Createthe Group's James Gardner Makes Marc Look Pretty Online

If you work in fashion, you've heard of Createthe Group. If you don't work in fashion, you've shopped on a Createthe Group-engineered Web site, whethe
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If you work in fashion, you've heard of Createthe Group. If you don't work in fashion, you've shopped on a Createthe Group-engineered Web site, whethe
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If you work in fashion, you've heard of Createthe Group. If you don't work in fashion, you've shopped on a Createthe Group-engineered Web site, whether it was Marc Jacobs, Burberry, Tom Ford, Bulgari or one of many others.

Createthe Group designs and engineers Web sites, e-commerce platforms, mobile applications and mobile commerce platforms for pretty much every big fashion and luxury brand around. Company founder James Gardner, a Wall Street refugee who set out in 2004 to bring high fashion to life online, is the brain behind these ventures. He's also one of the primary reasons the US is a leader in fashion and luxury e-commerce. (Think about it: Companies like Stella McCartney only sell online to US customers.)

Fashionista recently sat down with Gardner to discuss how the industry has changed since he launched Createthe Group in 2004, and how it's about to change even further.

Fashionista: What did you set out to do when forming createthe group in 2004, and how has that changed in the last six years? James Gardner: Before I started Createthe Group, I was working on Wall Street, creating algorithms for trading. I wanted to do something like that, but in this industry. I've obviously not been the only person doing e-commerce for high-end brands, but my end goal is--and always has been--to use technology to transform fashion and luxury.

It seemed like, up until about two years ago, most luxury brands were afraid of the Internet, afraid of e-commerce. Early on, how did you convince brands that going online was the right thing to do? Six years ago, apart from the real innovators, like Ralph Lauren, the vast majority of companies were concerned that the digital channel would damage their brand. They weren't convinced that the brand could be properly represented online. As technology changed, and bandwidth increased, we were more easily able to create content with rich, beautiful imagery. We are also lucky that Marc Jacobs, Burberry, David Yurman, and others signed on with us early. As other brands started seeing that, they were more eager to team up. Selling online was something brands were traditionally worried about--they were afraid it would cannibalize their wholesale and retail outlets. Even 12 or 18 months ago, people were worried. Now, 95% of our clients have e-commerce, or we're currently creating an e-commerce platform for them. What do you think about the emphasis on social media in fashion? Do you think it's really necessary for every brand to have a Facebook page or a Twitter handle? Absolutely don't jump on the bandwagon, understand where it fits into your overall brand. Our client Donna Karan has done a good job with Twitter. The consumer really resonates with @DKNY, so it's been effective. [@DKNY is run by one of the firm's public relations reps--her Tweets are funny and candid, drawing over 66,000 followers thus far.]

Last week, Gilt Groupe told me that 7% of their weekend sales are made via iPhone. How important is creating mobile apps to your firm these days? It needs to be part of an overall digital channel strategy. We're all on the iPad, already pretty obsessed with it, and the Gilt Groupe app is very interesting. You'd think, "Why do they even need a shopping app?" But the imagery and user experience make it compelling.

I think what's more important, though, is ensuring you have a type of e-commerce platform that works on mobile phones. Just because Chanel has an app doesn't mean everyone has to have an app. If an app is needed, tackle that after m-commerce is in place.

You work with the best in fashion, but are there any brands you're still eager to team up with? When I sat down and asked myself that question seven years ago, I listed out Marc Jacobs, Burberry, and a lot of other brands that we still work with today. Now, we're quite interested in looking outside of fashion and luxury. I want to work with brands that are already innovators online, such as Uniqlo. And Apple, of course. The opportunity to work with a brand like Apple, or Target--any brand that focuses on design--would be fantastic.

So, we've covered e-commerce, branding, social media and m-commerce. What's next in the digital space for luxury and fashion? Global expansion is very important, especially from a brand and e-commerce perspective. Social commerce is also important.

What exactly is social commerce? It's social shopping--it's a way to drives sales through a social community. A good example is Juicy Couture's Club Couture. Consumers can put looks together--a pair of jeans, a tank top, a necklace--and browse other club members' looks. They can also upload pictures of themselves styled in their favorite Juicy items. Consumers recommending how to put products together for other consumers--and it's had a massive impact on sales. The conversion rate [or the number of people who actually buy something after clicking on it] is 162% higher on that section of the site compared to the regular e-commerce section. You can follow James Gardner on Twitter: @subversiveglam, or visit his blog: www.subversiveglamour.com.