This year, the fashion and beauty industries were turned on their heads: The physical landscape shifted as pop-ups and retail platforms replaced longstanding stores, marketing strategies were transformed as brands shifted focus to channels resonating with young audiences, and company values were reassessed to put transparency, inclusivity and sustainably at the center. At the same time, age-old conglomerates brought young, digitally native brands into their folds and businesses across categories hopped on the CBD bandwagon.
In our third annual Glossy 50 list, rolling out all week, we’re honoring the industry insiders responsible for driving these important changes. Below is the third batch of honorees, all chosen for their impact on fashion.
Q&A with Patrick Herning, Founder and CEO, 11 Honoré
In 2017, after a struggle to get the first dozen designer brands on board, Patrick Herning launched extended-size retailer 11 Honoré. In the years since, the company has clinched more than 90 brands, many of which sell their plus-size offerings exclusively through the e-commerce site. Diane von Furstenberg and Carolina Herrera are among the latest to sign on.
11 Honoré has hit its stride, with Herning reporting a revenue boost of 100% quarter-over-quarter in the first half of the year. Enabling further growth, the company received a $10 million funding round in November from investors including Nordstrom Inc.
“This is the biggest learning year I’ve had in my life,” said Herning, who noted that the company’s been busy “doing,” whereas much of last year was spent simply testing. 11 Honoré’s upcoming launches of private-label and physical retail are set to maintain that momentum.
11 Honoré has become known for selling designer dresses, so what was the strategy for launching Good American [in September]?
It was important for us to launch with a point of view that had never been done before, so we set out to work with every major designer you’ve ever read about in Vogue who had never done plus before. We wanted to establish this elevated position in the fashion ecosystem, so that this customer could see herself for the first time in the category and we could own that lane. But from the beginning, we’ve always wanted to democratize pricing. You can launch with luxury and then democratize pricing, but it’s a lot harder to launch with a more open or contemporary price point and swim upstream. Now that we’ve established ourselves, it’s time to be more things to more women.
Since your launch, size inclusivity has been catching on among retailers. Is that a threat to your business?
We are very committed our lane, so we’re never going to be a size-inclusive site in terms of [also] selling sizes 0 to 12. We’ll be focused on extended sizing, because we want to be something very special just for her. As [luxury] retailers continue to get into [inclusive sizing], it validates the hypothesis that there’s a market here — one that we started and are driving the conversation around. There is a lot of exclusivity that comes with our brand partnerships, which provides incredible defensibility around the business. And really, the more, the merrier; all boats rise with the tide.
What are your plans for physical retail, based on the pop-ups you’ve held this year?
Pop-ups have been working for us, because the customer gets a tremendous amount of trust around fit when they can try-on the different brands. That’s led to higher AOV and lower return rates — those things help with margin and are critically important to the business. In response, we’ve hired on a global team of personal shoppers who are out there, facilitating high-touch service [via trunk shows] and driving offline sales. And we’re activating at a high scale: They were in Philadelphia yesterday, Toronto today. When we launch private label in 2020, that’s when you’re going to start seeing permanent spaces from us.
Denise Incandela, Head of fashion, U.S. e-commerce, Walmart.com
As head of fashion for Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce team, one of Denise Incandela’s top priorities is to make the experience of shopping for clothes at Walmart.com not feel like the customer is shopping for clothes at Walmart.
“We want to fundamentally transform the fashion shopping experience on Walmart.com. We’ve added a very strong voice, so if you go to our fashion landing page, you’ll be surprised that you’re not at a better department store,” said Incandela, who joined Walmart in 2017. Prior, she spent 14 years in various roles at Saks Fifth Avenue, followed by nearly three years as president of global digital at Ralph Lauren.
To get more people shopping Walmart’s site, Incandela and her team have upped the number of brands represented. In the last 12 months, Walmart.com has launched more than 600 brands, 150 of which started as site exclusives. They’ve ranged from Ellen DeGeneres’s women’s line, EV1, to Sofia Vergara’s denim line, Sofia Jeans by Sofia Vergara. Twenty percent of customers buying Sofia Jeans are new to Walmart.com, and 26% are new Walmart.com fashion shoppers.
“The purpose of online, because we don’t have the real estate constraints that stores have, is to dramatically expand the fashion offerings for Walmart,” said Incandela.
Walmart’s e-commerce sales grew 37% in the second quarter, driven largely by grocery, but with a boost from the fashion category. The company does not break out specific revenue for the fashion category.
Giving customers access to fashion brands they can’t get anywhere else via exclusive brands is a big part of Incandela’s fashion strategy for Walmart. Sometimes that means working with a celebrity name, like DeGeneres, to develop a premium line — the retailer currently has 150 premium brands. In other cases, Incandela and her team work relaunch or acquire brands, building on Walmart’s fashion portfolio.
Take previously defunct contemporary boutique chain Scoop. Originally founded in 2006, the NYC-based company closed its doors in May 2016. This September, Walmart relaunched the brand after buying the company’s intellectual property three years ago.
However, Walmart is not picking up where the brand left off. While in its heyday Scoop attracted celebrity clientele and sold high-end designers like Jimmy Choo, Walmart’s version of Scoop is more accessible. Price points hover around $15-$65, and “luxe” details include certified vegan leather and faux fur.
“We worked with the founder of Scoop, Stefani Greenfield, to build out the line,” said Incandela. “Every partnership is different in its own right. It’s about identifying a white space where we think we can bring a unique point of view to our consumer, with exceptional quality product at exceptional value price.”
Incadela and her team are also paying close attention to the customer experience online, ensuring customers are able to easily navigate the many brands Walmart.com now carries. Part of that is making the design cleaner and images bigger, but it also means giving the site more of an editorial voice, designed to make fashion feel more accessible and approachable for Walmart shoppers.
“Having come from luxury, incorporating a strong editorial voice was natural. We knew consumers didn’t always have the confidence to outfit themselves. In the mass space, there’s not the same level of editorial content. Owning that is something we think can be unique to us,” she said.
Q&A with Shea Jensen, Svp of customer experience, Nordstrom
Nordstrom has arrived in New York City. Following the opening of its first, men’s store in NYC in April 2018, Nordstrom spent this year building out its presence in the city by opening a 320,000-foot flagship store and two neighborhood Nordstrom Locals, which work as service hubs and are designed to support the retailer’s e-commerce business.
Headed up by Shea Jensen, the company’s svp of customer experience, the 2-year-old Local concept has already proven successful in the L.A. market, which houses three Local locations. Customers who have visited Nordstrom Local spend, on average, two-and-a-half times more than those who have not. And since the launch of Local, Nordstrom has seen a 400% boost in L.A. shoppers taking advantage of its buy-online, pick-up in-store service. The new Locals in NYC, Nordstrom’s top market for online sales, are set to be gamechangers for the company.
“Our role is to think about new experiences, develop new experiences, deliver new experiences, and then iterate and optimize experiences to serve customers in what is a digital world,” said Jensen. “We want to remove friction and challenges for our customers, who see time as the most valuable commodity.”
How would you describe your strategy when entering the NYC market?
We were thinking about how we could apply our market strategy approach, which is essentially around reaching and serving customers, agnostic of channel — it’s really meeting them on their terms, where, when and how they want to shop. But given the complexities of New York City, it became even more important that we apply the pillars of convenience and speed to that approach. We thought of New York as opening a market, not just a store, as it’s our largest digital market. And we wanted to bring the best of our brand representation and assets, and make it really easy and convenient to shop with Nordstrom.
How are Nordstrom Local locations localized to the market?
With the Locals in Los Angeles, we’ve learned that there are core services that should be everywhere, like online order pick-up and return, alterations and tailoring, and our styling services. But we’ve also learned as we enter new neighborhoods that there are unique interests the customers have. For example, in Brentwood, we learned our customers would really value gift wrapping, so we set up a gift wrapping station. In NYC, in talking with customers in the community, we learned that stroller cleaning would be valuable to folks in the Upper East Side, so that’s a service we now offer. Moving forward, we want to hear from local customers about what matters to them, and we’re ready to quickly adapt and respond accordingly.
What’s the role of the store, as you see it?
Stores matter a great deal, not just because they are places you can come and buy stuff, but also because they are places where you can become inspired, and you can discover products, and you can have experiences. We think of the new flagship as a global flagship, where we’ll introduce our brand not just to New Yorkers, but to customers from around the world. So experiences are going to matter a great deal. While the role of the store is changing, it remains critical to how we serve customers.
Q&A with Bahja Johnson, Director of global merchandising, Banana Republic
Bahja Johnson has been with Gap Inc. her entire career, spanning seven years and six positions. Her most recent gig, on top of director of global merchandising for Banana Republic, is co-founder of the Color Proud Council. Started in 2018, the 45-person group is made up of staffers across Gap Inc.’s seven brands. Its mission is to improve diversity and inclusion through marketing, merchandising and hiring. One initiative, Banana Republic’s True Hues capsule collection of nude basics, beat sales expectations by double digits in the first week.
How did the Color Proud council start?
I am a woman of color; I am a black woman, and I walk in that every single day. In working on various product teams, I recognized very early on that, while there was diversity in our HR teams and in the field, on the teams that actually made the product, there was a huge opportunity to have different voices, different people and different backgrounds represented.
What has been your greatest achievement in the last year?
True Hues [a collection of nude basics for Banana Republic] is one of our best examples of having authentic representation. We had somebody from our trend and concept team who helped the designers concept True Hues with an inclusive filter from the beginning. From the first trend board, someone was there from the council touching that product, and they were part of merchandising, making sure we had a compelling range of shades that were truly skin-tone shades. We are learning from the launch, and we want to be able to share those learnings across brands. In 2020, you will see some of Gap Inc.’s other brands show up with their version of True Hues in some of the categories they are most known for.
How do you see this council helping the industry at large?
We do realize that there are companies that have started councils and have done a lot of work to start the conversation, but we want this to be an industry-wide conversation, and even across industries. We will not be better unless the conversation becomes top-of-mind and our employees feel like belonging is really real.
Q&A with Chad Kessler, Global brand president, American Eagle
Mall brands are struggling, but American Eagle is seeing success thanks to its evolving denim category. In June, the brand reported its net revenue increased 8%, to $886 million, in the first quarter of 2019. A month later, global brand president Chad Kessler led the brand’s launch of curvy jeans in inclusive sizes (from 00-24) in all of its 1,000-plus stores.
Why did the brand double down on curvy jeans this year?
We felt we could bring a new customer into the brand, and maybe fit some of our existing customers better and continue to expand our leadership in jeans. We took about a year to bring curvy jeans to market to make sure they lived up to all the same standards, in terms of fit and quality, as the rest of the assortment.
What are your expectations for the line?
In the second quarter of 2019, we had another record quarter of denim sales and our 18th consecutive quarter of comparable sales growth. I’m confident Q3 will be another record quarter for jeans for the AE brand. A lot of that [confidence] comes from the strength of that curvy launch in July.
What marketing tools are working to get launches like these off the ground?
Most of our spend is on digital. It allows us not only to reach our target 15- to 25-year-old customer, but we can also target our messages to men’s customers or women’s customers, and we vary our messaging across the different platforms. We’re really active on Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube, and we’re starting to advertise and work on partnerships with TikTok and some gaming platforms.
Where is retail headed, and where does AE fit into that future?
Brands win when they focus on what is important: the customer, the product they can give the customer and the way they can provide great customer service. We will continue to focus on those basics and also to offer a fair price. That will keep us seeing success in this turbulent retail space.
Carolyn Manning, Vp of community, Outdoor Voices
Over the summer, Outdoor Voices, the direct-to-consumer activewear brand that hypes its “doing things” mantra across everything it does, held an outdoor dance party of 1,500 people outside of NYC’s Lincoln Center. The event was held in celebration of the return of an Outdoor Voices hero product: the exercise dress. According to Manning, the dancing didn’t have to be pretty or choreographed, it just had to happen.
Events have become increasingly important for the Outdoor Voices team as it looks to build its community of customers. Heading up the activations is the brand’s vp of community, Carolyn Manning, who has been tasked with growing and engaging the brand’s customer base online and IRL.
In major cities including New York, Chicago and Austin, Manning has appointed Outdoor Voices field marketing teams and “rec-sperts,” or recreational experts, to organize free weekly exercise classes. Those span from barre and yoga classes to jogging clubs and meditation sessions.
“Community is really about creating relationships with and for our community, without expecting anything in return,” Manning said.
But this focus on community building has positively impacted Outdoor Voices’ business. A majority of events call for people to meet at a local retail location, and those stores are seeing double the sales they did last year, said Manning.
Manning said she takes a cautious approach to building relationships with customers. For example, rather than push community experiences driven by the brand, events are often created in collaboration with local partners. It’s Manning’s hope that locals will come to communicate to Outdoor Voices what they want, and increasingly steer the programming.
“Real relationship building takes time,” she said. “We are committed to giving the relationship that time because we believe community is born from relationships; it’s a slow thing to build.”
A cornerstone for building that community, at least since Manning took on the task when joining the company nine months ago, has been at the university level, through the OVU program. OVU is a perks program that gives college students 20% of all purchases made online and in-stores, $75 signature kits (made up of a top and bottom, normally sold for $85-$95), and invites to all OVU events.
While any student can sign up for OVU, the company also selects brand representatives on campuses around the country to “co-create experiences” with the brand, said Manning. Those have included a Dance Dance Outdoor Voices dance class and an LSD (long slow jog) joggers club.
“Working with university students early on helps us get valuable insight on what the younger recreationalists are looking for, plus it helps us become part of their life early on. They share what they love about Outdoor Voices on their social accounts, and they spend time with our team when we’re on campus,” said Manning.
Manning said the OVU program is driving double the amount of sales it was six months ago. Between now and June 2020, the program will double in size.
Q&A with Rebecca Minkoff, Founder and CEO, Rebecca Minkoff
Rebecca Minkoff grew her brand through tough times, including the financial crisis of the late 2000s. Over the last year, while continuing to build her own brand, she’s expanded her focus to include supporting other women through challenging periods, including the early years of starting a brand. Through a new podcast and a growing collective that lets entrepreneurs share resources, her goal is to help women thrive.
What projects are you most proud of from the last year?
In the last year, we launched a podcast called Superwoman that has really resonated with our customers. It has nothing to do with bags or clothes, it’s just interviews with inspiring women. Customers need a reason to be attached to a brand, so the podcast is great; it’s clear about what I stand for, and it’s a way for them to get to know me.
I also launched the Female Founder Collective, which is a collection of 6,000 women-owned businesses. We put the Female Founder Collective seal on 2.5 million products this year. It’s really changing the way people shop. Some people want to look for things that are sustainable or cruelty-free, others want to buy things from women-owned companies.
Where did the idea for the Female Founder Collective come from?
I had the idea for the Female Founder Collective last June, and we launched it in September 2018. It was something I was working on, on my own, that I just felt really passionate about. I always get asked on panels and in interviews “What’s it like to be a female founder?” But, are we polar bears? Are we that rare? So it’s a place to highlight all the women-owned companies and for the women behind them to share resources.
We’ve had two successful [free conferences] where people can share things — real things, like which accounting firm thy use. These are things that women in business need, and this is a network where they can share it.
What’s the most important lesson for brands, new and old, today?
I don’t think you can really act like just a brand anymore. You have to stand for something; you have to have clear values that people can latch on to. You have to act like a human being. It’s easier for a namesake brand like us, but I think it applies across the board.
Q&A with Alexis Olans Haas, Director of sustainability, Adidas
Fashion brands’ sustainability initiatives often focus on using organic materials or ethical manufacturing processes to reduce waste. But these strategies fail to address a main driver of fashion’s negative impact on the environment: overproduction. Alexis Olans Haas, Adidas’s director of sustainability, has taken the brand’s considerable sustainability efforts in a different direction. His goal is for the same amount of product that goes out of Adidas’s factories to come back to the company to be reused, resold or recycled.
What sustainability projects have you worked on that you think are going to have the biggest long-term impact?
There are two things I’ve been focusing on the past year: the launch of Futurecraft Loop and this new business model called Infinite Play. Futurecraft was made to do something that was thought to be impossible, which is to make high-performance products that can be remade. Last year was our first generation, our test, and this year, we’ve collected a ton of the shoes back and are recycling them into generation two. The first iteration was about materials and kickstarting the loop. The next generation will focus on color and dyes, and proving that these things can be remade.
Infinite Play is a new model we just launched in the U.K. — it will launch in other markets soon — that is all about creating the infrastructure to keep our products coming back to us. We keep a history of when you bought something from us, and we’ll encourage you, once you’re done with the product, to send it back to us in exchange for a voucher for something else. We take the product and repair it and resell it, or if we can’t, we recycle it.
What are the key components to building a sustainable brand?
Our goal going forward is to change how people think about product, to move from a single-use philosophy to a circular one. The first part of that is building the infrastructure to take products back when people are done with them, and the second part is making sure we can reuse those products in sustainable ways.
Technology is a huge part of this, but it’s also about the cultural change — the mindset change, too. We can have all sorts of great recycling tools on our end, but we also need to convince and educate people that their stuff still has value and that it can come back to us to reuse it.
Esty Ottensoser Hershfield, Retail specialist, Related Companies
Six years after breaking ground on NYC’s new 28-acre neighborhood, Hudson Yards, developer Related Companies debuted the project’s focal point, The Shops & Restaurants of Hudson Yards in March. A mall by definition, the Shops had a draw from the outset in its second floor, dubbed the Floor of Discovery.
The concept was developed by Related Companies’ retail specialist, Esty Ottensoser Hershfield, who said her goal for the floor was to offer shoppers something they’d either never heard of before or never experienced.
“People want to come across something new, the way they do on their Instagram Feed,” she said. At the Shops’ opening, the floor was heavy in new-to-NYC retailers, including M.Gemi, and the first physical stores of digitally native companies, like Rhone. For brands, Related Companies downsized the gamble of opening a store, including offering one-year leases and the build-outs of their stores.
“You have to work these brands to have them featured in your projects, so we’re handholding,” said Ottensoser Hershfield, who noted that the “discovery” idea allows for some turnover: “Stores may not be here the next time someone visits, and that’s OK. We’re experimenting with brands, and they’re experimenting with us.”
Roopal Patel, Fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue
Saks Fifth Avenue has been a bright spot this year among department stores and the highest performing asset in terms of revenue for parent company Hudson’s Bay Company. Before the company went private in October, overall sales for HBC fell by 1.6% in the fourth quarter of 2018, with every brand in their portfolio seeing slight declines except for Saks, which grew by nearly 4%
Roopal Patel joined Saks in 2015 and oversees all fashion strategy, after two decades of experience at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Moda Operandi. Since joining, she’s been instrumental in keeping the brand moving the ever-changing fashion retail landscape.
“Four years ago, Saks was in a place where it needed to change,” Patel said. “When I joined, our president and chairman had a vision to turn things around, and over the last few years, you’ve really seen how that unfolded. A transformative vision and commitment to it has been key.”
Patel has also been instrumental in growing the company’s men’s business, and even dedicated an entire floor to men’s shoes. Menswear has been Saks’ fastest growing sector in the last year and sales of men’s shoes alone grew by 50% in the past three years.
“One thing I’m excited about is expanding our focus on menswear,” Patel said. “There are a lot of fascinating new men’s brands emerging that we want to highlight. I don’t necessarily look at the year in terms of big projects; we focus on whatever is happening in the fashion world and right now, men’s is really exciting.”