Good lifestyle brands need creativity, but great brands need business acumen
With our lifestyles becoming increasingly interconnected with the digital world and focused on sustainability and the circular economy, brands in this highly-competitive industry face a greater need to reflect contemporary consumer values and differentiate themselves through innovative approaches. Meeting such a need is challenging for even the most established design houses, much less early-stage founders hoping to apply tech to the worlds of fashion and design.
While fresh talents continue to reinvent and mould our sartorial culture season-after-season, many of these creatives would benefit from more knowledge about the business-side of running a brand. Filling a market need, identifying the target audience, selecting a manufacturer, setting the right prices, using the right technology, and executing an effective marketing strategy are essential skills for business success. Yet, they are essential to establishing and scaling a successful label.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that a new paradigm has been created in the industry: one where sustainability, effective tech integrations, and business acumen are now as essential as creativity to the design process. Designers who work with the right partners will be equipped to excel in an evolving market.
Spearheading the new approach to fashiontech
azalvo is a co-creation platform focused on innovation, and is leading the charge toward the use and application of cutting-edge technology that can be applied to fashion. A professional lifestyle innovation ideas lab, it focuses on treating clients as partners, and finding ways for all parties to grow and resolve business problems together.
Having developed a centralized platform and supply chain to facilitate the needs of any partner, azalvo knits fashion together with technology to turn concepts into reality. For young entrepreneurs who are also aspiring designers, azalvo grants access to exclusive industry research, retail insights, and sales and marketing support to strengthen the business’ foundations. For mature businesses, the company offers in-house financial advice and access to state-of-the-art technology.
The inclusion of other partners in these processes also sets azalvo apart, where the focus is to co-create a high-impact, vertical value chain. In other words, azalvo works with entrepreneurs to problem-solve together, on topics from development, to strategy, to execution. Ultimately, this network enables a holistic community of innovators that support each other to create a lasting legacy.
“Our intention was never to simply rent out a beautiful space, as we conceived azalvo to be a co-creation community,” says azalvo Founder Joanne Chow.
Although azalvo is still in its infancy, it has been integral to the success of several local brands. One of its earliest partnerships was with fashion sustainability NGO Redress, helping participants (where needed) to understand how manufacturers work.
azalvo has also recently made its first investment in an Australian brand, and is helping the company with development, sampling, and scaling its business. In another example, azalvo is helping a company enter the China market through its retail and distribution pipelines.
For designers and creatives who are ready for the next step, Chow and her team have created a clear outline of what they need in order to run sustainable and lasting businesses. azalvo is rapidly accelerating toward its next stage of development, with the planned launch of a program to provide a business platform for designers and fashiontech founders–whether in blockchain, AI, Big Data, or virtual reality–to discuss business issues and problem-solve for success.
Chow believes that prior to COVID-19, the market wasn’t ready for a program like azalvo’s Ideas Lab. However, the pandemic has revealed new opportunities in ecommerce and normalizing digital behaviors–and not just from the younger generation. The direct-to-consumer brands of today are redefining consumer expectations by re-creating the in-store experience with the new tools at their disposal, such as virtualized showrooms for lifestyle products and virtual try-ons for clothing or makeup products.
“With COVID-19, there’s an opportunity to turbo our efforts to find cutting-edge companies to work with,” she adds.
She emphasizes that other regions may have been slow to approach their own iterations of an ideas lab due to the economics of the process: far from a cold business transaction in exchange for azalvo’s resources, the process is more akin to supporting a startup from Series A to maturity, which she says can sometimes take a decade.
However, digitization became key to many industries in the wake of the pandemic, and fashion was no exception. The market now has a real need for programs that will allow designers to mix fashion and technology, and due to years of exploration in this space, azalvo is well-placed to provide it.
Part of Chow’s long-standing vision for azalvo, the azalvo x Jumpstart Ideas Lab will work with cutting-edge companies in its community to combine lifestyle design, business know-how, and innovation-guided approaches to turn creative ideas into successful businesses. Using IP jointly put together by azalvo and innovation ecosystem builder Jumpstart, the program will offer participants the best that both organizations have to offer.
For azalvo, it’s a process of working with proprietary products, new system changes, disruptive platforms, and looking into reorganizing its supply chain with better smart factory integrations. For Jumpstart, with its extensive experience building corporate innovation and acceleration programs, its regional reach will be used to source teams and mentors for the program, nurturing an innovative community that’s capable of launching impactful, commercially-driven partnerships.
With a mission to ‘Make Innovation Matter,’ Jumpstart’s methodology bridges innovative ideas with the real world, and emphasizes the importance of business fundamentals. Through a bespoke curriculum, group classes, and one-on-one sessions with world-class mentors, the company will provide the teams with the support they need to compete on the global stage by tapping into its strong network of renowned thought leaders, venture capitalists, marketers, and business strategists.
The Ideas Lab will be a collaborative platform that will provide participants with access to like-minded networks of people, resources, and support for business growth. It will culminate in a 12-week program geared toward cutting-edge fashiontech teams, whose aim is to identify the potential of the selected companies and introducing the right technology, strategically guiding their growth to new heights.
“Being able to work with others that fully understand your needs, especially during recent times of hardship, provides a different experience altogether,” says Chow.
Chow says that the defining characteristic of the Ideas Lab is its connection with brands. Having worked in this industry for years, azalvo knows brand DNA inside and out. She adds that Jumpstart’s experience with innovation will be a key aspect of the program.
“We need to embrace this evolution and we all grow and learn from it,” she adds.
Integrating tech into fashion
With regard to the evolution of the fashion industry, Chow believes that fast fashion will soon be forced to adapt to meet new market demands. In addition, she says that there is a need for the digital evolution of fashion in the direction of sustainability–in terms of sustainably-produced textiles and techniques.
The changing face of the market led Chow to take an interest in fashiontech, particularly relating to the applications of virtual reality technology within fashion. The apparel industry is already experimenting with 3D imaging and augmented reality fitting rooms; experimenting with one use case for this technology, azalvo worked with a gaming company to put together a virtual imaging software for fabrics that the company can later integrate into the future development of the Ideas Lab and its community.
However, more adventurous applications of this technology include virtual catwalks and simulated store environments (Business of Fashion). These would respectively allow designers to preview access to their collections, and with the help of artificial intelligence, allow retailers to A/B test different store layouts.
azalvo has also been delving into big data, utilizing different types of information to pinpoint the lifecycles of trends and make customized recommendations to the consumer. By understanding industry-level trends while having the tools to cater to each customer personally, the company is able to more effectively help businesses remain robust during turbulent times.
Big data offers plenty of other benefits to the apparel industry, including predictive analyses of future demand to prevent inventory surpluses or shortages, and of course, making use of the immense number of data points on consumer behavior to more accurately meet demand. This wealth of consumer edata all serves to reduce waste at every stage of the manufacturing process, starting with design.
The potential of wearable technology cannot be understated, and has been highlighted at blockbuster tech events such as CES, smart clothing or jewelry with the ability to measure vital signs, provide haptic feedback on yoga positions, or light up with LED displays.
This technology briefly experienced a lull when Intel closed its wearable chip-making division, but it is due for a resurgence. azalvo has already seen the market potential in home fitness equipment due to COVID-19, and successfully produced a smart fitness product during the pandemic, illustrating its swift and agile responsiveness to working collaboratively with lifestyle brands to uncover market opportunities.
azalvo’s in-house designers also actively discuss the impact of current global events on fashiontech trends, and how such things may affect the brands they collaborate with.
Planning for the future
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the global economic outlook, Chow still believes that there is opportunity and promise on the horizon.
“I always think about the value of the current infrastructure, the business we do, and what it brings to the table. [Hong Kong] used to be the sourcing capital of the world and yet that’s evolved,” says Chow. “However, it will continue to be a hub for fashion and lifestyle if it succeeds to work closely and integrate with the tech of Shenzhen, Silicon Valley, and Hangzhou, and the like.”
Chow believes that the industry is at a crossroads in terms of developing from a sourcing-dominated market to one that focuses on technology and innovation. She sees a need to diversify her businesses to transition from design and manufacturing to a consumer-based approach in fashion, adding that “multi-suppliers and high costs need to change” for current entrepreneurs to succeed in the fashion and lifestyle industries.
Chow sees this period of downtime as a key window to focus on the architecture of azalvo’s future. In unprecedented times, she says, it is now even more crucial that azalvo engages in partnerships that create opportunities for the design industry, and be prepared to make a transformative impact on the innovation space as a whole.
Interested? Contact azalvo at [email protected].
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Chow entered the fashion world through her family’s company, Aussco, a textile manufacturing company founded in the 1960s. By establishing a new arm called ‘A Matter of Design,’ she was able to expand the company to the lifestyle sector, developing a new understanding of brand-building, marketing, distribution, licensing, and retail enterprise resource planning (ERP).
The integration of new-age, innovative projects led Aussco to lend its expertise and resources to creating a new platform, with the main purpose of growing nascent design brands. In 2018, Chow created azalvo to bridge the gap between fashion and entrepreneurship by incubating pre-existing talent, and working with industry creatives from backgrounds to provide a sounding board, deliverables, and growth.
Key to this process, says Chow, is the need for designers and creatives with innovative products to also grasp business concepts. She notes this ability to be a fundamental determinant for the success of promising entrepreneurs.
So, how do aspiring designers set themselves up for long-term success? Many choose to work with a business partner–someone in their immediate circle with the skills to handle the commercial aspects of the venture, while the designer focuses on creation (Business Times Daily). Others may choose to hire a business manager, or learn the necessary skills themselves.