Tech Hubs and Innovation Labs: Short-Lived Follies or a Bridge to Fashion’s Future?

Apparel Innovation Labs: Short-lived Folly or a Bridge to Fashion's Future?

The recent announcement of a 70,000 square foot tech hub in London by Yoox Net-a-Porter has put the subject of innovation and data-driven R&D firmly on the fashion agenda. It’s part of a wider €500 million investment by YNAP showing that logistics and technology are starting to be taken very seriously indeed by leading luxury players.

Across apparel, meanwhile, each passing week brings a slew of stories around innovation labs and reimagined retail environments, all promising a better tomorrow for the industry and consumers. Reality, however, often falls short of expectations.

Against that background, let’s look at two key points apparel brands and retailers should keep in mind when planning their overall innovation strategy.

1. Innovation Needs to Be Culturally Ingrained

Corporate history is filled with examples of “skunk work” projects which ended up transforming entire industries, but it’s a model where success is rare and extremely hard to predict. While there are certainly opportunities to explore in giving small teams the chance to tear up the rulebook, reliable innovation requires company-wide commitment and sustained creative slog.

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.” – William Faulkner.

Company innovation DNA
Fashion companies need innovation in their DNA, not just in individual departments.

Innovation and R&D aren’t simply magic sauces which can be used to spice up an otherwise unappetising dish – they’re key ingredients which need to be baked into a company’s approach from the start. As an excellent recent Ana Andjelic piece points out, many of the disruptive companies who’ve transformed fashion over the last decade have this idea deep in their DNA:

The most successful retail labs are companies that didn’t exist a decade ago. They swiftly introduced and tested new business models, new distribution and supply management practices, a novel go-to-market strategy and audience-building tactics.

Sure, they do not need to deal with the muscle memory of a large, legacy retail organization. But nor do they focus on making small tweaks to protect and preserve the retail process that exists in their market.

The challenge for apparel incumbents is not simply starting to experiment with isolated new approaches. It’s in giving data and technology a seat at the top table and committing to innovation across divisions and throughout the entire product lifecycle.

YNAP’s recent announcement looks like a huge positive step in that direction, and it’s genuinely exciting to see one of the world’s most prestigious luxury groups not afraid to follow the technological lead of fast-fashion giants such as Zara and ASOS.

2. Strategic Partnership Unlocks Doors Which Can’t Be Opened Alone

One of the more interesting aspects of the YNAP announcement was somewhat buried in the small print – an ongoing e-commerce and R&D partnership with IBM.

Net-a-Porter IBM partnership.
YNAP’s IBM deal shows the value of strategic tech and data alliances.

Rather than trying to innovate from scratch in an incredibly competitive multichannel environment, the group has wisely chosen to leverage the considerable expertise of one of the biggest players in the industry.

That’s an approach that chimes with our own experience helping major fashion brands and retailers get closer to their customers by providing a perfect fit. There are certain types of technical problem sets that apparel companies cannot solve alone – sizing is definitely one of them.

As innovation and highly technical decision-making become core requirements to stay in the race across the fashion world, the need for these types of strategic data partnerships will only increase.

At Fit Analytics, we’re proud to support some of the most forward-thinking companies in the industry in solving sizing. If you’d like to start talking about how fit technology can help boost margins and unlock value hidden in your existing data, get in touch with us today.