Lycra by DuPont, AIRism by Uniqlo, Levi’s Commuter series, Boost by adidas are a few examples of brands defining innovations. Consumers instantly associate these products with their respective brands. And that’s the power of INNOVATION.
Fashion is one of the most innovative industries with so many new innovations being tried out each season, yet few innovations come to mind when we try and remember some big innovations that became a trend or changed the industry.
In this feature, I will discuss what innovation really means to consumers through the below sections:
- Innovation and its definition
- Innovation in the fashion industry
- Innovation from the consumers’ lens
- Innovation and where it gets lost between all the stakeholders
The word ‘innovation’ has become a mainstay in our lives. Many industries have seen a drastic change in the past few years owing to this and the fashion industry has felt this change too.
But what does innovation mean?
While this definition stays true to the fashion industry too, we need to look at innovation with a more specialised industry lens. It can be defined as a multi-stage process whereby organisations transform ideas into new/improved products, service or processes, in order to advance, compete and differentiate themselves successfully in their marketplace.
The fashion industry is a fragmented one. There are many stakeholders in the supply chain– farmers growing cotton, the spinning units making yarn, weavers converting yarn to fabrics, processing units and mills making this fabric wearable, the garmenting units creating the final piece of clothing and finally the brands and retailers who brand and sell the same to us, the consumers.
In this landscape consisting of so many stakeholders and each trying to innovate and do something different, it is very important to understand what is relevant for the final consumer. Do we really understand innovation or are we simply innovating for the sake of innovating to convince the stakeholder, next in the pipeline to select our product over the competition since we promise either better performance with incremental improvement in parameters or better cost for the same consumer’s benefit?
We have seen many innovations in the recent past. From fabrics with inherent antimicrobial properties to speciality yarns that save water, fabrics that regulate body temperature, colours that never fade, washes which use zero water and so on…
But the fundamental question I ask here is –Does the consumer understand these innovations? What do these innovations mean to the consumer? When he/she walks into the store, or logs onto a website, what are they looking for?
The answer to this question is:
Consumers look at garments very differently from the technocrats in the industry. From wearer experience to visual appearance and finally unique features, each matter but in different measures as is evident from the graphic below.
Unfortunately aspects of the business that impact the largest consumer segments are usually the ones which get the least focus from the businesses. People seem to focus on aspects which drive niche audience.
How does understanding consumers and their purchase decisions help us understand innovations?
It is simple; look at innovation from the consumers’ lens. If it makes sense to the consumer and drives them to buy the product then the innovation and the effort behind it is worthwhile.
It is very easy to get swayed by the sheer number of innovations taking place on a daily basis.
Everyone around us is innovating; yarns to fabrics to trims to finishes… fibre with a hollow core, foam dyes, silicon washing chemicals, so on and so forth.
We get so lost in the business-to-business branding and in incremental numbers that we forget the most important person – the consumer. How is he/she looking at this innovation?
Are the consumers understanding the benefits of these innovations? What does it mean to them?
A lot of effort goes into innovation, but unfortunately most of it goes waste because businesses are not focusing on the final consumer benefit. They are happy chasing incremental increase in parameters and their supply chain customers – not focusing on the final consumer.
And this is the fundamental problem we need to understand.
How should the various stakeholders look at innovation?
Here is a simplified example of what innovation can mean for the 3 most important components in our industry namely yarn, fabric and garmenting. The important thing being, how is every stakeholder understanding final consumer benefit.
Brands and retailers are closest to the consumers. It is they who market the end product.
When adidas launched boost, it changed the company’s fortune. People knew the brand but boost gave them a reason to choose adidas over its competitors. Similarly look at Levi’s commuter series, an innovation that combined many innovative components into a product beneficial to the consumers.
That is why there are a few examples of successful innovations, though the industry comes up with new ones almost every day. This is also because innovations have been turned into fashion. The market is flooded with many minor innovations promising incremental benefit or which are niche in nature.
Unfortunately, these are not marketed strongly either. Hence the pressure to keep innovating leads for a number game with businesses turning out innovation after innovation without looking through the consumers’ lens.
To conclude, I will reiterate that each and every stakeholder needs to look at innovation from a consumers’ point of view.
- It is imperative that the whole supply chain is involved in understanding innovation as it should be; from the consumers’ lens. The yarn manufacturer, the fabric manufacturersand all other stakeholders should understand innovation and consumer benefit.
- Rather than too many innovations, focus on few but clearly differentiated ones, which are understood by the consumers.
- Market them properly and be consistent in driving that innovation year-on-year; if the brand doesn’t believe in it beyond a season, why should the consumer?
Having written about different aspects of innovation, I urge everyone to think about innovations in this new light and then decide about whether it should beinnovation for the sake of innovation or innovation that has relevant consumer benefits.
Do share your experiences, opinions and comments on this subject.