Wouldn’t it be wonderful if fashion brands could produce only bestsellers and let go of products that remain on the shelves? How many resources, efforts and work hours could be saved that way? The problem, of course, is data. No brand has a crystal ball to predict exactly what will sell next season or in the long term.
Enter service platform Sustalytics that allows brands and retailers to test products before producing them and take the magic out of predicting, relying on data instead. Founded in 2018, the platform prides itself on predicting bestsellers. FashionUnited was intrigued and spoke to Sustalytics founder and fashion insights director and former Inditex employee Julie Evans and marketing communications team member Sabine Henshall about Sustalytics’ approach and results on the brands’ and retailers’ side.
Julie, what is Sustalytics all about?
Sustalytics uses visual technology to help global brands and retailers understand consumer preferences before making product decisions to limit unnecessary overproduction. We empower fashion brands to waste less and profit more by predicting what consumers want.
That sounds almost too good to be true. Waste and overproduction are big problems of the industry.
Yes, through over 13 years in the retail business and my experience as head of buying and design at the Inditex Group, Zara and Bershka and responsible for 300 million euros annual budget and various lines of clothing, I have seen first hand how wasteful the fashion industry can be. I started Sustalytics from the knowledge standpoint that one third of all production is waste. Taking into consideration that it takes 700 gallons of water to make just one t-shirt, then we quickly come to an estimate of 400 billion US dollars annually in waste.
Those are quite horrifying numbers. Is fast fashion to blame?
Fast fashion has to stop, no doubt, but it’s a whole industry that has to change. One issue is overproduction because we don’t know what consumers want. We say one third is not what consumers want but that is probably optimistic. With Sustalytics, I want to make that knowledge available to any brand, not just the big ones, what will be relevant fashion products to consumers.
So you help fashion companies make products according to trends but also analyze their existing products?
Yes, in a nutshell, we analyze the input from thousands of consumers through surveys and then give a super simple ranking to the brand that is interesting even for designers. They can then either modify their design or allocate their stock. And this can be done also by country.
This way, a brand can build products that consumers actually fall in love with and can invest in styles that actually make money. The industry saves on overstock but also water and CO2 emissions.
On the trend side, could you explain what service you provide for companies?
Sure. We put together updates and reports on predicted trends, for example tie dye, key shades, activewear key items and specific items like the bucket hat, biker shorts or the top bra styles. We evaluate if the trend will really be a trend or if it is just hype so that companies can plan and design accordingly.
How do you find interested companies or do they find you?
We have our own community so when a brand asks us about a whole new target group, e.g. plus sizes for a famous denim brand, they learn how to engage their consumers. We drive them onto their domain but don’t take any personal data, it is all anonymous. We reach out only for surveys and do not share customer data with the brands.
What kind of brands have been using Sustalytics?
All kinds really, from brands like Havaianas, Tally Weijl and Arena to department store chain Galeries Lafayette. In fact, by predicting bestsellers correctly 9 out of 10 times, the method enabled more than 15 percent sales revenue at Tally Weijl and Arena was able to avoid producing stock that was going to remain on the shelves.
Before I ask Sabine a few questions, how would you explain Sustalytics in a nutshell?
It is a platform that uses data science in order to identify consumer needs for fashion brands and retailers that directs them to only produce exactly what their customers want. If companies were to buy and distribute more effectively, the impact on the environment would be immense. Our data insights can help improve the design, optimize stocks, maximize revenue and minimize waste.
Sabine, as a representative of Gen Z, let me ask you in what way Gen Z consumers are environmentally conscious but also economically oriented?
Generation Z will give a resounding ‘yes’ to sustainability in terms of buying vintage, second hand, etc. But they often do not feel that they are a part of the discussion because of their economic problem to participate. Especially the younger Gen Z members do not earn their own money yet and thus do not have the financial power to make much of an impact.
Could you give an example?
Take running shoes for example. They are very hard to get second hand and economically, Gen Z consumers are not there yet to buy an expensive pair of shoes that is also sustainable. So there is a gap here where affordability and sustainability needs to meet.
How would you recommend engaging Gen Z consumers in this regard?
Well, sustainability not only means being eco-friendly. There are also other issues like wages, gender equality and so on. Gen Z is very outspoken and very digitally connected, they have already taken that space and that makes them the strongest community because they are very engaged. But brands and retailers often do not put out much information and education in these areas. If they did that, it would be a start to engage Gen Z consumers and build that community.