Desigual CEO: Collaboration is crucial to be competitive, distinctive
Coinciding with the launch of Awesome Lab, the start-up accelerator recently set up by Desigual, FashionNetwork.com spoke to the Catalan fashion label’s CEO, Alberto Ojinaga, about Desigual’s corporate strategy.
A road map that, despite the impact the pandemic has had last year, continues to follow its original course, notably via a disruptive brand image and communication style. An approach that, in the last two years, has been coupled with a preference for creative collaborations and which, through Desigual’s latest project, continues to promote synergies in the field of innovation.
FashionNetwork.com: How did the project of launching a start-up accelerator originate?
Alberto Ojinaga: On the one hand, two years ago we changed our approach towards innovation by becoming more collaborative. And on the other, we have for some time been engaged in more strategic considerations about the values that make Desigual strong. Creativity and innovation are basic elements of our USP and, to enhance them, we have been shifting towards the idea of opening up Desigual. Because we live in an increasingly interconnected world, simply focusing on our own heritage and values limits our potential. We believe there is a lot of creativity and innovation outside Desigual, and collaboration is a way to tap both of them.
FNW: What types of company profiles or innovation sectors do you have in mind with this initiative?
A.O: [Awesome Lab] is a vertical fashion industry accelerator, very technology-oriented. We carried out an internal selection process involving all of our group’s departments to pick ten future challenges. These challenges are primarily focused on the customer experience, sustainability, the supply chain, data analytics and business intelligence, and talent.
We are looking for international companies, and keeping our options open. We are setting up a dedicated section within our offices where start-ups will benefit from mentoring initiatives, both internal and external, and training sessions.
FNW: Are these mentoring initiatives limited in time, or is Desigual keeping the door open to the possibility of investing in these start-ups?
A.O: This open innovation program, lasting between six and nine months, is designed so that start-ups will go through a concept test phase at the end. We want to support [start-ups] throughout the programme via mentoring and so-called ‘Demo Days’ to facilitate access to funding and, depending on how the tests will evolve, we are open to investing in the start-ups themselves, alone or in joint venture with Plug and Play.
FNW: What level of investment does this initiative entail?
A.O: Last year we invested €18 million, mainly directed toward digitalisation and focused specifically on technological improvements and logistics platforms. The investment we are putting into [Awesome Lab], not counting our intention to invest in select start-ups, is just shy of €1 million. Over the next three years, Desigual plans to invest approximately €15 million in some of the start-ups taking part in the programme.
FNW: Why do you think Desigual is the first Spanish fashion group to promote a start-up accelerator?
A.O: I don't know. It’s something that came to us naturally, it is one more element of our continuous transformation process. We compete for creativity and innovation, and I think this is a project that fits perfectly with our culture of being open to what is happening in the world and working with other companies.
From a business point of view, it will not be the only path we will focus on, but we consider it one of the pillars of our strategy, together with designing clothes that are distinctive and recognizable, and our disruptive communication style. We want the third pillar to be our open corporate approach, which means that collaboration is a crucial tool for us to be competitive and distinctive.
FNW: After the growth of the last few months, how does e-tail co-exist for Desigual with the return to a degree of normality, and the renewed opening of stores?
A.O: In the first half of 2021, Desigual recorded a sales growth in its digital channels (desigual.com, fashion e-tailers and flash sales) of 42% over the same period the previous year. The share of sales accounted for by digital channels increased from 28% at the end of 2020 to 36% in May 2021.
There has been a generalised re-opening of physical stores, and online traffic is no longer growing at the same rate as at the height of the pandemic, but it is still buoyant.
FNW: How do you rate the group's results in recent months?
A.O: We lost a lot of money in 2020. When we published last year’s annual results, our goal for 2021 was to get back in the black. The pandemic’s fourth wave has been tougher than we expected, and for the first five months of the [current] year almost 50% of our stores were closed, but we are sticking to the objective of getting back on an even keel this year. Certainly, the pandemic’s fifth wave is once again having an impact on in-store traffic, at a delicate time such as the end-of-season sales period.
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