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Inside VF’s digital design studio – home to Timberland, Vans and The North Face

VF has launched a digital design studio in London, where it plans to invite retail clients to explore its portfolio of brands which includes The North Face, Timberland, Vans, Dickies and Kipling.

The studio features a number of video walls as well as a virtual mannequin
The studio features a number of video walls as well as a virtual mannequin

VF has taken out a multi-year lease at Axtell Soho, off Regents Street in London. The new studio spans 16,000 square feet across six floors and a rooftop garden, and will be a showcase for a number of its brands, which also consists of specialist outdoor companies Napapijri, Eastpak, Icebreaker, Smartwool and Altra.

“At VF, elevated design is at the heart of our brands’ strategy and product creation,” said Martino Scabbia Guerrini, VF EMEA group president. “This, along with our company’s purpose and commitment to sustainability, drives all our business choices. Having our experiential brand showcase for retail customers in the centre of one of the top fashion capitals in the world will help our brands to innovatively develop and support our company growth in the years to come, including recruitment of the industry’s best talent.”

Timberland first developed a sustainable boot called Earthkeepers back in 2007
Timberland first developed a sustainable boot called Earthkeepers back in 2007

The building was redesigned with sustainability in mind by the Design Laboratory. Meanwhile, VF has also invested heavily in technology, including digitally connected custom video walls and a 3D virtual mannequin to showcase its range of products, including prototypes which have not yet been manufactured.

VF has big ambitions to become more sustainable and it hopes the virtual mannequin will be used to prevent waste within the supply chain. The life-sized mannequins can be programmed to show different body types and the 3D rendering uses big data and analytics to precisely show the folds on a garment depending on which body type is being used as a model.

VF's virtual 3D model can show where clothes will crease depending on the body type
VF's virtual 3D model can show where clothes will crease depending on the body type

Buyers coming into the studio will be able to match different looks together and even change the lighting and visualise the products in different scenarios. The virtual mannequin was built by a US creative agency using technology traditionally used in the gaming industry, while an internal VF team created the software and the digital versions of its product lines.

Speaking to Essential Retail on a tour of the building, Jan Van Mossevelde, VP strategy for EMEA at VF said: “There used to be a saying ‘no sample, no sale’, but we are fighting against that. Instead we are using technology to ‘first sell, and then make’ and this will have such an amazing impact on speed and sustainability.”

Vans is VF's most popular brand in London
Vans is VF's most popular brand in London

Meanwhile, on a panel discussion to mark the opening of the building, Chris Raeburn, global creative director at Timberland described the sustainability challenge facing the industry: “What we do as an industry is pretty archaic – it has incredibly long lead times.”

He explained how the level of risk and complexity in a traditional fashion supply chain is too high. “We’ve all got too much stuff, but we keep making more stuff. We need an agile way of creating a product we know customers want, which creates an emotional attachment and excites them so they keep that product.”

Raeburn then described how Timberland piloted a scheme where it built a few new products in four days and then got customers to vote for the ones they wanted on Instagram. “Essentially you can have global localisation making a lot more to order,” he said.

VF is making every effort to take inefficiencies out of the supply chain
VF is making every effort to take inefficiencies out of the supply chain

VF opened its first retail store down the road on Carnaby Street in 2003, and has since expanded to 57 VF-owned stores in the UK, 20 of which are in London. The company sees the UK as its number one market in Europe, accounting for 20% (around £500 million) of EU revenue, with plans to increase this over the next five years to 23%. Meanwhile, London represents 20% of total UK revenue, with Vans being a firm favourite with Londoners.