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EDITIONS x NYC: Where the Brand Stops and the Customer Begins

EDITIONS NYC has launched! EDITED spoke to Charles Youssef and retail pros from Michael Kors, Bonobos and MM.LaFleur. Merchants & planners share wisdom.
EDITIONS x NYC: Where the Brand Stops and the Customer Begins | EDITED


Only minutes into EDITIONS’ successful New York City debut (thank you!) designer Charles Youssef perfectly, and probably unknowingly, brought up the one thing each of our great speakers would mention at one point or another in the night: the idea of balance.

Speaking about his transition from designer to designer/business owner, he was clear about something he’d learned along the way that he took with him to his own label.

“I know a lot of you guys are planners and merchants and you probably are familiar with designers who just want to do something crazy every season,” he told moderator and journalist Leah Bourne. “So I really learned how to reign myself in creatively and look at things from a business perspective so that I was able to sustain myself.”

“I learned to reign myself in creatively, to look from a business perspective to sustain myself.”

That sense of looking at yourself, be it personally or in terms of ‘yourself’ as a brand, and understanding how to create a balance between brand identity and customers’ demands was the central, but certainly not the only theme that Youssef, and later a panel of experts would go through in an evening of insightful industry discussion.

For Youssef, whose brand is still an extension of himself creatively even when adjusted for commercial appeal, that response has taken the shape of striking a balance between unfiltered creativity and a slightly-tweaked commercial one.

“For me, a 30/70 ratio has been working, where it’s 30% editorial and 70% helping to support the business in terms of sales,” he said. “I tend to set it up that way initially and then look at feedback from my merchandising team and my sales team to see how we can expand that.“ He was the first to bring it up, but he wasn’t the last.

A little later, Divya Mathur, panelist and Senior Director of Merchandising at Michael Kors, came back to balance but this time from the perspective of a marquee brand looking to satisfy customers while keeping its business KPIs healthy.

“The selling tells you what the customer wants, even if it’s not what you want her to want,” she said. “So we’ve learned that even when we do really exciting product launches and we put the full force of the brand behind it, if she doesn’t want it, she doesn’t buy it. It’s that simple.”

“The selling tells you what the customer wants, even if it’s not what you want her to want”

According to Mathur, that’s played a role in Michael Kors’ recent shift towards offering bags in new sizes to capitalize on current trends (albeit in a new, distinctly Michael Kors way) despite the fact that they retail at a lower price point than the company wants to be at.

“We’ve started doing some of our best-selling bags in mini versions and it’s absolutely what the customer wants, and we’re happy to give her that. …We’ve had to, as a business team, really think about strategies to say, ‘if she’s spending less on a bag, how do we get her to buy something in addition to a bag?’. What makes a good merchant is being able to know what your customer wants and then being able to think about what are business opportunities that arise from what the customer is telling you,” she said.

And what’s one way to know what the customer is telling you? Feedback was one answer, but where all three panelists were unanimous was on the merits of product testing. And further, testing through pre-orders or online-only offers. Why? Well in the first case, you know exactly how many you need to make (plus it lets you know how customers feel about a higher price point) and in the second, as panelist and Merchandising Manager at Bonobos, Saami Siddiqui explained:

“We like to test into items and being an online brand, we’re actually able to do that because you don’t have to take the inventory liability that you might have to make if you have 200 stores and you’re buying product for that many stores. So we’re able to test in a smaller way on our website and then react to the results,” he said. “We like to test and then iterate and then improve the product. Then when we’re comfortable with the product, that’s when we move into the investment stage and we make a big deal of it.”

“We like to test and then iterate and then improve the product.” says Saami Siddiqui @Bonobos

Another key issue of the night was on the topic of the continually shifting landscape of commerce, from bricks and mortar to online to mobile to omnichannel. Amid the back-and-forth, panelist Michaella Kurdziel, Director of Customer Experience at MM.LaFleur, discussed what she felt was an important next step in the push to blend the online and offline brand experience.

“One thing I focus on, speaking through the lens of being a customer experience person, is personalization and finding new and different ways to access our customers on a personal level that feels luxurious or VIP, even if it’s scalable and repeatable,” she said. “So looking into things like how do we send 1000 text messages at a time that sound really personal like, ‘Hey, Susannah, I know you bought this dress last season and we’re releasing it in a new color that I think would look great with your coloring. Just reply ‘yes’ to this text and I’ll take care of everything for you and it will show up in three days.’ So being able to do really personal, scalable things in ecommerce that are different than email.”

Those were just some of our favorite moments of the night, but there so many more good things said. All in all, it was a wonderful evening. Thanks again to everyone who spoke or came to listen! We’ll be back in two months time (details to follow), so get ready for that.

If you’d like to speak at EDITIONS in New York or London, let us know! We’ve got a long list of topics we’re interested and would love to talk about how your expertise could fit in. Get in touch with us at [email protected].