In September, Ralph Lauren was among the many brands experimenting with a "see now, buy now" runway format, showing a fall 2016 collection that was immediately shoppable at the brand's Madison Avenue store. Without giving any exact numbers, David Lauren told the audience at Fast Company's 2016 Innovation Festival that the brand was happy with the results.
"I think for us, it's been a great success," he said. "What's very important is to stay tuned in and keep trying things, and not everything you do is going to be successful. The industry has to keep exploring, because every other industry is changing."
It's part of Lauren's new "Way Forward" initiative, intended to help bring the nearly 50-year-old company into the future. It was by no means easy; Lauren said in the initial meeting that every single person emphasized the difficulties a "see now, buy now" runway would present to their specific tasks. He pointed out that Rugby did a "shop now" show eight years ago, and that it proved so difficult that the brand shelved the idea until recently. But rather than accept no for an answer, the brand gave themselves a 30-day limit to figure out every part of the chain before jumping in head first. While he says it went over well, Lauren emphasized the importance of maintaining the impression of value for the brand's products at retail.
"The people that make our products spend days working on it. When you are beading a dress, there's so many fine details and hours," Lauren said. "The feeling is, that if it's immediate, it means it was made overnight, and we have to change that perception. All we've really done is change the fashion cycle."
Figuring all of that out is part of Lauren's role as chief innovation officer, a new title he accrued in October. Lauren compares his role and that of his team's to being the "Navy Seals" of Ralph Lauren, the force that helps all the other teams "ignite" their ideas. He notes ideas that came from customers, like that of a polo customization tool launched by the brand over a decade ago, and ideas that come from different departments, like a "Minority Report"-inspired shoppable window, are some of the strongest implemented by the company. His role is to listen and to help make those ideas become reality.
"I think we've created a culture in our company where you don't feel intimidated to bring ideas forward," he says. "Some of our best ideas are going to start anywhere in this company; you have to take your ego out."