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As many brands know, the fashion industry is not just about the clothes, shoes, or bags. It’s about creating a lifestyle and an experience.
Christian Cowan, a fashion designer who launched his first flagship store in SoHo, New York, this year, knows how to push the boundaries to create a brand identity and shopping experience across online and in-person channels for everyone, everywhere.
That skill and eye for meeting the customers where they are is something that designers expertly execute, and it’s imperative that the tools they use support their vision.
Bringing an online fashion experience to life
“I never wanted to do anything else. I was always doing this,” said Cowan of his brand, which began at fashion school in London well before he had mastered sewing. Early on in his career, Cowan’s designs attracted attention from big names like Lady Gaga and Anna Wintour, and after moving to New York, Cowan brought his label into the fashion world — online.
People say, “Fashion is therapy,” and I really believe that,” said Cowan, who rolled out his brand solely online to start, noting the flexibility, lower level of risk, and overall insight that an online store gave him. “You can treat it like a focus group more, which I think is a really powerful tool for a younger brand.”
After expanding his line into stores around the world, Cowan opened his own location in early 2022, bringing his online brand to life in a 5,000-square-foot space in SoHo equipped with powder-pink carpeting and floating pink walls that Cowan describes as “flamboyant, but in a cleaner way.”
“We’re very unpretentious. That was something that was really important for me,” said Cowan of his flagship store, where he’s tried to create the opposite of an old-school, intimidating fashion experience that’s common in many high-end boutiques. For Cowan, true luxury means the option of customization or helping make an item feel special for the customer.
“I think it’s lame that you could go into a glam store and be expected to pay thousands of dollars and have no customizability,” Cowan said. “For us, if you love that dress, but you’re like, ‘Oh, I wish it was in blue,’ we’ll be like, ‘Okay, give us two weeks. We’ll send it to you in blue.’”
“It’s not like you’re just held hostage by what’s on the rail at that point in time,” he added.
Leveraging technology to push the boundaries of retail
Cowan’s personalized and relaxed in-store vibe is the core of his customer experience, and technology has enabled him to make that happen. From small personalized components — like custom messaging that he writes to subscribers on his online store — to a point-of-sale system that tracks his inventory and customers’ requested alterations, Cowan is able to bring together his creative vision and the aspects of running a business. This enables him to focus on his customers’ experience, or as he puts it, “making sure that the steps between you deciding that you love it to you leaving with it in a bag are really simple.”
But like many business owners, Cowan has relied on helpful learnings from past experience as he moved from an online store to a brick-and-mortar location. One essential component for Cowan’s flagship location was a point-of-sale system that’s easy for any team member to pick up and use — regardless of whether they’ve been fully trained to use it.
“I’ve learned this through trial and error with previous things in the past when we’ve done pop-ups,” Cowan said of the intuitive point-of-sale technology that he knew was essential for his store. “Even if you haven’t been trained to use the point of sale, you can go on and it’s pretty self-explanatory, which is easier said than done.”
Beyond the physical retail space itself, Cowan remains invested in exploring the intersection of technology and fashion, and how it can change a consumer’s relationship to their clothes. With creations like a selfie-taking hat and a Met Gala gown with a scannable QR code on his resume, Cowan has begun exploring new ways of sharing the story behind the clothes he designs with the consumer, starting with QR code garment labels.
“I do think it’s a shame where there’s all this inspiration behind something and it’s part of a collection and then when it’s just hanging in the store wherever it is in the world, you lose that connection,” said Cowan. “You have no idea why that thing is that way. And that QR code feature allows you to be more enveloped into the process behind it and understand a bit more of the magic.”
QR codes are just the beginning. When asked what he would do, without limitations, to enhance the way people everywhere can experience his brand and store, he didn’t hesitate: Expand into the metaverse.
“I would love to make the store in the metaverse with everything that’s here literally on the shelves in the metaverse,” he said. “I think it could be fun as well for when you make a purchase in the store that you get the digital version of it alongside your purchase.”
In the meantime, Cowan will be focused on his flagship store, planning events around New York City that showcase what his brand stands for (Pride events and a Q&A with students and industry leaders are on the schedule), and eyeing a spot for his next retail location — potentially in Vegas.