Knowing The Lead | TLQ 0.3

Knowing The Lead

The Lead’s Timo Weiland gives an insider’s look into his role as Chief Community Officer — the link between brand & retail leaders and the wider fashion-retail-commerce community.
Photograph by Casey Kelbaugh

BY Timo Weiland | Co-Founder & Chief Community Officer | The Lead

As Chief Community Officer of The Lead, it is my mission to grow our organization to include the very best-in-class decision-makers across fashion, beauty, retail, and technology. As a brand founder myself, with over 10+ years in the fashion industry, it is only natural that my network includes visionaries leading apparel & accessories brands, executives from established department stores, and luminaries of the CFDA. I collaborated closely with many of them while at the helm of the Timo Weiland brand. And now I’m able to collaborate with them in a different way, by assembling to have the right conversations about their businesses.

But established global brands and iconic retailers are not the beginning and end of our community. To truly speak to the fashion industry, I also spend much of my time with the new kids on the block — the Digital Native Vertical Brands. A crucial part of building our latest research list, The Foremost 50, was getting to know the founders and the ins and outs of their businesses during the interviews in mid 2018 (and starting again next month). In the art-filled Rosenthal & Rosenthal boardroom, we spoke candidly with leadership from these companies to evaluate their brand’s innovation, market opportunity, media buzz, team, competition & investor value creation.

Today, The Lead seeks to facilitate dialogue between these two distinct sides of the Fashion and Retail spectrum — we do it for the valuable learning to be had across all types of organizations. Through the first three months of 2019, I had several meetings & and attended myriad events that have highlighted the appetite for this type of knowledge sharing amongst leaders in fashion. Join me to take a look at a few of them:

Image courtesy of The Robin Report

At Shoptalk 2019 in Las Vegas, my conversations ranged from Building a Sustainable Online to Offline Business, to Omnichannel Data for Customer Profiles, to Retailers Meeting Consumers Where They Actually Are (Outside of Malls!). Meeting Frank & Oak Founder & CEO Ethan Song was a highlight for me. As a customer of the brand, I appreciated hearing about the modern menswear brand that has grown from e-commerce only to a brick & mortar staple for men and women in Canada. After taking in the 30,000 foot view of conference content, it was refreshing to get back to more one-on-one meetings like that with Ethan, exploring the challenges and opportunities with brands and founders themselves.

Back in New York post-Shoptalk, one of my more interesting meetings was with Veronica Swanson Beard and Veronica Miele Beard — co-founders of coveted double-eponymous womenswear brand Veronica Beard. Since launching the line around a beautifully tailored & distinctly versatile style of outerwear (due in part to the removable “dickey” detail), the VB brand has expanded the range to a cohesive lifestyle brand consisting of shoes, handbags, accessories, and apparel. It was interesting to hear the Veronicas share that the main challenge they have overcome is taking their mostly-wholesale business online & into five freestanding retail stores of their own, while maintaining the thoughtful ‘dickey-esque’ design touches over the past 10 years. Maintaining their authentic approach seems to be the winning formula.

Another thought-provoking meeting I took was with Aliza Licht. She most recently headed up Communications and Marketing at alice+olivia, but many may recall when Aliza took Twitter by storm in its early days as @DKNYprgirl. Arguably the first omnipresent fashion personality online, she developed a following of almost 500,000 with her tongue-in-cheek take on the daily trials & tribulations of the industry. Now, Aliza is a New York Times bestselling author with her book “Leave Your Mark” and she is producing a highly-anticipated new podcast. During our meeting at Soho House, Aliza and I dove into the evolution of the influencer business model — how she utilized the data to dress the right celebrities and drive the most business with alice+olivia’s recent fashion week campaigns on Instagram, which resulted in a several million dollar increase in direct sales.

In addition to these one-on-one meetings, an experience that stands out for me from the year thus far is the The Retail Radicals award breakfast at Shoptalk. The gathering brought together leading executives from some of the world’s most iconic and established brands and retailers. What is a Radical? The Robin Report distinguishes this group by their ability to transform legacy businesses and increase their value for today’s consumers. This declaration is an important one for the industry because these rule-breakers are challenging the status-quo of each of their heritage companies. I was particularly intrigued by David Katz of Randa, and how one of the world’s largest accessory licensees has a Digital Labs arm for investing in the most promising emerging direct-to-consumer companies. Radicals anticipate the future, recognize how to make their brands customer-centric and snap their companies out of the past to create new business models. Other highlights from the morning included awards presented to Tricia Nichols of Estee Lauder (also on The Lead’s Defiant 25 of 2018) and David Olsen of Cos Bar.

Finally, while it was not a meeting, I was incredibly impressed during a visit to Area 15 in Las Vegas. Part Burning Man part Roswell, Area 15 (opening later this year) will be one of the most multi-faceted and unique shopping experiences in existence. The core differentiator of Area 15 from other shopping destinations is the experiential component. The retail-art-entertainment complex is within sight of the Las Vegas Strip and is expected to host over 1 million visitors per year.  Guests will be immersed in creative installations by Meow Wolf of Santa Fe, New Mexico and a rotation of other world-renowned visual artists, top DJs and bands. The founders want to build something that is far from the malls of yesterday, powered by the latest technology, allowing brands to construct their own “worlds” that may have only been accessible online previously.

It’s rumored that the Fisher Brothers have turned down most of the well-known men’s, women’s, and lifestyle brands that have approached them due to their availability at other shopping venues in the US and abroad. The vision and precision of concept behind this project is truly impressive. The sky is not even the limit for Area 15!

Looking forward to Q2, Q3 and The Lead Innovation Summit in July, the evolving relationship between the consumer and the creator has never been more apparent. At the end of the day, it seems to me that the winning companies are those that are scaling without losing their authenticity — their DNA — and successfully taking their online identities into the physical.