GLYNIS TRAILL-NASH VIA THE AUSTRALIAN 10 July, 2016
FASHION FLOURISHING ONLINE
If the recent Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia is anything to go by, the traditional fashion week model of connecting designers and buyers still has plenty of legs. It’s a moment for the industry — no matter which city we’re talking about, be it Sydney, Paris or New York — to come together in a creative and commercial whirlwind.
But there is change in the air globally, and the fashion industry has a number of discussions currently in play as to what the future of fashion week, for one thing, looks like. Is it still a way to showcase wholesale collections to buyers from around the world, and tap into some buzz around the event for the brand in a broader sense, sowing anticipation with its six-month lead time? Or, does it make more sense, as a number of leading fashion houses have deemed, to present collections that are in store now, to use that buzz to capitalise on sales?
And for buyers, it’s no longer just the traditional two Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter seasons to consider — today Resort and Pre-Fall collections also need to be factored in, which means more travel — and expense — to see those collections first hand in showrooms around the globe.
Or is there another option for the industry to consider, playing into the increasingly digital world we live in? One where buyers can view and order collections from their laptop, while still getting a real sense of the brand’s offering?
Simon Lock is banking on the latter. And his company Ordre aims to deliver this solution. In his own words, Lock tells The Weekend Australian: “Ordre is an online platform that has online showrooms of the best designers around the world to show wholesale collections to a closed network of retailers in 93 countries. In essence, it allows buyers to review new season collections and place wholesale orders online.”
That closed network works both ways: designers and retailers are invited to participate, so there is a high level of what the creative industries now like to call “curation” involved; it’s not a free-for-all on either side of the equation.
After launching the company in November 2014, the platform went live a year later following a number of years in development. There are about 100 designers and over 2400 retailers on board. Designers include global heavyweights Paul Smith, Prabal Gurung, Temperley London, McQ Alexander McQueen, Jason Wu and Roksanda; given Lock’s background as the founder of MBFWA in Sydney, there is also a healthy representation of Australian designers, including Zimmermann, Ginger & Smart, Strateas, Carlucci, Dion Lee and KitX. Over the next two years it is hoped the number of designers will rise to 350, with 75 per cent established names and a quarter emerging. Retailer numbers will remain steady, and include department stores, independent boutiques and online stores in 93 countries.
“The travel issue exists on a number of levels,” says Lock. As well as the increase in frequency of collections, and therefore more travel to see them, “the fashion industry is spread out around the world — beyond the major centres of Paris, London, Milan and New York there are 280 other fashion weeks around the world. Add to that the designers who have their showrooms spread out in cities throughout the world and it becomes a logistical nightmare to see things physically. So as an additional channel to review wholesale collections, online just makes logical sense.”
While Prabal Gurung is still on a trial basis with Ordre, its sales director Vanessa Barbosa sees the possibilities with the platform, and at its simplest describes it as “another set of legs for us”.
“It’s a great asset to connect us to anywhere in the world,” Barbosa says. “We’re doing well, we’ve been exposed to stores we’ve not been exposed to before, which is something we’re willing to grow more and more.”
Despite the platform being digital, Barbosa says there is still a sense of the human touch, and any queries from buyers come direct to them to begin a dialogue. That said, Barbosa says the learning curve includes working out ways to reduce the to-and-fro between potential buyers and designers. “Another thing we’re doing at our end is providing more assets — to have better pictures and more information online — so buyers can go online and see everything and not come back with so many questions. They can see everything they want without giving them extra work.”
In their online showrooms, designers can post photographs and images, line sheets (simple drawings of each item with pricing information), and other information they feel will help give the best possible experience without actually seeing the items in the flesh. When Paul Smith launched on the platform in February, Sir Paul himself appeared in a video showing and explaining the collection. And as technologies advance, Lock intends to keep pace: this includes its 360-view camera, the Ordre Orb, while its first virtual reality trial will take place at New York Fashion Week in September.
Ordre was invited by Ian Rogers, IT director of luxury conglomerate LVMH, to be showcased in the LVMH Lab at the Viva Technology tech conference in Paris this week, as one of 20 companies bringing what Lock calls “game-changing technologies” to the luxury market.
While some maintain that you can’t possibly place orders for fashion without seeing the physical product first hand, to feel the fabrics and see the quality of the craftsmanship, it’s easy to see parallels within the consumer world.
“Of course our goal is to ensure that when buyers come into our showroom they’re not hesitant about placing large orders without touching and feeling the collections,” says Lock. “We aim to use a range of technologies to help buyers. It’s no different to consumers buying (fashion online) without trying things on — the same thing will happen in the business-to-business area.”
According to Lock, the closest thing to their offering in the marketplace is software and apps for iPad that can load line sheets and allow for orders to be placed. “While we do have that capability, our prime focus is to introduce designers to retailers and allow them to transact their whole wholesale (business).”
And the platform can be tailored to the specific needs of designers. “We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach. We operate with everyone in the same way — we’re there as a service for designers to see how they might be able to use us in the wholesale proposition. Some designers choose us to target certain regions, (for example) if they are having trouble getting connections in Southeast Asia and China, some use us globally, some focus on the US. The beauty of having a digital platform is that we can tailor make programs to specific designers.”
Alexandra Smart of Sydney label Ginger & Smart says their brand has taken this approach, targeting US retailers in their push for international stockists. While they are yet to receive any orders via this platform, Smart sees it as a long-term addition to their other activities.
“Really it augments what we’re doing with our business to grow internationally,” Smart says. This includes taking part in the recent initiative by the Australian Fashion Chamber, Australian Designers Abroad, which sets up a showroom for Australian designers in Paris each season (they have taken part twice and hope to do so again), taking part in MBFWA, as well as doing their own outreach to retailers. “The whole marketplace has changed in terms of how things work for international buyers, they’re not travelling as much, and you need to be playing in all areas to get traction. The vision of Ordre is logical in terms of where buyers and retailers are at in terms of being able to buy confidently through an online platform — that’s why we’re part of it all.”
The company has benefited from seed funding, and at the end of May received investment from the Taiwanese Chailease Group. While the sums involved remain confidential, a report on Women’s Wear Daily estimates total funding to be about $US10 million ($13.4m). More recently it was announced that Chailease would take a strategic equity position in Ordre’s parent company Aeon International, enabling capital investment into key areas of growth; Chailease chairman Andre Koo will sit on the board of Aeon.
The company employs about 20 people in Hong Kong, New York, London and Paris, where Lock is based with wife Kirsten, who is the company’s co-founder and fashion director, and integral to building the designer portfolio. There are also regional managers on the ground in New York, London, Paris, Milan and Hong Kong. By year’s end, Lock hopes to have almost 50 employees.
“We’re going to see rapid growth including we hope by end of year to launch the platform in mandarin as well. We see huge opportunities to not only introduce Chinese designers into the western market but also we believe China is going to be an important (retail) market for us.”
Last week Lock announced the first members of its global advisory board. They are three women with massive influence and experience within the global fashion industry: Julie Gilhart, ex-fashion director of Barney’s New York department store, whose focus will be on emerging designers and sustainability; Fern Mallis, founder of New York Fashion Week and ex-executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America; and Carmen Busquets, one of the co-founders and original investors in Net-a-Porter.com.
In terms of business model, there are no sign-up fees; rather, Ordre takes a 7.5 per cent commission on orders, something Lock describes as “quite disruptive”. Sales agent and showroom commissions are usually between 12 and 20 per cent. “We have contracts with our designers which vary, but the basic premise of the contracts is the commission rate, which is universal and non-negotiable. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Marc Jacobs (not a client) or the newest emerging designer, it’s the same playing field.”
Given his experience in setting up MBFWA, Lock is all too aware of the process of disruption in the fashion industry.
“Quite often with new initiatives in the fashion industry — as I’ve learnt sometimes the hard way in the past — timing is everything. You need to be in the right place at the right time. And right now we’re seeing huge changes happening in the business of fashion, seeing fashion weeks turn more and more towards consumers, focusing on the advent of social media. We’re seeing an industry that is seeking more efficient and effective ways of doing business. We are not the only solution, but we are certainly a new way of thinking.”
Read the full article on The Australian here.
ORDRE is an online wholesale showroom for the luxury fashion industry that allows wholesale orders to be placed and managed through sophisticated yet easy to use technology.