Innovating Into Fashion’s Future – WWD – WWD


Innovation has something of a restless soul — residing in the chance of what happens next, the alchemy of a diverse group of thinkers working together or just a willingness to lean out on the edge. 

And since it can reside in so many places, everyone seems to find it in their own way. 

But in a panel discussion with Tara Donaldson, executive editor of WWD and head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Fairchild Media Group, it was apparent that one of the clearest paths to innovation was the simple act of doing something new. 

And that was true across the panelists, from rising sneaker star APL to the metaverse and Roblox to retail stalwart Walmart. Here, how leaders at each of those companies are thinking about innovation now.

Adam and Ryan Goldston, APL (Athletic Propulsion Labs) 

“The secret [of innovation] is looking at the same problems as everyone else, but seeing them differently,” said Ryan Goldston, co-chief executive officer of APL, or Athletic Propulsion Labs.  

Goldston cofounded APL with his identical twin Adam, who is also co-CEO. The brothers played basketball, but weren’t going to go pro so they went after the business of basketball shoes.  

APL started out with a simple path — create a sneaker that instantly makes one jump higher and then build a business around it. 

Accomplishing that first step made the second step, well, interesting. The APL sneaker that the cofounders dreamed of seeing on pro basketball players was instead banned by the NBA for giving an undue advantage. 

The brothers found out about the ban while working out of their small office and, having few resources to fight the action, innovated their way into a thriving business, prominently marketing their shoes as banned by the NBA and selling nine months of inventory in three days. 

“We could have never told you when we were coming out with the idea that we’re going to create something that’s banned by the NBA, but we did want to create something that would make us jump higher,” Adam said. 

The magic of innovation — at least sometimes and at APL — lives in the reaction to the world, not the masterplan.   

“You don’t put it on the white board and say this is the end goal,” Adam said. “You say, there’s a clear definitive path to something we’d like to create and what comes after that is typically the true innovation, because then you have to be nimble, you have to change direction.

“Everybody remembers that [the sneaker] was banned by the NBA,” he said. “That wasn’t the innovation we were striving for. We were trying to create something that just made us jump higher. [The NBA ban] was just a consequence of that but we weren’t scared of what the consequences were.”

The duo is also not afraid to draw inspiration from absolutely anywhere. 

Ryan pointed to a trip to Tokyo in 2019, when they walked 14.3 miles in one day and noshed on Japanese souffle pancakes that were, of course, thick and fluffy and soft.  

Naturally, he said to his brother: “We need to create a midsole that is inspired by these pancakes….That idea of just getting innovation or inspiration from the real world and just experiences that you’re having, it’s something that all of us can relate to.”  

Adam acknowledged that one of their biggest issues was “too many ideas.” 

“We always have to reel it in a little bit because what you don’t want to do is think so far out that you’re not going to be able to commercialize,” he said. “When you think through new ideas, there’s a delicate balance for how far do you take it before you’re just doing something for the art and not something that’s commercial. One of the reasons we own the pinnacle of luxury performance is we’re really tiptoeing the line for, is this as far as you can go where customers can buy it on a large scale or is this something where it’s special and its niche.” 

Winnie Burke, Roblox

Roblox is on the cutting edge of innovating in the still nebulous space known as the metaverse, where fashion almost by definition needs to flex some new muscles to engage. 

Winnie Burke, head of fashion and beauty partnerships at Roblox, is working right at the boundary where the two worlds meet. 

“Innovation can look different for every brand depending on your comfort level,” Burke said. “The point is to participate, to lean into it, to try new formats to experience because while you’re doing this, you actually have this opportunity in front of you, which is to connect with the consumer, who you may not otherwise be connecting with in a different channel.

“For Roblox, innovation is really the foundation of our platform,” she said. “We were built on innovation and it’s innovation in technology that Robolx is creating and it’s innovation in content, which is coming from the community.” 

So Roblox hasn’t just innovated by creating a virtual space where brands and consumers can interact, but is also helping brands lean into what Burke described as “community-led creation” where people around the world create their own looks. 

She pointed to Tommy Hilfiger, which hosted a New York Fashion Week show on Roblox, opening up the event to the platform’s more than 50 million active daily users.  

“They could attend Tommy’s show and have this experience with it, which was not bound by laws of physics, your avatar could fly through the streets of New York City, over the Brooklyn Bridge and integrate with the models who are walking the runway.”

The Tommy looks on the runway were then available to buy immediately in Roblox. 

It’s a world that’s moving fast and, when asked what disruption looks like over the next few years, Burke said the industry is already in the midst of it. 

“The metaverse is no longer this scary concept, it is not something in an abstract sci-fi film, it’s happening now,” she said. “Brands have this opportunity and any creator has this opportunity to lean into that, it’s not so much disruption as it is an evolution and this is early days. We’re just scratching the surface.”

Denise Incandela, Walmart U.S.

Denise Incandela, executive vice president, apparel and private brands at Walmart U.S., unlocks innovation with love — that is by “falling in love with the problem and not the solution.” 

“If you think about it like that, then your iterating on all the potential options,” she said. “If you fall in love with the solution, then you’re focused on that solution.”

The Walmart approach is to first find the friction points and then bring together a diverse group of people to mull.

“[That] is where the magic happens for us, it’s not just one or two people in technology, but a diverse group of people and then thinking about how do you solve that problem, what are all the options to solve that problem and then — before you get to coding because so much of our innovation is technology based…it’s throwing the solution at the customers and seeing if it solves the problem.” 

That test and learn mentality is clear with one of Walmart’s latest fashion tech ventures, which flowed out of its 2021 acquisition of virtual fitting room company Zeekit

The company rolled out a variety of virtual models that shoppers could choose from to see how their fashions would fit. Customer responded and Walmart kept expanding options and, eventually, let shoppers take over and be their own virtual models

Incandela said the industry is “at the precipice of a very big change in terms of AR and VR” and that Walmart is “playing in each of those and making sure we’ve got big bets” in both areas. 

That is part of a conscious effort to keep up in a rapidly changing world in a variety of ways, including through an incubation arm dubbed Store No. 8, which is a nod to the store founder Sam Walton used to test new ideas. 

“Store No. 8 has a huge team of entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers that are chasing the next big wave, so they’re thinking five to 10 years out with the goal of not just being able to participate when the future comes, but actually leading and so we’re making significant strategic investments as a company five to 10 years out,” Incandela said.

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