Fashioning the Future with Apparel Industry Veteran Erin Ersenkal | Re:COGs Podcast Episode #40

Weaving Wisdom: An Insider’s Guide to Navigating the Apparel Industry

Join re:COGs host Mike Gelb for a deep dive into omnichannel strategy, inventory optimization, and the future of fashion with Erin Ersenkal, Strategic Advisor to innovative apparel brands driving sustainability in fashion.

Tracing the Arc of E-Commerce Evolution

From catalogs to clicks, the world of apparel retail has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past few decades. To unpack these changes and explore what lies ahead, we sit down with Erin Ersenkal, a seasoned industry executive who has held key roles at iconic brands like JCrew, Bonobos, and Todd Snyder. Erin currently advises Recurate, powering fashion’s circular supply chain, and Syrup Tech, optimizing inventory with data insights. He’s also shaped AYR’s focus on timeless essentials. With a front-row seat to the digital revolution, Erin shares his unique perspective on how brands can navigate the ever-shifting retail landscape and optimize their omnichannel presence.

Reinventing Retail for the Digital Age

Reflecting on his early days at JCrew in the late 1990s, Erin highlights the brand’s pioneering spirit in embracing e-commerce alongside its thriving catalog business. He reveals how this direct-to-consumer legacy positioned JCrew to seamlessly transition into the digital age, leveraging a single inventory across channels to maximize customer reach and satisfaction. Erin’s insights underscore the importance of adaptability and innovation in the face of evolving consumer expectations.

Wholesaling Wisdom: Building Brand Buzz and Scaling for Success

The conversation takes an exciting turn as we dive into Erin’s tenure at Bonobos and the groundbreaking “guide shop” concept that redefined the retail experience. By combining the best of online and in-store shopping, Bonobos created a new model that prioritized personalized service, comprehensive product offerings, and streamlined inventory management. Erin shares the unexpected results of this experiment, including higher average order values and reduced return rates, proving that brick-and-mortar and e-commerce can work in harmony to drive growth.

But success in apparel retail isn’t just about having a strong direct-to-consumer strategy. Erin emphasizes the critical role that wholesale partnerships can play in building brand awareness, achieving economies of scale, and expanding geographic reach. He stresses the importance of treating these relationships with the same level of attention and care as one’s own retail channels, citing cautionary tales of brands that have stumbled by neglecting this vital piece of the puzzle.

Assortment Acumen: Optimizing Inventory for Omnichannel Excellence

Throughout the discussion, Erin returns to the central theme of customer-centricity and how it should guide every decision in the omnichannel ecosystem. From assortment planning to inventory allocation, he argues that brands must constantly strive to understand and serve their customers’ needs across all touchpoints. By embracing a culture of testing, learning, and iterating, retailers can stay ahead of the curve and drive sustainable growth.

As the conversation winds down, Erin leaves us with a thought-provoking take on the future of retail performance measurement. He suggests that rather than focusing solely on channel-specific metrics, brands should consider evaluating profitability through a geographic lens, taking into account the complex interplay of e-commerce, wholesale, and brick-and-mortar sales within a given market. This holistic approach, he argues, could provide a more accurate picture of a brand’s true success and inform smarter, more strategic decision-making.

Threading Together a Lasting Brand

Whether you’re a seasoned apparel executive or an aspiring entrepreneur, this episode is a must-listen. With his wealth of experience and keen insights, Erin Ersenkal offers a master class in navigating the complexities of modern retail and building a brand that stands the test of time. Tune in to unlock the secrets of apparel success and stay ahead in the ever-changing world of fashion commerce.

Listen In:

Listen as Mike and Erin Discuss:

  • JCrew’s early adoption of e-commerce in the late 1990s and how its direct-to-consumer legacy facilitated a smooth transition into the digital age.
  • The importance of maintaining a cohesive strategy across channels while optimizing assortment and inventory for each specific channel.
  • Bonobos’ innovative “guide shop” concept, which combined the best of online and in-store shopping experiences.
  • The unexpected results of the guide shop model, including higher average order values, reduced return rates, and improved customer satisfaction.
  • The role of wholesale partnerships in building brand awareness, achieving economies of scale, and expanding geographic reach.
  • The significance of treating wholesale relationships with the same level of attention and care as one’s own retail channels.
  • The need for a customer-centric approach in all aspects of omnichannel retailing, from assortment planning to inventory allocation.
  • The value of embracing a culture of testing, learning, and iterating to stay ahead of the curve in the ever-changing apparel industry.
  • The potential benefits of evaluating retail performance through a geographic lens, considering the interplay of e-commerce, wholesale, and brick-and-mortar sales within a given market.
  • The importance of adaptability and innovation in navigating the complexities of modern apparel retail and building a lasting brand.

Related: 

For more information on how your business can contribute to a greener future while capitalizing on the booming sustainable fashion market take a deeper dive into the exciting opportunities and valuable insights that await rising apparel brands. Click below for a report that explores the rise of re-commerce, how AI is revolutionizing sustainable fashion practices, and innovative approaches SMBs are adopting to minimize their environmental footprint.

Eco-Chic Economics: Threading the Sustainable Fashion Trend

Listen to the Entire re:COGs Series:

Tune in to re:COGs, the podcast series that examines the essential aspects of inventory management, supply chain optimization, and operational excellence, all through a COGs-focused lens.

Hear business operators and thought leaders from growing consumer brands share their thoughts on product manufacturing.  Through inspiring stories and critical conversations with top experts across CPG, food, fashion, and other industries, listeners are treated to valuable insights and actionable advice that can be applied to any growing business as it scales up operations.

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