How Reformation Uses Tech & Sustainability to Win Customers & Build the Store of the Future
By Ben Rudolph
Reformation’s Lacey dress is the dress of summer 2019. If you’ve never heard of Reformation you aren’t alone, but you will soon become very familiar with the brand. Founded in 2009, Reformation now has 14 stores across the United States, and recently opened its first international location, in Toronto’s Yorkdale Mall. It also plans to open its first European location in London this coming fall. Here is the story of how Reformation went from fashion start-up to eco-friendly “it” brand of the summer and what is signifies for the store of the future as well as retailers who are looking to catch the next wave of growth.
1. Sustainable plus fast fashion. Consumers and the coveted millennial demographic, in particular, are increasingly interested in brands that demonstrate sustainability, in an authentic manner. Similar to Allbirds, Rothy’s, and Revolve, Reformation is the latest retailer to identify that sustainability is both good for the planet and for your business plan.
Unlike some brands that utilize sustainability as a marketing ploy, Reformation has made it a core component of the company since its incorporation. Reformation Founder, Yael Aflalo, states that, “I think that climate change is the biggest issue facing our generation.” "I'm not an energy expert or an engineer but I do know how to make ... a sustainable fashion brand."
Reformation considers itself as sustainable and fast fashion, using a quick production process that prevents waste in real time. This includes making limited collection runs before seeing demand and how pieces perform. Reformation plans to recycle 100,000 garments this year, and you can even tour its LA factory to see how it uses discarded and leftover fabrics in its products. Even when you are browsing clothes to try on in store, smart displays will show you the clothing’s “RefScore”. This is a measure of the selected clothing’s water usage, waste generation, and amount of carbon emissions that were generated in the manufacturing process of the piece. Other environmental features include packaging that is made of 100% recycled paper and its “Carbon is Canceled” campaign that awards shoppers gift cards for reducing their carbon footprints.
2. An unforgettable shopping experience. In the golden age of retail, the mantra “if you build it, they will come” was true. However, with consumers now able to purchase things cheaper and faster without leaving their homes, you need to give them a reason to show up to your stores. Even though 80% of its sales come through its website, Reformation’s crowning achievement is making shoppers “feel” something they won’t forget at each of its unforgettable retail locations.
In typical retail stores, shoppers browse a brand’s offerings, look for their size, grab what they like, and retreat to the fitting rooms; not at Reformation, where there is only one of each item on display. To try on items, customers add items to a fitting room on a giant touchscreen on one of the store’s walls, or with the help of a tablet-carrying salesperson. After a customer is satisfied, they simply go to the dressing room assigned on the touchscreen, and then their selection(s) magically wait in a clothing wardrobe attached to the fitting room for them to try on. Not satisfied with a size or colour? Customers put the clothing they are not happy with back in the wardrobe and use the tablet in their change room to find a new piece. Wait 90 seconds, and when the customer checks their wardrobe again… the new selection(s) magically appear for them to try on. The magic happens when the salesperson opens the other side of the wardrobe (once it is ready) to add or remove clothes (no more peaking out of a change room half dressed looking for a salesperson to help)
Similar to the shopping experience at Apple Stores, no formal checkout area exists. Once you are happy, a salesperson helps you purchase what you want with a tap of a button on their tablets.
3. Stores that embraces the Instagram aesthetic. In a social media era, brands need to embrace their viral potential and create a pleasing aesthetic that stands out on shoppers’ NewsFeeds. Reformation stores are beautifully designed with brightly lit and spacious architecture. Clothing hangers sit in perfectly spaced-apart grooves. As mentioned, the walls feature large touchscreen displays that display tongue and cheek copy like, “I like to be touched”.
The changing rooms also bear some cool technological features. There are phone chargers, an aux cord for you to play your own music, and lighting options that allow you to change the colour temperature to your preferred aesthetic. Aflalo mentions that most fitting rooms’ overhead lighting is harsh and can negatively affect a shopper’s self-esteem. Her favourite lighting option is “sexy-time”, a supposedly universally-flattering golden hue.
4. Strategic investments that are paying off. As Reformation began, it sought support from celebrities like Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Karlie Kloss, and from brands like Patagonia that were like-minded partners. Through its Series A and Series B funding rounds, it raised over $37 million in investments.
In early July 2019, Reformation announced it was selling a majority stake to Permira Funds, a private equity firm that also has investments in traditional luxury fashion labels like Valentino. This majority investment will allow Reformation to use newfound resources to further its international retail expansion, improve e-commerce shipping for international customers, and expand into new product categories like shoes.
Most importantly, Reformation proves that sustainability and technology-infused retail experiences work. In 2018, Reformation actually became profitable, with over $150 million in sales. What may the future hold? Aflalo views Reformation as “fashion, but also a startup”, and may one day look to license out its fitting room platform to other brick-and-mortar retail brands.
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