Avihay Feld of Browzwear: “Using data to inform strategy is growing”

Many of the changes that we see as a result of COVID-19 were already in process. The pandemic simply accelerated the pace of change, turning “nice to have” into “absolute imperative.” One initiative that we’ve definitely seen more of this year is using 3D instead of real photographs. If your 3D is really true to […]

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Many of the changes that we see as a result of COVID-19 were already in process. The pandemic simply accelerated the pace of change, turning “nice to have” into “absolute imperative.”

One initiative that we’ve definitely seen more of this year is using 3D instead of real photographs. If your 3D is really true to life, as Browzwear is, the customer, whether a wholesale or retail buyer, will never know the difference.

This picked up with the pandemic because companies couldn’t wait for physical samples that were delayed because factories were shut down. But it will persist — and grow — because it’s much faster and cost-effective. It also enables companies to sell a higher percentage of what they produce.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Avihay Feld. He has been pioneering development of digital technologies that enable the fashion industry to thrive in the increasingly virtual world since the late 1990s. As co-founder and co-CEO of Browzwear, he leads the company’s strategy and vision while also spearheading the creation and delivery of solutions that are making the apparel businesses more efficient and sustainable, both economically and ecologically.

In addition to his experience working with fashion design and manufacturing, Avihay previously led startups with technologies for ecommerce and gaming. He is a graduate of Tel Aviv University, where he studied physics, computer science and mathematics.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career really started in earnest on my very first day of university. I was studying math, physics and computer science, and I met a few people who, perhaps reflecting how eager I was to be there, I was invited to join a study group. One of those people was Noam Nevo, who essentially became my business life partner — we’ve worked together for over 30 years and he’s currently the CTO at Browzwear.

When we were at university, Noam was already an entrepreneur, so I would bring all sorts of crazy ideas to him and he had the knowledge and experience to figure out what had potential. The first we brought to life was a virtual reality (VR) online application called CMe. It was 1999, and eCommerce was beginning to take off. Our vision for CMe was to create a solution that would enable retailers to use VR to make the ecommerce experience more like the physical store experience. For example, we wanted the shopper to be able to see 360-degree views of items and even view themselves wearing a garment.

Of course, this was web 1.0 and people were still working with dial-up modems, so we were a bit too far ahead of the game. But the idea was great, and eventually we took the concepts from that consumer-oriented idea to create a business-to-business solution that solves a host of issues, some of which we weren’t even aware of back then.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There are really two different eras of Browzwear, and the journey from one to the next is quite unique and interesting.

During the first era, Noam and I, along with some investors who believed in Browzwear’s virtual dressing room vision , were focused on those aforementioned VR solutions for eCommerce. Then the web 1.0 bubble burst.

We pivoted our focus to a more B2B proposition, but things went a bit sideways. By 2006, my partners and I wanted to leave but the investors wanted to stay. They brought in a new team and we, the founders, transitioned out. .

When I shared the news with one of our resellers, someone with whom I’d had a professional relationship with for a number of years, she was shocked. She said she was just about to close a deal with a big client. Then she added, “You’ll see. I’ll bring you back to your company.”

Fast forward another five years and the investors running Browzwear were going to shutter the company. I got a call from that old professional connection who’d said she’d bring my company back to me. That connection was Sharon Lim, with whom I’m elated to now share the title of co-CEO, Browzwear.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

Back in 2003, which was the first era of Browzwear, I’d been traveling a lot, presenting our technology to different prospects and training our customers. I was at a very big, household-name company in the U.S., Pacific Northwest, and I was showing how they could use our 3D avatars in their workflows. Now, since our avatars are what the customers are supposed to dress, they weren’t nearly as realistic looking at the time as they are now. But, as I soon learned, they were realistic enough that the people in the room became very very uncomfortable during my presentation. Why? Because my avatars were naked. After that, we made the default avatar a bit more modest by dressing her in virtual underwear. Still, even years later, I still get the occasional, “You’re the guy with the naked avatars!” An odd claim to fame, but it’s nice to know that both our avatars and I are memorable.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Browzwear delivers a major update to our solutions every quarter, so we’re always working on exciting things! We always work very closely with our customers and partners and strive to build symbiotic relationships that add value for everyone. This is particularly true when we plan our product roadmap. Our first question is, “how can we bring our customers more VALUE.”

When planning the most recent update, we focused on driving value by extending the benefits of 3D beyond design and manufacturing and into merchandising and even e-commerce.

While the need to lessen reliance on physical products before final sale to the end customer has been a top priority for some time, it’s been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. So our September update included a number of new features and tools that give more flexibility and add to the true-to-life nature of our renderings, to make it easier to sell at the wholesale and even retail levels using 3D. We’re currently testing specific ecommerce solutions with some of our partners, and we’re very excited about the potential time and cost savings as well as the benefits to the environment.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

To state the obvious, if you’re in the apparel business, even as part of the supply chain, you have to go digital if you haven’t already. And when you do embark on that journey, you have to make sure you set yourself up for success.

First, you need to recruit the right people who can guide you through digital transformation. While you might think of this as an additional cost, I promise you, it will ultimately save you from unnecessarily burning cash and/or burning out your people. When we’re advising new customers on best practices, we recommend they look for hybrid candidates that both love fashion and understand digitization.

Second is setting goals, identifying targets and tracking progress as you implement. This is an area where digitization brings a new world of possibilities. For example, in the traditional apparel process, KPIs are often more like guesstimates. Once you digitize, you will be much better able to measure and understand, which will enable you to improve and scale.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without my partners, most specifically, Noam and Sharon. As I mentioned, I’ve been working with Noam for more than 30 years. He’s the one who’s able to translate my crazy ideas into something that can not only be done realistically, but that can create a successful business that brings value to customers and the world at large.

For example, when I first had the idea of the virtual dressing room, it was based on what I wanted as a consumer. I told Noam that I wanted a digital way to see what I would look like in an outfit. His response was, “Sure! We’ll just use the patterns and do simulation using VR!” To which I replied, “Uh, what’s a pattern?”

We’ve come a long way!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I always wanted to create something that contributes positively to businesses and society. When we started working with the VR that eventually became the foundation of Browzwear, we really could have taken a number of different directions, some which may have been more lucrative. I have a scale of dos and don’ts, though, and I wanted to make sure that I, to steal a great tagline, “do no evil.”

The original benefit that Browzwear was intended to bring was shortening the time to market. At the time, it was common for a style to take 50 weeks to go from idea to store. With that large of a lag, entire trends would be over by the time the garments were available for sale. So a lot of things were sold at clearance prices or not sold at all.

I naively thought that this excess was sent to developing countries. I was horrified when I found out the truth: they’re more often burned or put in landfills. And that’s extremely harmful for the environment. Adding insult to injury is the waste that comes from the production of all that excess.

Browzwear, by shortening time to market, eliminating the dependence on physical samples and bringing capabilities for just-in-time manufacturing, ultimately enables companies to be much more sustainable. It wasn’t our original intent, but it’s certainly a very favorable side effect of our intent.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Many of the changes that we see as a result of COVID-19 were already in process. The pandemic simply accelerated the pace of change, turning “nice to have” into “absolute imperative.”

One initiative that we’ve definitely seen more of this year is using 3D instead of real photographs. If your 3D is really true to life, as Browzwear is, the customer, whether a wholesale or retail buyer, will never know the difference.

This picked up with the pandemic because companies couldn’t wait for physical samples that were delayed because factories were shut down. But it will persist — and grow — because it’s much faster and cost-effective. It also enables companies to sell a higher percentage of what they produce.

Another adjustment that we’re seeing — that can, but does not need to, be done with 3D — is showing more images per style in an ecommerce setting. For example, ASOS is showing the same look on more than one body type, while Adidas and Zolando are providing short videos with real people, shown from different angles and while doing multiple activities, which helps shoppers see how the garment moves. Similarly, more retailers are hosting live video shopping events, where audiences can ask questions and get a better sense of an item.

Lastly, using data to inform strategy is growing. For example, there are companies that are using search data to understand what their customers want, and that informs how much of an item and in which sizes they need. The closer the production gets to the demand, the more profitable a business can be.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

Yes, at least for the foreseeable future, until we’re able to replicate the physical experience in digital form. That includes figuring out how to induce the same emotional responses, such as the excitement we feel when we discover a product trying it on, realizing that it fits us leading into the sense of urgency that makes us buy a product out of fear it will be gone when we return. Then there’s the simple interactivity we have in the physical environment. It’s just much easier to walk up to a salesperson and ask for advice than all other online solutions..

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

First and foremost, the brands and retailers that are succeeding have something that makes them unique and special. If they can multiply that characteristic with technology to make it scale, then they can have an even more significant advantage.

For example, Amazon has copious amounts of data that they can use to present the products that are most likely to satisfy that intent, therefore driving sales. Lululemon has a solid foundation as a specialist in solutions for specific sports, particularly for yoga. They built strong ties with the yoga community and they are always delivering what the community needs in a way that is very stylish, consistent, innovative and unique to Lululemon

Other retailers may benefit from empowering their uniqueness using 3D technology, example: if a retailer’s strength is low cost, then it can use 3D to improve the styles quality without affecting the price to the consumer, adopting this policy may in fact improve the bottomline and win shopper’s love, faith and loyalty.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

In this incredibly competitive environment, every business should be looking at ways it can build advantage and that starts with end-to-end digitization.

A fully-digitized business can build efficiencies that will help them lead trends, not follow them. They can discover and correct leaks in the supply chain, shorten product lifecycles and reduce waste. They can use customer insights to better understand what their customers want today, then give it to them tomorrow.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Besides world peace 🙂 , I strongly support the movement toward sustainability, and believe that Browzwear is already serving an influential role in this regard. Not only do we help companies operate in a more sustainable way, we are leading a conversation with stakeholders from across the industry about ways we can change the status quo to benefit mother earth.

Browzwear also works with educational institutions and independent designers, and we believe that educating young and emerging designers about mitigating the negative impact of their work will have an exponential, positive impact on the long-term health of the industry.

How can our readers further follow your work?

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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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