I am a person who loves ideas. Specifically, ideas that inform the world around us in tangible ways. I like to question the context that guides what is made, get excited about the research and making process, and look at other makers for inspiration. Hence my blog made\make\maker; where I oscillate between making myself, thinking about making, and exploring different ways of making. My burgeoning ‘area of expertise’ is to build full experiences that combine the spatial, the physical, and the digital. Combining my knowledge of research, architecture and product design with emerging technologies. It is a way of thinking that I believe is necessary to cultivate now, in order to create thoughtful and seamless environments for the future. Environments that people want to be in.
As a fun thought exercise, I applied this interest recently to Everlane.
Everlane is, at its core, a clothing and accessories company. They differ however in that they operate under the driver of “Radical Transparency”. They have identified factories all over the world that produce luxury goods, and create direct relationships with them in order to bring their customers products that are high in quality, but reasonable in cost. They reveal this process on their website and through multiple digital media channels without the use of traditional brick and mortar stores. They give tours and share images of the factories, give cost breakdowns and seem to be looking for other ways to reveal. This has created a brand that represents a particularly strong ideology.
When a storefront is no longer relied upon, there are pros and cons. All feedback is cataloged digitally, cost savings are passed to the customer, and there is no awkward in person sales pressure. Alternatively, leisurely passive or hobbyist shopping opportunities are eliminated, customers can not try on clothing, staff are not on hand to inform, and the opportunity to set a brand tone in a traditional structure is altered. A few other brands of note that started as purely online ventures, Warby Parker and Bonobos, have since set up small retail shops and claim to be doing very well. In Warby Parker’s small Hayes Valley shop for example, the staff are well informed about insurance and the eye-wear designers, complement your shoes, and wear the glasses themselves. It is also full of smart books, magazines and periodicals, and displays furniture designed by super rad boutique designers like Egg Collective — they clearly show us in this space, they are in-the-know and minimize purchasing hesitation.
Sans brick and mortar, Everlane therefore experiments with technology and media to create similar — if not more intimate — relationships with their customers. They send out surveys to find out why customers purchased or didn’t purchase items, stream Snapchat stories to direct followers to secret pop-up stores, have one hour delivery in some locations, host an event called transparent cities where the ‘radical transparency’ theme takes on multiple forms, have active Twitter and Instagram accounts, and their recent catalog outlines the company ‘origin story’ and several product origin stories.
I think that it is also worth noting that Mary Meekers used Everlane as an example in her most recent “Internet Trends 2015” slideshow. Illustrating how companies can utilize Facebook messenger for their customer service support. Everlane one of the first companies to do so. Informing the customer directly of the purchase train; delivery, and follow up, questions, selling more. With this interaction, a company has a much better understanding of the identity of that person to feed appropriate information to or derive insights from. This might be creepy if Everlane did not have such upstanding principles and esteemed values. They have created a brand to trust, stand behind, and support. Their mission statement is ‘radical transparency’ remember, customers don’t need to worry about ulterior motives. Another very important reason why customers do not mind that they go directly to them, becoming an integrated part of their digital feeds and streams, which are fast becoming frictionless points of sales.
Another trend that Meeker’s highlighted — that will no doubt shape the Everlane model — is video and customer created content. On average, people in the US spend about 5.6 hours per day on the internet, with 64% of that time spent watching video. There is also a big trend in customer created videos, images, and review. How can opportunities in this area be capitalized to create more trustworthy and desired content from Everlane and its customers? Although the traditional storefront is eliminated in their model, space is still important to consider when attempting to answer this question. By having access to alternate (yet strategic) spaces via the active video and image feeds, physical spaces still play influential roles.
As Everlane has already identified, the Factories are spaces that become important in their model. They give a rational to the business model, and an origin story to the products. I however think there could be even more origin. Before the factory, how was the product identified and how did it come to be? What are those spaces like? Everlane has done this to an extent, but think it could go further. Pop-up events have also been utilized. They seem to be necessary when introducing new products and likely connecting with most loyal customers. But again, can these events be more meaningful? Can they tell more about the story of the company or the product? The personal space that a customer inhabits is the other end of the spectrum. Obviously the actual products and media come into the spaces, but how? Can those spaces be better touched upon without being intrusive or unwanted? Can interesting opportunities be created for customers to create their own content in the spaces they inhabit?
3 PROJECT PROPOSALS
To bring the spatial + physical product + digital tools into a stronger relationship, I think they all must be considered when developing new products. Utilizing the same vigor and curiosity as they operate their business. Creating products that have compelling stories behind them which reinforce the core principles and create rich compelling content (from Everlane and it’s customers). Content that can be driven through the innovative media channels set in place and reinforce the environment they have already created.
Everlane customers know the factories, they know the costs — what else do they want to know? In what other areas can ‘radical transparency’ be applied? In what ways can customer bring the stories into their consciousness, rituals, and personal spaces? Here are few concepts.
Dance Revealed — a.k.a. launching active wear
Details/ Active Wear is a hot market — sales are up and everyone is in. Derek Lam is collaborating with Ath-leta, Beyoncé with Topshop, Rebecca Minkoff is releasing her own line, Lulu Lemon has somehow convinced men to wear their brand in public, and the list goes on.
Specifically for Everlane, I think launching a new line of active wear clothing could be an exciting way to bring the discussion of radical transparency into an actual product story in two ways:
1. Be very clear about this trend being a driver for the actual product decision. Holding up a mirror on the industry to highlight a trend.
2. Revealing the dedication and passion that goes into an athletic sport itself — the aspirational story behind active wear.
Process/ Making “Everlane Active” more than just another yoga-pant. I would start by exploring brand alignment with novel activities. I love the idea of starting with Modern Dance as product inspiration because of art form it would expose, subtle colors, and modern lines. I would consider partnering with Alonzo Lines Modern Dance Studio to help design the product for durability, elasticity, and general sexiness. They have an incredible rehearsal spaces, a strong creative philosophy, and represent beautiful variety of body and skin types. I would also think to explore cycling, climbing, surfing, and other sophisticated sports with Everlane consumers to see if another resonated more.
I would begin by working with the dance school to identify appropriate dancers to work with, interview them and develop products based on their feedback and have them test prototypes. In tangent, Everlane would support a performance that incorporated the new clothing and perhaps even create a scholarship. This entire process could be captured in their school, and culminate with performances in San Francisco, LA and New York.
Brand Environment Summary — spatial + physical + digital/ Launch events that conclude with a specially choreographed performance in well designed spaces. Launch events that inspire sharing and discussion. Products with beautiful and well documented origin stories. Products in-line with target audience that support their physical goals and rituals that can also inspire sharing. A documented story of dance revealed and shared through multiple media channels at all stages.
Scents Making Cents — developing a signature scent
Details/ Branching out to scent making is a somewhat common move at this point with clothing brands since it is treated by most as an accessory — as a marker of identity. It is also a product notoriously linked with an exorbitant mark-up, which again could be discussed in detail to customers when developing.
Specifically for Everlane, I think scent making is a great way to develop brand identity. Since the brand exists mostly in a digital space, it would be another way of adding a physical dimensionality. The ephemerality and sensuality of scents is also something I think would resonate with Everlane customers. Humans can recall smells with around a 65% accuracy after a year but the recall of images is much lower — around 50% after only three months. And much less over a year. This ability for smells to stay in our memory means we form an emotional attachments to them. A signature scent would then be a way to create an emotional bond. Testing that concept would be a very fun experiment with customers.
Process/ Considering that scent evades digital communication strategies, I would begin by identifying a scent maker that Everlane customers could identify with on a personal level. I am very intrigued by Byredo, a brand founded by 31 year old Ben Gorham. With no formal training as a perfumer, the Gorham made his mark by filling his scents with his personal style, love of art, and international values.
After securing the appropriate scent maker, further research of the perfume industry, exercises to define what scent would represent Everlane, and the development of packaging in-line with brand would come next. User testing during development could be done in ways that included feedback from existing customers — unlike clothing design, scent is an appreciation that can be discussed with anyone. The launch of the product could take place in farmers markets in target cities, samples could be mailed to customer making orders during a certain period, and fresh scents could be developed yearly if the venture is successful.
Brand Environment Summary — spatial + physical + digital/ A signature scent that can be used as perfume or added to candles, soaps, and detergents for clothing care to fill customer’s personal spaces. Pop up shops in beautiful environments such as flower shops and farmers markets. Beautiful editorial about the extractions of oils and process of making the scent, real numbers behind scent making revealed, and user interaction around the attachment and selection of the scent.
Long Term Luxury — create a care kit and programs around existing products
“People are so good at making that product look amazing, but you never know how it’s going to wear.” — Michael Preysman (Everlane CEO) for Interview Magazine
Details: Just because Everlane products are priced less than comparable luxury products, it doesn’t mean that they can’t further define a different kind of luxury. A luxury that comes with care instruction and assistance. An element of minimalism and lifestyle suggestion — not just by the clothes themselves, but how to care for them.
By strengthening a policy of luxury, sustainability, and care — existing Everlane customers retain more intimacy with the brand. They will always know that there is a library of clothing swatches, patches, and threads that match past seasons. Everlane will be also able to accurately catalog and reveal how the clothes wear over time. There are currently follow up surveys, but I see an opportunity for additional product, programs, and technologies to reinforce this idea.
Process/ I would begin by doing an inventory of existing products to get an understanding of what types of materials and clothing construction are currently being worn in the wild. I would research best practices for the maintenance of those particular textiles as well as do market research into how other companies might be operating similar processes. I know for example that Totokaelo has a stunning fabric care poster. I would also research technologies and system that could be implemented to easily track garments.
From there, we could identify what would go into an essential care kit for clothing maintenance for customers. The possibility would exist to design a small case in an existing Everlane factory, provide thread match kits per season, and give exact instruction on wear and tear cases. If a signature scent is pursued, there is even a possibility of testing a run of lightly scented detergent or dryer sheets.
Brand Environment Summary — spatial + physical + digital/ A series of pop-up not shops for stylists to help customers re-imagine old clothing pieces and/or repair worn articles. A sewing kit that could include small scissors, needles, thread, patches, and beautiful materials of how-to. A program that rewards long term clothing wearers with discounts and gather data to be used and published.
In summary, as more products and services move away from having traditional spaces be the primary point of brand environment, emerging technologies can be utilized to create supporting or alternative connection points. As someone who is grounded in the practice and history of physical space, and the design of objects, I look forward to thinking about the new ways technology and products are changing how we make and relate to space and products. Although Everlane was just a case study, a similar process could be applied to many brands. As I develop this idea further — to find ways to bring the spatial + physical + digital into a stronger relationships, please feel free to reach out > amber [at] free-time.us