Covid-19 has accelerated shifts in our shopping habits, as a lack of opportunities for physical retail therapy has led to an explosion in e-commerce. Nomad Atelier had started to rethink its online offering before the pandemic took hold, but the independent brand’s hand was forced when the national lockdown led to the closure of its store and studio in Barnsley.
Making better use of customer data has enabled the company to grow and consolidate its client base, while digital alternatives such as Zoom showcases and styling advice over Whatsapp have helped to maintain the personal relationships that have proven key to Nomad’s success.
For Rita Britton, Nomad’s founder, the past year has demonstrated the importance of innovation for independent brands.
“If you stand still you’re going backwards,” she says. “I have clients who have been with me for more than 40 years, but you need to keep finding new ones and building lasting relationships with them.
“We spotted an opportunity because our collections matched people’s new lifestyles once they were spending more time at home. To make the most of it, especially to draw in new clients who wouldn’t be able to travel to the store after reopening, I knew we had to make the online experience as slick as instore.”
To explore how to realise this vision, Nomad collaborated with researchers at the University of Huddersfield led by Claire Evans, senior lecturer in fashion. The three-month project focused on researching the landscape of 3D and digital offerings across the fashion industry, before testing different platforms for showcasing products digitally to come up with some recommendations for Nomad’s digital growth.
Competitor analysis and benchmarking were crucial to this first phase. Claire’s research highlighted a variety of approaches being used by large and small companies, giving Rita a starting point to consider what would work in the context of her independent luxury brand. The feedback enabled Claire to refine her approach to the second phase.
Ideas generated in this early stage of the project have supported the development of Perfect, the new brand Rita has recently launched under the Nomad umbrella. Physical samples will be available instore but Perfect pieces can only be purchased online, meaning a smooth customer experience on the website is crucial. Rita says the insights gained from the project fed into Perfect’s approach to e-commerce.
“It helped us learn what we want to do, but it was just as useful to see what we didn’t want to do,” Rita explains. “What works for a big fast fashion label won’t necessarily be right for us, so we were able to combine Claire’s industry insight with my knowledge of my clients and brand.”
As the project progressed, the University of Huddersfield team moved on to explore the potential for showcasing Nomad products using digital technologies, reducing the need for physical samples and modelling.
The researchers tested a wide range of 3D design applications for as a means of presenting garments to customers, demonstrating that digital technologies can be used to communicate the fit and drape of luxury garments – even incorporating movement to do this in a dynamic way.
Balancing the quality of the results against the commercial viability of each solution for an independent design brand was vital in finding the right approach.
“This has been an iterative process, using the feedback and collaborating to find a realistic solution that works for a small business,” explains Claire.
“There is no miracle answer that doesn’t involve time and investment, but we’ve been able to identify a range of different options that keep creativity and skills at the centre while allowing a brand to demonstrate its unique style in new ways.”
Taking existing Nomad garments as their starting point, Claire’s team developed examples of digital rendering using software platform Clo 3D. The results, which were also displayed as part of Future Fashion Factory’s Virtual Showcase in April 2021, showed how the technology could simulate the drape and fit as the wearer moves around.
Rita says Nomad is “definitely exploring” the project’s recommendations and sees digital product showcasing as an exciting part of the brand’s future marketing.
Enabling Nomad to market products and gauge interest in them before investing in materials and manufacturing, as well as reducing the cost of models, stylists, hair and makeup for physical photoshoots, could help to lower overheads as well as driving new sales. It could even pave the way for a bespoke personalised shopping service which would transform the customer experience.
“The investment will be worthwhile in the longer term,” Rita adds. “We have a way forward now because we have worked together.
“People think that universities, colleges and businesses are all separate, but we need to collaborate to find these kinds of solution. As an independent brand we can learn from them, and they can learn from us.”