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

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

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.

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