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How Tommy Hilfiger reinvented itself to create 'see-now-buy-now' catwalk shopping

Tommy Hilfiger, the PVH-owned fashion label, knew it had a problem. Its consumers were getting older with the brand, and it needed to reinvent itself.

The traditional high-fashion cycle - around 18 months long, with clothes modeled on show runways not available to buy until the following season – has been disrupted by high street retailers such as Zara, which are inspired by ideas from designer labels and get their versions into stores fast.

But as Tommy Hilfiger Chief Brand Officer Avery Baker explained to an audience at advertising festival Cannes Lions Monday, it had to change. It had seen success, (now being a $6.7 billion company operating in around 100 countries and with 17,000 employees) but to avoid being disrupted like so many other industries, she knew it had to "take the leap towards reinvention and new definitions of relevance."

Gigi Hadid and Tommy Hilfiger during the Tommy Pier fashion show in New York on Sept. 9th, 2016.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Gigi Hadid and Tommy Hilfiger during the Tommy Pier fashion show in New York on Sept. 9th, 2016.

So it launched "Tommy Now", its "see now, buy now" initiative, where clothes shown on the runway are available to buy right away, doing so in a world where technology means consumers want instant shopping satisfaction.

"The fashion industry (is) competing, not with itself but expectations set and met by other industries, real-time expectations. Getting anything this big and complicated in such a short period of time would be a massive undertaking … We would have to move faster than we have ever in our history," she said.

Baker was open about how hard it is for large companies to change: "Even with the best intentions, corporate inertia can overwhelm the most innovative of thinking." It tackled this by encouraging staff to "unlock our inner entrepreneur," and put forward ideas, regardless of whether they might fail.

"As leaders, we have to commit to that old cliché of giving our people really the freedom to fail," she added, and rather than outsourcing the problem to experts, all decisions were made in-house.

Gigi Hadid walks the runway the Tommy Hilfiger fashion show at Pier 16 in New York on Sept. 9th, 2016.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Gigi Hadid walks the runway the Tommy Hilfiger fashion show at Pier 16 in New York on Sept. 9th, 2016.

The new business model meant that while designs were in progress, they were being sold into retailers before being completed. Marketing campaigns had to be shown to retail partners (around 70 percent of Tommy Hilfiger sales come via large department stores such as Macy's and Harrods) before the collections were finished, and the company had to remove "siloed behavior that you very typically find in big corporate organizations," Baker stated.

The result was a carnival-style party at New York Fashion Week in September 2016, featuring supermodel Gigi Hadid, and using a Facebook chatbot to interact with people on the social networking site. Baker claimed that people spent 4 minutes with the bot on average, and 87 percent returned to it.

"We cannot stand by and let consumers' attention and spending shift from apparel to entertainment or experiences, we have to disrupt or else we will actually be disrupted," Baker said.

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