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Interview: COVID-19 and the Adaptability of the Online Men's Apparel Industry

Since the onset of COVID-19, KARV Communications has remained in close contact with members of our global network, including industry leaders who are focusing on strategies for emerging and thriving in a new business landscape as the pandemic diminishes. Leadership throughout this era of COVID-19 requires evolved approaches to implementing adaptive business models for 2021 and beyond.

We spoke with Cadogan Price, Founder of CADOGAN, a fast-growing L.A.-based menswear label focusing on staple garments with high-quality fabrics with an edge. His firm’s clientele includes professional athletes and celebrities. Price offered some keen insights on the future of retail and into the process of incorporating innovation and technology into a business model. He also spoke about how he applies fresh thinking on customer service and engaging consumers in an authentic and genuine manner to drive business.

 Q1: How would you describe the current state of the men’s apparel e-commerce industry? 

Undoubtedly menswear, like most of the retail industry, has been massively impacted by the pandemic, with some of the country’s most iconic shops and brands filing for bankruptcy.

It is truly tragic to see such classic American brands like Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers and J. Crew Group suffer such a fate. While of course a number of challenges in this industry preceded COVID-19, the substantial decrease in foot traffic to brick and mortars culminated in retailers canceling orders and closing doors. As Forbes correctly noted recently, 2021 will be ‘the year of retail’s great reckoning’ and of course with lower rents, flexible lease terms and an increasingly vaccinated population, we are likely to see a gradual return. Conversely, on the other end of the apparel spectrum, it has been quite encouraging to observe the brands that were able to effectively embrace e-commerce prior to March 2020, or those who were able to quickly adapt since, have managed to not only survive, but thrive despite the changing circumstances in the market.

Interestingly, one unforeseen impact of the pandemic has been the plateauing of creativity and experimentation in clothing design. Men’s garments that continue to generate revenue tend to be solid colors, cut and sewn with less creative progression than in previous years. Since larger fashion houses plan their drops several months in advance, the creative attrition that we are experiencing is from the collections prepared during the beginning of COVID last spring, when people were unable to work together in-person to execute a new collection and factories were operating at a percentage of bandwidth. Therefore, you can see where brands were challenged by the lack of in-person collaboration and the ability to execute a more complex supply chain.

Q2: Looking around the corner, what changes should we expect to see in the e-commerce/men’s apparel industry in the near future? What are some key developments or innovations are you’re anticipating, watching for, or working toward? 

First and foremost, there has been a break in the traditional model to evolve fashion to speak to the needs of e-commerce. Instead of introducing collections every 4 – 6 months at one time (including 50+ individual designs), brands are moving towards a more frequent drop structure. At least once a month or even every week if possible. This enables marketing communication to focus on newness and avoid messaging attrition. More frequent drops also allow for better use of the big data generated by brands. Brands can now adapt each drop to the latest customer size breaks, trending colors, silhouettes, finishes, and needs for improvement based upon the analysis of fresh and accurate information. This benefits brands from a financial perspective as well because it reduces lead times, therefore reducing the amount of money that is out of pocket before inventory is in the warehouse and available for sale.

With the growth of e-commerce, there is also the ever-growing feeling of a de-humanized buying experience. A customer lands on the website, makes a purchase, and then receives their purchase. If they love what they have received, they will have executed the purchase without speaking with a member of the brand. The brands that will evolve and succeed will find innovative ways to humanize the buying experience through interaction and communication. This includes proactive live chat on the front end, personalized thank you notes, and thoughtful conversation on the backend during exchanges and issues with customers.

Q3: What will key aspects of your industry look like a year from now?  

With the infusion of technology, the e-commerce buying experience will become more and more personal. Whether it is data-driven personalized marketing through data segmentation and customer data input or the inclusion of virtual changing rooms, the industry is beginning to see the emergence of one-to-one tailored digital communication. The breadth of 3D modeling and augmented reality will create an opportunity to not only see how the clothing drapes, fits and moves, but more importantly how this garment will look on your body specifically.

Additionally, I can think of very few industries whose supply chain was not significantly disrupted in one way or another over the past year. Yet, for the apparel industry, this opportunity has helped drive new and innovative solutions. For example, the introduction of new laser technology, printing and dying techniques will allow manufacturing partners and artisans to introduce more advanced laser cutting, dyes, and garment coatings that will improve the performance of functional menswear as well as introduce new desired aesthetics. Most importantly, technology reduces human error, can expedite production lead times and will improve the consistency of quality.

Lastly, concepts like 3D printing enable brands to create personalized one-off pieces based on a set of parameters within the scope of the design that will be chosen by the customer. This is an exciting frontier where the customer has a shared interest in the design process and their input is valued.

Q4: How are you communicating with your consumers? How are you reaching them with this message, and what response are you seeing?

From a marketing standpoint it is critical to build an omnipresent online experience for engagement with consumers, supported by dynamic and engaging advertising. There are two key components to this effort:

Firstly, it is imperative to leverage either peer credibility or last-viewed product as an opportunity to re-engage the customer with marketing that speaks directly to their engagement on our website. The more effective we get at personalizing and humanizing all aspects of the buying experience,  the more successful conversions we will see.

Secondly, although e-commerce is growing exponentially, consumers still place great value in the comfort of buying at retail stores because they have the opportunity to try a garment on, ask questions, feel the fabrics, get to know the brand, etc. This is particularly true for people engaging with new brands and lines. As such, online companies that view customer service as an asset versus a cost center will win in this new arena. Brands that focus on forward-thinking fulfillment (returns/exchanges) policies and consider consumer questions and comments as an opportunity to build trust with customers and create a bond will win.

Ultimately we define CADOGAN as a brand that embodies celebration, social engagement, and a dynamic lifestyle—all of which have been virtually non-existent since the onset of the pandemic. By smartly navigating the e-commerce platform, incorporating new technologies and innovation in our products and product launches and, importantly, creating and maintaining authentic engagement with our consumers, we are now feeling very optimistic for what lies ahead.

Interview provided by Karv Communications.