NRF 2018: Tommy Hilfiger on creating instant gratification

For almost 50 years, Tommy Hilfiger has been at the cutting-edge of fashion design. But despite his iconic brand being as popular as ever, Hilfiger said at times he has been worried the brand would “age out”.

“I wanted to keep the brand young, so I surrounded myself with young people on the creative team and business side and I’m always listening to the consumer.”

It is this real connection with the Tommy Hilfiger fans and consumers that has kept the brand feeling fresh across the decades.

Speaking at the closing keynote of NRF 2018 in NYC, the fashion designer and businessman told retailers the importance of listening to their consumers.

“We realised the consumer wants immediate gratification,” he said. “When they see something, they want to buy it and wear it immediately.”

Shop the runway

This led Tommy Hilfiger to create the TommyNow fashion shows which allow fans to shop the runway using their mobile devices.

Hilfiger explained how he wanted his fans to be able to click and buy an item of clothing immediately when they see it on the runway or on their TV screen.

“See-now-buy-now – it’s true to our DNA. And we stay in touch with the youthful consumer and it really is the new way of retailing.”

Hilfiger believes mobile commerce is the future of retailing. “We find the youthful consumer shares everything they’re purchasing with their family and friends and they need approval from friends first and foremost. But they’re shopping 24/7, in the middle of the night, in-between classes – they’re continually shopping.”

“If you’re waiting for consumers to come into your stores, you may be waiting a very long time,” he added. “And I’m quite impatient, so I want to bring it to them and give them the immediate gratification and experience.”

But he admitted creating a shoppable fashion show was a risk. Hilfiger described how the brand had to change its buying calendar and even its manufacturing process to ensure there is enough available stock when the model hits the runway.

“But if there’s no risk, there’s no reward. It’s about having the leaders believe in the creative process. And spending a substantial amount of marketing money on one show. Fortunately we have an incredible leadership team who believed in taking the risk, and the risk paid off.”

Every time Tommy Hilfiger hosts a show it sees 2.5 billion impressions on social media and a 900% increase in visits to its website on the same day or night of the show. All of its pieces sell out on the runway and model Gigi Hadid even increased her social following from three million to 40 million after signing up to be the face of the brand.

“It was the perfect storm and we won’t give up continuing to evolve without losing our base and take risks to stay ahead of the competition.”

Hilfiger said if retailers fall behind “catching up is not an option”.

AI and IBM

Tommy Hilfiger has also been using artificial intelligence to create new fashion designs and engage with customers – the brand was the first to use chatbots on Facebook. And boldly investing in new technologies has given Tommy Hilfiger a competitive edge in a difficult retail environment.

“I read in the press and saw retail was going through a very rocky time, but we were the reverse of that change and we were on a trajectory which was much different from that,” he explained. “And it all happened because we embraced different technology and we weren’t afraid to take risks.”

Tommy Hilfiger decided to partner with IBM and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) using AI to create new fashion designs.

IBM used its AI tools – incorporating computer vision, natural language understanding and deep learning – to identify key trends and predict demand for hyperlocalised products. FIT used IBM’s tool to analyse 15,000 Tommy Hilfiger product images, 600,000 publically available runway images and nearly 100,000 fabric patterns. This allowed the designers to use key silhouettes, colours, and novel prints and patterns for their designs. One such design incorporates IBM’s Tone Analyser thread technology which could enable the plaid jacket to respond to social media sentiment by changing colour.

“It’s always a risk when you do something brand new, but the advanced technology has been a tremendous benefit to the brand,” concluded Hilfiger.