Global PerspectivesAugust 29, 2019

Exclusive Interview with Allie Egan — CEO of Cynthia Rowley

Should brands represent more than just products?

This week we caught up with Cynthia Rowley CEO Allie Egan in NYC to discuss the significance of branding and how it fits into the modern retail equation.

 

 

TRANSCRIPTION:

Paul Lewis:
So, today we’re discussing the significance of branding and how it fits in the modern retail equation.
My guest is Allie Egan. Allie is the president and CEO of women’s fashion brand Cynthia Rowley.

Allie Egan:
Yes.

Paul Lewis:
Welcome to the show. Thank you, Allie.

Allie Egan:
Thank you for having me.

Paul Lewis:
So, I think a lot of companies are struggling with the new realities of retail, and the multitude of options the internet provides for shopping. And as a brand becomes very transactional, its products become commoditized.
So, how do companies transcend impersonal transactions, and develop brand sentiment that connects with consumers?

Allie Egan:
To us, it’s about understanding which interactions can be personal, and making those as personal as possible; and then understanding which ones can’t, and making those as easy as possible. So, I think that’s really what customers want.
So, on the personal side, it’s when someone comes into our store: knowing their name, knowing not just what event they are shopping for for that day, but what things they like generally, what their normal style is. Because we sell really vibrant clothes, and sometimes it means just kind of an outlier in her closet. But we should know that, and we should have all those things, and learn that about her. So, that’s where we can be super, super personal. Or when someone calls, and we’re sending one-to-one emails for our customer service. That’s where we can be super personal.
Where we can’t always be is when someone just sees us on Instagram, and right away wants to buy that dress, and they want it by Friday so that they can wear it on Saturday. So, then our priority becomes how do we just get her all the information she needs right upfront? And that’s on the product page. Super detailed, not just a lovely kind of brand-oriented product description, but like what length it will be, what the material is. All these things which she might have questions about that she wants answered immediately. Giving her all that upfront, working on our backend, logistics, operations, to make sure that we can get her her things on time.
And then I think the other point in how make online transactions or connect with online customers who otherwise maybe want to be more transactional is about being honest and open as a brand in all your mediums. So, on the website, in social, et cetera. Letting people into what the broader story is, and that way they can sort of pick and choose how much they want. Because some people will want to be super engaged and know everything that Cynthia is doing, know everything that we’ve designed; and other people want to be inspired by one thing and be happy with that.
And so, for us as a company, it’s like, “How can we tell our story and make that easy to consume?”, both through our website, through influencers we work with, through our own social, et cetera. And so, that’s kind of how we really think about making those transactional things a little less transactional.

Paul Lewis:
Right. And it sounds like some of the takeaways are, when it is transactional, you want to certainly meet or exceed expectations. Make it smooth, make it easy for them. And when you can, personalize the experience and allow them to go deeper with the brand, and to get to know you to the extent that they are interested in.

Allie Egan:
Of course. Yeah. Definitely.

Paul Lewis:
So, one of the things that I noticed, Episerver did a survey that showed that two-thirds of Americans believe brands should get involved in social causes. And I think we’ve seen some brands in the past, Dove’s campaign for real beauty, Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ads, brands have weighed in, sometimes boldly into that. What are your thoughts about social causes and roles that brands can play?

Allie Egan:
Yeah. I mean, more broadly, not speaking just about Cynthia Rowley, I think it’s important. I think, to my point earlier, people want to know more about the brands and the people behind the brands. They want to know that someone they’re buying from has the same values that they do and supports the same causes. And if Dove, for example, really does stand for supporting women of all shapes and sizes, then it is important to them that that’s what they promote.
I think what the slippery slope is is understanding what your brand stands for, and that it is not a political organization or a non-profit organization that … We at Cynthia Rowley, for example, we stand for our love for adventure, and the ocean, and the sea. And so, we try to focus our social causes around those elements that are true to us and true to the brand. You have to know your job, right? And our job is not to be everything to everyone all the time. And so, we try to get involved in social causes in that way.
And then the other bigger way we try to get involved in social causes, I would say, bigger … Less from a national media perspective, but more from a actually doing specific things is locally, through our stores and events we have there. Our managers know … Our managers and store employees know those people, those actual people who are shopping with us, the best. And so, we try to have programming and events that kind of relate and support those local interests.
So, for example, we did a beach cleanup in Montauk. We’ve had a store in Montauk forever. That’s something that’s really important to the brand, and important to the people who live and go to Montauk. Another social kind of cause event we had: we hosted an organization focused on women’s eating disorders. They did sort of a panel and Q&A in our Bleecker street store. And that’s especially focused around women who work in the fashion industry and dealing with problems with eating. And I think that’s our way of saying, “Okay, we know for sure that this is relevant to this audience, and it’s important to us as well.” And that’s how we kind of think about talking and giving back. And to us, that’s deeper than just creating an ad and putting it somewhere, and saying “We stand for women of all shapes and sizes, and that’s the only thing we do, but we want credit for that.”

Paul Lewis:
Right.

Allie Egan:
Yeah.

Paul Lewis:
Yeah, that seems very authentic, which I think is part of your message, is whatever you decide, you need to be authentic about it.

Allie Egan:
Yeah, 100%.

Paul Lewis:
Another topic that is certainly popular is understanding the sustainability of things now. The environment is clearly a hot topic for people around the world. What are your thoughts on how companies need to be more environmentally responsible?

Allie Egan:
Yeah, I mean fashion is, I believe, the number two most polluting industry. And so, we have to be aware of that. And so, we are taking steps to help reduce our impact as a brand, and to help the industry in general.
One of the things we’ve done with our wetsuits is we worked with a manufacturer who has a unique process that uses less water, and that is more sustainable. We choose our suppliers in a way that helps us.
But I think the other thing for us as a brand is we want to be honest. We are not 100% sustainable, and it’s really hard to be 100% sustainable, and we don’t want to falsely kind of give that notion to customers. And we are a fashion brand, and that’s not our area of expertise. So, how we approach it is partnering with people who that is their area of expertise. So, we do this through kind of online and in-store. So, for example, on World Oceans Day, we run a promotion where we donate a percent of revenue, not of profits, which I also think is the right way of doing it so that you know exactly, as a customer, you know exactly what you’re giving out of that. So, we do that in-store. We’ll do kind of email campaigns around that, and then we’ll have events on World Oceans Day in our store that kind of give customers and people ways to be more sustainable and to think about how do we have less of an impact on the environment. So, we really rely on our partners to help us do that.
And then back to my point earlier on just doing it through our local communities, I think is where we feel like we know we can give back the most. Because the technology isn’t always there with producing garments to be 100% sustainable, and we realize that. So, we’re trying to do that in other ways, and really just be honest with our customers. As we should all be as individuals, right? Knowing that when you get that Amazon package of one item, that’s not sustainable. And so, taking simple steps, and saying “Okay, well maybe if I was going to get my laundry detergent in one order and my LaCroix in another one, I should just get those together.” And hopefully they come together and use less packaging, et cetera.
And you know, it’s just all about … We all need to be more aware and educate each other.

Paul Lewis:
Right. And just take the simple steps, like you said, of bulking your orders together. Even though your Amazon Prime membership may let you ship each of those items for free, you should be consolidating those and trying to reduce the waste that goes into that, both the fuel and the packaging costs that it takes to get those to you.

Allie Egan:
Exactly, exactly. And that’s just another small thing we’re doing, even in just like getting our shipments in from our manufacturers, trying to make sure that those come in in a way that maybe isn’t … Still is not sustainable to ship something from China or from L.A. or whatever, but doing that in a slightly more sustainable way.

Paul Lewis:
I think that that’s the important takeaway, is that we want to move in that direction. So, what steps, what practical steps? And what I like about your answers are how do we be authentic about it, and how do we work with the experts in an area? So, we can work with our suppliers, we can work with other, whether they be charities or other organizations, that allow us to have the right impact on the environment. And I also like doing it from revenues as opposed to profits, because profits is that number that you really never have-

Allie Egan:
It’s murky.

Paul Lewis:
Exactly. You have no idea what is actually being contributed. And so, doing it from revenue seems, again, with everything else about your brand, very authentic, very upfront with customers, which is part of building that relationship.

Allie Egan:
Yeah, exactly. And trust. Right.

Paul Lewis:
Well, thank you so much for joining us today.

Allie Egan:
Of course.

Paul Lewis:
We really appreciate having your insights.

Allie Egan:
Yeah. Well, thank you for having me.