Several years back, Alfonso Segura, the CEO/Founder of the industry thought-leading blog, The Fashion Retailer, found what was nothing more than a habit of collecting information on industry trends into building out a blog with a large readership.
While the journey to get there has never been an easy one, when reflecting on the road itself, Segura finds it far from random, as the consequence of his professional path in retail has always been reflected as far back as his studies in sociology.
With a great interest in the science of understanding people, and retail is an industry that deals with people on a consumer level, Segura jumped into the fashion world head-on, and has since worked in the industry for over 10 years.
Fashion has always been part of my family. Growing up with an entrepreneur-father, he was dedicated to textiles dyeing and managing a fabric company founded in 1890 in Terrassa, Spain, fashion has always been a part of my family.
Spending some years in Segura began his career in the fashion industry working for both mass-market and luxury apparel companies, and then ran a company specializing in baby clothing. After a few years, Segura moved to the business consulting side where he remained involved in projects for retailers around the world. It wasn’t until January 2019, he joined a leading technology company with the aim of digitally transforming the fashion industry.
The path to digital transformation in the fashion industry
In March 2017, while doing his MBA at IESE, Segura attended a conference on Fashion and Luxury Goods. It was here, his world changed, as the attending speakers discussed the difficulty in managing talent in an industry where science and art merged, and how companies struggle when integrating the product and retail side of the business.
I thought it would be great to try to explain both sides of the business, fashion (art) and retail (science), using my experience and passion for the industry.
From where he stood, Segura felt there would be others like himself, a niche of people that could be interested in reading about how the industry worked from a realistic point of view, and without cost.
On top of that, since 2014, he had been tracking and writing on retail trends on a single file on his cloud storage, attempting to look at the opportunities ahead. He realized, with all the information he held and educated himself on, he could write every week as a way of updating himself on the latest trends in the industry.
Furthermore, he also found that maintaining the blog was beneficial to his professional career as well, as it served as a means to build his own brand and profile, beyond a standard CV. It was the best way to display his interests and experience while growing a niche network. In addition, it began to provide him the opportunity to collaborate with fashion companies and startups at a greater scale, as well as allowing him to attend as a speaker to provide thought leadership.
The Fashion Retailer: information and insight into retail
Today, the Fashion Retailer has been voted as one of the best retail blogs to follow by Feedspot, the blog has about 5000 visitors and 8000 views per week, all without any paid ads through Facebook or Google. Growing his audience organically, the blog serves as a useful resource that many people in the industry go-to for information.
Currently, the blog has many referrers from universities or fashion related sites. Segura assumes most of his visitors are part of a niche segment of people working in the industry or students, something he prefers, as the blog is meant to be specialized for a specific crowd.
Based on the data, a majority of those who follow his blog tend to be from the USA, UK, India, Italy, Spain, Germany and France. However, in regards to visitors/population, Hong Kong tends to be on top. Due to the time constraints of living life and balancing work-family, he has not placed as much attention on social media presence, but is something he hopes to focus on in the coming years.
Building the blog: challenges and struggles
When reflecting back on the start of his journey in building out The Fashion Retailer, Segura found the biggest challenge in understanding how to build, maintain, and promote his blog, as this part of the Internet was not something he was all too familiar with.
Moreover, being a Spanish native, writing in English has not been the easiest thing to do, yet with a desire to improve and share what he could on a global scale, he structured the content he’d provide and did exactly that will be displayed. Till today, he keeps the same structure: providing news, industry insights, and interviews.
Another challenge he has found is keeping a work-life balance, especially when you have a baby, a full-time job, and other hobbies to maintain. In the early beginnings, there were moments when writing a post required more than 40 hours of “work,” something quite draining, especially considering the opportunity cost.
The disruption of fashion and retail
When it comes to the future of fashion, and how technology will play a part in changing the industry, Segura looks hopeful, with a belief of its inevitability.
With markets being more volatile than ever before, from the Yellow Vest in France, ups, and downs of Brexit, ongoing Hong Kong riots, Trump, and the weather extremes across the world, he notes that all of these are important variables that affect the annual reports of companies. From import/export prices, taxes, currency exchange, and others, there are many more factors to consider now.
Fashion seasonality is a risk, and more volatility requires a higher capacity to make decisions. Artificial Intelligence or machine learning will exponentially increase the accuracy of demand forecasting, logistics optimization, price management, store clustering, etc. I ́ve seen how a team of four people were doing the same job compared to 100 people thanks to AI-driven predictive analytics solutions for inventory management.
In this day and age, fashion and retail are in dire need to redefine their businesses. Retail evolved from a product-centric model to a customer-centric one, meaning stores – in order to keep up with changing demands – need to adapt to a different generation of customers that are digitized and know more about the product than sales assistants. The question of why would you visit a store if you can see the product online or read more about its characteristics is one that many businesses need to ask. Depending on the product segment, the issue of size seems to be the only restriction or incentive to visit a store.
Moreover, with this new generation of consumers, issues of sustainability are much more important. Segura notes that the annual report of fashion companies (even mass-market ones) are in constant mention of sustainability (traceability, suppliers’ transparency, raw materials origins, etc). Brands need to think beyond making cheap products, but contributing to foster the circular economy.
Legacy and mid-tier retailers are facing fierce competition with pure players that are agile and flexible enough to deliver quality products without large structure costs.
Titans like Amazon are gradually adding more and more private labels to their portfolio, as companies positioned in the same customer segment will continue to face difficulties, with it being ultimately a price war, especially when selling clothes as commodities.
Segura further comments on the continued nature of the retail apocalypse, where millennials find department stores more boring than ever before and are struggling to compete with niche pure players and internet marketplaces. He notes that many retailers will have to close more stores, focus on better locations and invest in improving the shopping experience through the integration of technology, customized assortment, digitalization, and improved customer service. Unlike the past, overstocking is a challenge in the digital era, which is why technology companies like Chain of Demand and other predictive analytics solutions are necessary for this day and age for retailers.
The future and beyond: fashion and technology
Technology is transforming the fashion industry at every level in the value chain. This is something, Segura believes, is inevitable.
The brick-and-mortar industry was based on designing 8-12 months in advance with a high risk of overstocking. Technology helps companies shorten their production time, increase forecast accuracy and ensure selling the right product, at the right time, in the right place.
Fashion Technology or Fashtech is allowing companies, dinosaurs, and niche players, to compete in this new age. Artificial intelligence augmented reality, blockchain, 3D knitting or Internet of Things- technology is helping companies to manage manufacturing, planning, buying, shipping and selling more efficiently while reducing inventory costs and improving customer experience. The cost of digital transformation has seen many legacy retailers fail, as their cash flow can ́t support investing in innovation.
Ultimately, Segura believes that technology is redefining the relationship between companies and customers as well. From examples like the RFID tags – that gives stock visibility (amongst other benefits) – these provide a company with an overview of a specific product, which is incredibly convenient. The more this develops, the greater the expectation will be for consumers of the future.
When it comes to future trends, Segura believes that Fashion as a Service (FaaS) will be an important trend, and is linked to the switch in Millennials’ shopping behavior. These customers will be looking for an experience more than ownership alone. Product freshness and guidance will be regarded as more important than the product itself. Companies like Rent the Runway, Vestiaire Collective, ThredUp and The Real Real are some of the companies that he suggests to keep an eye on, as they are leading this model.
With plans to gather the best, most popular posts from the website and compile them into an ebook about fashion retail trends and best practices, Segura continues his big plans for the website.
As a thought leader in the industry, the Fashion Retailer blog continues to see plenty of monthly visitors and outreach from industry key players and experts. And with great interest in people, Segura hopes to accept future collaboration with such business leaders
Despite the difficulties in balancing his work, life, and family balance, Segura dives deep into his roots for understanding human behavior and mind and looks at the future to better uncover the thought process of the people he interviews, going beyond simply retail.
I would like to have a deep understanding of the day in the life of people that are not only executives and help students to have a better idea of what it’s like to work in the fashion industry.
When looking for inspiration on how to become a better businessman and industry leader, Segura takes note of companies like Ermenegildo Zegna, a family-owned fashion company. Due to the DNA of their brand, the company places the utmost importance in fabrics and every phase of merchandising, along with taking care of their employees far better than one could imagine.
Being a family-owned company makes them think on the long-term value instead of short-term one. It’s an example of consistency in an era where most luxury companies are acquired by large conglomerates such as Kering or LVMH.
As an avid reader, he also recommends books like Yvon Couinard’s “Let My People Go Surfing,” an insightful read that talks about all that is important to Segura, from human values, life, love for the environment, entrepreneurship, and sustainability at all levels.
Finally, when it comes to the future of retail, Segura comments on an idea he wrote about it in the New Fashion Retail Paradigm, where he sees the current retail crisis stabilization several years out, as leading retailers are expected to become better prepared to compete in omnichannel businesses and integrating technology.
There will inevitably be more acquisition between online and offline retailers, and undoubtedly, as things are already appearing to be, retailers that do not focus on making investments into technology will close, while the players that focus on integrating artificial intelligence and other retail technologies will have more success, conquering tribes of customers. Furthermore, Segura believes that brands will embrace activism, and those who understand the importance of managing big data will learn to lead.