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Digitizing the fashion value chain: SVP of Digital Ventures, Hatch and Stitch

By Aileen Yu


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Fashion |IN DEPTH

This month, FashionUnited interviewed Anne-Christine Polet, the SVP of Digital Ventures at PVH Europe’s corporate start-ups, Hatch and Stitch. The ventures combine technology with fashion expertise and commercial thinking to create digital solutions that help brands reinvent their value chain.

“What drives us is to digitize what is ‘under the hood’ for fashion - the value chain. Historically an underinvested piece in the fashion industry when it comes to digitization, but the opportunities are immense: reducing waste, streamlining operations and truly reinventing the way fashion works,” Polet wrote in an email to FashionUnited. Read on to learn how Polet is pioneering the digitization of the fashion industry with Hatch and Stitch and how she made the two loves of her life-fashion and tech-a shining career.

Can you tell us about Hatch and Stitch’s missions? How are the start-ups transforming the industry?

Stitch focuses on the core of it all: the creation of collections. Our mission here is to digitize the design and development process for brands, bringing a new kind of craft back into fashion by scaling 3D design practices, reducing manual work, enhancing creativity, speeding up the workflow-all while creating less waste and making the process more sustainable.

Hatch tackles the next step in the chain: how brands sell to retailers. Our mission at Hatch is to digitize wholesale selling completely; releasing dependency on physical showrooms, samples and physical meetings to tell a brand story and sell collections. Hatch’s product, the Digital Showroom, allows high quality branded storytelling (or ‘storyselling’, as we call it) in-showroom or remote-empowering sales teams to connect to their retailers in a unique way. Digital Showrooms continue to support our customer’s ongoing sustainability missions, reducing the need for sample production and impacts of shipping.

Did you always want to work in fashion and technology?

I started in tech first, at Google-that’s where I first experienced the power that technology can have in creating value for users and organizations alike. When I moved into fashion, I was really craving that digital mindset: tackling difficult problems, reinventing how you work, challenging the status quo. Luckily, Tommy Hilfiger embarked on their Digital Showroom journey soon after I started there. I feel very lucky to work in this beautiful combination of fashion and technology.

You also mentioned job roles within Stitch that specialize in supporting the digitization of the design process such as Transformation Specialist and 3D Design Expert. Do you foresee these roles expanding and how?

At Stitch, we believe that the power of 3D really comes to life when the designers and the product teams learn to work in new ways. While there are definitely new kinds of job roles emerging that guide the digital transformation for brands, it’s really the role of the designer, product developer and merchandiser that will evolve. And it will change in two of the following ways.

Move from physical to digital: moving from paper hand sketch to 3D. Visualize collections, instead of pinning it on boards. Doing fitting and design changes virtually instead of pinning on a fit model. Conducting design reviews with markets and other stakeholders digitally, instead of large in-person meetings. Leveraging digital prototypes instead of shipping them across oceans from a factory. And much more!

New design process and cross-discipline collaboration: the design workflow changes when it’s done in 3D. It becomes faster, more efficient, with less room for error. In addition, the collaboration between the different disciplines in the design community becomes more instantaneous. Instead of waiting on each other to finish a part of the workflow, they collaborate simultaneously, in small iterations. It’s a very agile process that allows for flexibility and change.

The reason why digitization hasn’t scaled across the entire fashion industry yet, is that there’s a large human element to the work that’s needed.

Anne-Christine Polet, SVP of Digital Ventures, Hatch & Stitch

What are the biggest changes in fashion you have seen over these past few months?

With the major curveballs that Covid-19 has thrown at the world and especially the fashion industry, there is a silver lining, the need for digitization in fashion has greatly increased. Brands have realized that the traditional process of creating and selling garments isn’t made for an unpredictable world that requires constant course correction.

This has really increased the industry’s focus on 3D as well as digitizing the wholesale selling process. And the latter has always been a process that was difficult to change: it just worked so well for buyers to come to beautiful showrooms, see all the samples, connect with the sales teams and place their orders. These buying appointments have always been important from both a branding as well as a relationship point of view.

It has always been Hatch’s mission to digitize that in-showroom experience, but now buyers couldn’t even travel! So we’ve worked really hard to adapt to the new circumstances and have launched features like fully remote selling so brands can continue their wholesale selling in the same beautifully branded and guided way they’re used to in-showroom.

You need to start small: try, test and learn. Put things into practice. This kind of approach gives you real buy-in on all levels-from the actual user to the C-suite-for the transformation -- Anne-Christine Polet, SVP of Digital Ventures, Hatch & Stitch

How should the industry as a whole digitize as efficiently and quickly as possible? And why is it so important to embrace this change?

My advice would be for everyone to take the leap! It might seem scary, the effort large and with many unknowns, but the benefits of digital practices in an organization will outweigh the costs. It will make teams more effective, it will create better products, selling processes will be more flexible and even financially, there are benefits ranging from cost savings (by foregoing samples) to top-line impact.

There’s also a substantial sustainability benefit as well, as we reduce waste, shipping, packaging. For the industry as a whole: factories, mills. The more every part of the fashion ecosystem moves to digital practices, the more we will all benefit.

Driving a change like this across a somewhat traditional industry like fashion boils down to mindset. There’s courage needed as well as practical thinking to change existing ways of working. Brands need to believe that digital will make things better for all involved, from designers, to partners across the supply chain, to consumers. Digital needs to be top priority and embraced at all levels of the organization.

Read more about what Polet said on how organizations can approach fashion's digital transformation by clicking here >>

Career Quickfire:

What are your 3 tips for success?

  • See challenges as opportunities for growth.
  • Allow yourself to fail and always be accountable for your actions.
  • Take the road less travelled by: it’s the hardest, but the most rewarding!

What do you love the most about your job?

I absolutely love exploring the unknown, challenging status quo and finding creative solutions to existing problems with talented teams.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Stand still and set clear boundaries for yourself between professional life and personal life when starting a family. It’s so easy to get lost in the buzz of things at work. I have two kids under 3 and this advice has really helped me to be deliberate about where I spend my time and ensure that neither family life nor professional life is jeopardized.

For young professionals who are about to enter this industry, what tips can you share with them?

Be incredibly open minded, curious and eager to learn. Not just fashion, but the entire world is changing at such rapid speed that these are critical competencies to succeed and thrive-and the companies in the industry need those skills!

It’s a really exciting time to be entering the industry and we need young minds to help continue leveraging (and creating) digital practices to make fashion better.

To find out more about Hatch and Stitch, please visit hatchstudio.co and www.stitchdesignlab.com

Photos: courtesy of Hatch & Stitch, PVH Corp.

Anne-Christine Polet
career coach
hatch & stitch