When it comes to retail innovation, you can usually count on consumers’ constant need for clothes to help drive new trends.
At the start of the 2010s, retail merchandising was, at base, a lot of guesswork. The fashion industry made decisions on its seasonal lines once or twice a year, production runs were ordered and goods were shipped. If things went well and brands guessed right about consumer tastes, that was all well and good. If not, adjustments to the remainder of the stock would be made, and promotions and discounts were thrown out to motivate the consumer.
Retail merchandising was, at best, a hit-or-miss system in its heyday, Nextail CEO and Co-founder Joaquin Villalba told PYMNTS in a recent conversation. However, it is increasingly out of date, and out of step with modern consumer behavior and preferences. Apparel life cycles for products that used to be measured in months are now measured in weeks.
The way brands guided their merchandising processes in the old paradigm requires too much manual input, hinging on data sets and models that are too general and accrue too slowly – too much like a “fulfilling prophecy,” Villalba noted. Combining artificial intelligence (AI) with data – as Nextail attempts to do with its machine learning-driven retail merchandising platform – does the job better when it comes to aligning supply and demand.
“If we have data that is coming in closer to the moment of truth [the moment of customer purchase], [then] it seems better to reconsider earlier decision[s] based on the information I have now,” Villalba said.
Even better, he noted, AI could consider the question and automatically optimize for it instead of making a decision at all.
AI is not the only area of apparel retail innovation. Odors, oddly enough, are also a driver.
The problem with most athletic wear is that no matter how well it works, how comfortable it is and how much one loves a piece, eventually it will start to stink. Badly. Washing can hold off the issue for a while, but over time, most pieces always seem to have an underlayer of unpleasant odor, no matter how clean they are. Plus, Accel Lifestyle Founder Megan Eddings noted, overwashing can wear down the clothes until they ultimately get ragged and are thrown out.
But while most people expect that their athletic wear will have to be replaced fairly often, Eddings is a trained chemist who is unwilling to resign herself to waste and unpleasant smells.
“I was tired of throwing away my husband’s stinky workout clothes. It was driving me nuts. You can wash that kind of dry-fit, polyester-type material, but the moment he started sweating in it again, the shirt became – I coined this term – ‘activated,’” Eddings noted in an interview.
Eddings’ first move was to look for a better option, a search that rather quickly deadened. She found products that were advertised as smell-resistant, but they all had other issues. The odor-proof effect was created by soaking the clothing in heavy industrial chemicals or by using overseas labor practices that Eddings considered unethical.
Three years and a lot of experimentation later, Prema™ fabric – the proprietary material out of which all of Accel Lifestyle’s pieces are made – was born. The material is currently patent-pending in 120 countries worldwide. Much of the technical part of Prema fabric, and how exactly it keeps gym clothing from becoming an effective repository for stink, is a closely guarded secret. Accel does reveal that the fabric is a proprietary blend of silver-poly fibers woven with Supima (a type of high-quality cotton). The use of silver, a known antimicrobial, is not entirely new in athletic clothing design. But, according to Eddings, Accel is using the material in a different, proprietary way.
Those are just some examples of how this area of retail is changing. Clothes may a relatively simple product, but merchants and brands keep finding new ways to improve not only the items themselves, but also their marketing and sales.