Once the preserve of Silicon Valley, start-up culture has spread across the globe. And the practices of these dynamic, tech-focused businesses are now garnering interest from other industries, keen to emulate the success of the digital disrupters.
Fashion is one such industry, where players large and small and from the high-end to the high street are increasingly embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and technical savvy associated with these innovators. Not only is this fuelling innovation, but as WWD.com recently noted, is helping them to compete for today’s digitally aware consumers and tech talent, as well as gain relevance among a new generation of workers.
Established players “have started to see the unique, dynamic, creative and disruptive benefits of start-up culture, and are trying to replicate some of those conditions in their own environments,” explained Carmen to the online journal, conditions which, she goes on to say, foster a motived workforce which understands interdependence and teamwork. However, she also cautions that the often-restrictive practices of these traditional companies, the politics and glass ceilings, can collide with the entrepreneurial spirit of the start-up which then presents its own challenges.
Interesting, many seemingly sizeable organizations which one would consider fall into the traditional camp, see themselves as start-ups. Speaking to WWD.com, Ian Rogers, Chief Digital Officer at LVMH, explained that as a holding company rather than an operating company, which has sought to prevent centralization, the individual maisons are very independent. “I’m sure if you talk to Simon Whitehouse (CEO) at J.W. Anderson, he’ll tell you that (the brand) is definitely a start-up; or Nicholas Kirkwood,” he said. And this is a stance echoed by competitor Kering, where Chief Sustainability Officer Marie-Claire Daveu has likened the agility and entrepreneurial spirit associated with start-up culture to the luxury conglomerate’s modus operandi, where disruptive innovation is part of its sustainability strategy.
With the increasing interest in adopting start-up practices, the demand for suitably trained talent is also on the rise. For the fashion industry, technical know-how needs to be matched by consumer awareness and retail experience, which can make hiring difficult, compounded by the fact that as Carmen explains, “The smartest founders and teams don’t want to live under the comfort of a big corporation.” This potential roadblock to recruitment has led to an increase in disruption from within, with many companies adopting internal start-up style initiatives rather than hiring tech-industry experts.
Such initiatives typically involve a rethink in terms of a company’s outlook and its relationship with its customers and employees. Having a higher purpose, in other words looking to disrupt an industry or innovate rather than simply sell product, is what is seen as attractive to today’s workforce, which in fashion is beginning to reflect a younger consumer. “Fashion is starting to embrace younger people actually working and bringing something to the industry, “ said Alexandra Van Houtte, the founder of fashion-tech start-up Tagwalk. “People are realizing that maybe younger people might have a different view on how to shop or select clothes.” And with the customer being the key constituent in the equation, having this cohort on board will undoubtedly be of benefit.