Connecting with consumers in today’s rapidly changing market

Coterie New York is an Informa Markets Fashion event dedicated to contemporary and advanced contemporary women’s clothing, accessories, footwear and cosmetics, which has established itself as a key player in the development of the market, helping to launch, relaunch and scale brands from Helmut Lang to Alice and Olivia. This season, running from February 21 to 23, Coterie continued to expand its focus on community, sustainability and technology and welcomed nearly 900 featured brands, with 30 percent of the show representing international countries.

Coterie has also introduced new merchandise sections on display that group together like-minded brands for ease of navigation. The new segment, Gallery, was chosen to highlight a portfolio of designers representing a new group of sought-after designers with discerning perspectives, including Lelet NY, Simon Miller, Jason Wu Handbags, Honor the Gift and Jennifer Fisher Jewellery. Edit was the second space to showcase advanced contemporary women’s fashion, showcasing international collections with an emphasis on quality, style and craftsmanship. Designers on display include Fedeli, Twinset Milano, European Culture and Meimeij.

In addition to new merch sections, Coterie continues to expand its role as a community liaison and educator for fashion brands, buyers and retailers in New York City and beyond. Catering to the needs and interests of the industry, the event offers dedicated educational programs where companies such as eBay, Renewcell and Arcadia Group discuss current topics, from building a sustainable circular economy in fashion, to the impact of augmented reality (XR) and digitization. Supermodel Pat Cleveland also shared her story with the Coterie audience.

Participants looking at the brand showcases at the Coterie New York show in February.

As part of this educational offering, the four brands presenting at Coterie joined BoF on stage to discuss how brands across categories are innovating the way they engage with their consumers today. The panel was attended by: Alex Faherty, co-founder and CEO of the fashion and lifestyle brand Faherty; Jay Lakhani, co-founder and CEO of luxury accessories brand Deepa Gurnani; Martijn Swolfs, CEO of sustainable denim brand HNST; and Sara Sasson, Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Lelet NY jewelry brand.

Below, BoF shares key takeaways from the lecture – from digital and analog techniques in-store and online, to how these brands are defining value today and expressing it to their consumers today.

Engage with consumer feedback to improve retention

Consumer surveys, whether sent after a purchase, to a mailing list, or open to the wider community on social media channels, can provide valuable feedback on how to improve products and services. However, critical learning is about acting on that feedback. If the consumer feels heard, even involved in the creation of the product, as Lelet NY offers, the brand can increase retention and lasting consumer engagement.

SS: “Every time we get an email from a customer saying “This doesn’t suit me or I would prefer this”, […] to have a quick discussion and use that feedback, and that’s something that’s made us have really great customer retention.

“[Some consumers share feedback like] “I’d like it to look a little different and have a different color,” and we’re actually going to do that [that] product and name it after the customer, then that product will sell really well. […] If you listen to your customers, you’ll be able to grow.”

AF: “We do post-purchase surveys where we ask people, “How did you find out about the brand?” And since we started [those surveys], about 25 percent of people say their friends and family Faherty. It’s too many people for us to be friends and family, but [it’s] like the network effect.

Nurture local communities of consumers and employees

Cities have experienced a massive exodus of residents and commuters during Covid-19 as the pandemic has popularized remote living and working, with Reuters reporting that in 2020, a percentage of Londoners moved out of the city at some point during the pandemic.

Moving residents to more rural suburban areas then placed more emphasis on the local neighborhood – and nurturing that sense of community in stores can impact audiences in more nuanced, meaningful ways.

AF: “Nowadays, people live more locally. Many people were moving out of the cities and into the suburbs, to neighborhoods like Brooklyn, instead of living in Soho. So I think people want to experience these communities now and not really go anywhere else. So how can we do this as a retailer? We can be a place where people like to hang out, whether they want to buy a pair of pants or not […] owns one of our stores [a coffee shop, for] example. After that, we organize different events every month in our stores to bring the community together.”

Every year, we probably spend a third of our time on the road, traveling to the shops, to the different markets. It’s just a great way to connect [with our consumers] locally.”

“I think musicians and bands do it best [in] how they spread their name in parts of the country. [It’s about] how we enter new markets, meet customers where they are and how we get to know the brand atmosphere. […] Every year, we probably spend a third of our time on the road, traveling to the shops, to the different markets. […] It’s just a great way to connect [with our consumers] locally.”

JL: “[Coterie] it’s a community of such amazing brands [and] when it comes to our supplier community, our voices are heard. They listen to what we want, they find buyers, they bring them here. […] This is the center of passion, and we’re all here for a specific reason, to build this community and move it forward.”

Integrate transparency to create authentic consumer messaging

Transparency is key to a more sustainable future in fashion, fueled by consumer concerns about issues such as fair work, sustainable resources and the environment. According to the 2021 Porter Novelli Purpose Premium Index (PPI), 73% of consumers say that to win their endorsement, companies need to show how they support communities and the environment.

To foster a genuine relationship between the customer and the brand and inspire consumer confidence, consumers today expect progress, not perfection. Transparency provides insight into where the brand is on the road to more ethical and sustainable business practices.

Visitors entering Coterie New York descending the stairs.

SM: “We have a large reach to people who are aware of sustainability and circularity as well […] reach us on Instagram, Facebook and […] ask [us] critical questions about how we produce the materials we use, about the entire production process. We need to be able to answer their questions, so everything we do is fully transparent. We have a “nothing to hide” ethos – we are fully transparent about how to do this [and] where we produce.

JL: “We are now being videotaped and watched every second of our day. So if I say something that is not clear [for example,] I will be caught no matter what. That’s how it is. If you are true to yourself, if you stick to your career ethos or brand vision, your identity, […] do not lie. Just be honest, be transparent. In India [where Deepa Gurnani employs 300 artisans]We don’t have roads, we don’t have sidewalks, we don’t have water. We cannot be 100% sustainable. This is just the infrastructure in our country.

“Of course we will make mistakes. Every day is a learning process. […] You must be honest and you must provide customer service, honest reviews and [the] development opportunity for everyone. It’s the only way it can be true – [through] fairness and transparency.”

Consider new social platforms – or take advantage of new opportunities in established channels

Connecting with consumers through social channels is getting more and more expensive today. Advertisers spent around $29 per customer acquisition in 2022, up from just $9 in 2013. Customer acquisition costs increased by an average of 70 percent on TikTok and 39 percent on Meta platforms, including Instagram.

Brands may consider using newer platforms such as Be Real or Discord with growing and highly engaged communities to connect with consumers by authentically reflecting the purpose of these platforms. Alternatively, using new products on existing social channels — such as Instagram polls or new TikTok trends — can keep community engagement relevant and relevant.

SM: “Today we mainly use platforms like Instagram and Facebook, but now we are experimenting [with] integrating, for example, BeReal, a platform based on the moment and focused on authenticity.

“We are trying to find a way we can integrate with our communication strategy platforms like Discord for example, where you can really interact with your audience and your audience can also interact with you. We believe it makes sense and where you can really learn from your community, but also where they feel they can also contribute something to the brand.

We are trying to find a way to integrate with our communication strategy platforms like Discord where you can really interact with your audience and your audience can interact with you.

SS: “[Instagram] is the place where our clients meet and spend the most time, and they like it most when we ask them questions. We conduct surveys and ask them what they would like to see next. Then we ask them, “What are your pain points? What things do you really love right now? We actually have a folder with all their answers and we go through them every time we create a new collection. Each time we revisit this style, their comments and feedback inform our path forward.”

AF: “I still respond to LinkedIn or Instagram messages that people send me. [As co-founders,] we are still committed to customer service and any issues that happen in stores. I think it’s like keeping in touch where the customer feels like they’re actually working with the small family brand that we are and they know the owners, and there’s something genuine about that.”

“Anti-technology is also getting cooler. We [have created] catalog [since] 2015, which we have transformed into more of a travel guide over the last few years. So our directories are more locations, we recommend the trips we go on and we help our community by educating them about cool things. [For example,] we just shot a whole story about Peru.”

Learn more about Coterie New York, an Informa Markets Fashion event for contemporary and advanced contemporary women’s clothing, accessories, footwear and beauty.

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