds of weak coffee and stale biscuits that are the staple of Autumn conference season in the City.
By now Burberry is famous for its digital transformation, an ambitious end-to-end strategy to modernise the company that it started way back in 2006.
The most visible aspects have been the in-store customer experience. Catwalk footage of the item you are trying shows in the fitting rooms, staff are on hand to order alternate sizes to your home if stock is low, and if the system shows you spend enough you might get free coffee and tickets to the next show.
Some of this may seem frivolous but there was serious work on the back-end to bring this together, including re-architecting of IT across inventory management, supply chain, custom applications and CRM.
Interestingly, much of the strategy that shaped this transformation has been attributed to salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and some intricate scribbles he made on a napkin during a meeting with then Burberry chief Angela Ahrendts.
What Burberry showed was that with the vision, the means and the courage it is possible to execute a flawless digital transformation and if you pay enough to consultants along the way you might get some free marketing out of it too.
These same consultants do claim, however, that the so-called Digirati are 26% more profitable and have 12% higher valuations than average. Fashtech pays.
Still, where brand and sometimes provenance are vital, and yet exposure to the consumer and their new found obsession with cutting edge tech is at its highest, the vision is often far from clear – and conservatism is natural.
As nonsensical as the aphorism is, the idea of sticking to your knitting resonates (clearly very few people over the ages followed this advice since, as far as I know, knitting is no longer a major factor in British life).
Fortunately there is a burgeoning ecosystem of software companies in fashion and retail that can do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Demandware, for example, is a full cloud-based ecommerce platform that IPO’d a year ago and is now worth $2bn (£1.1bn). They count M&S amongst their marquee clients, for whom they run the entire international ecommerce technology.
Another that might be more familiar to London readers is Shopify, the instant ecommerce front end for small and medium businesses. It has raised $122m to date. A third, Streethub, is helping to drive traffic to London’s independent fashion and design boutiques, both online and offline, through their mobile app.
The beauty of companies like these, in addition to their tech expertise, is they significantly reduce the technology risk associated with modernisation. Nobody wants to invest millions in online delivery only to find the market really wants click and collect (and who saw that coming?) These cloud platforms have the time and resources to incorporate new trends quickly and outsourcing to them means fashionistas can focus on their strengths and know their tech is the best available.
So whilst it is true that we should all be technologists now, a little help along the way is the smart move and fortunately in fashion that help is burgeoning.