We delved into design for retail at this breakfast event, learning from the team behind one of London's most bold and experimental retail spaces.
On the morning of 30th April, we were delighted to join directors of StudioXAG, Gemma Ruse and Xavier Sheriff, and their client and Creative Director for Napapijri, Jason Lowdon, in the bespoke Napapijri store on Shoreditch High Street. The talk was hosted by Rachael Stott, who used her experience as Senior Creative Researcher for the Future Laboratory to steer the conversation amid the wider contexts of consumer trends and the evolution of modern retail.
We were treated to behind-the-scenes access to the team's creative process as together they talked us through some of the ideas behind the space, the challenges they faced in bringing it to life and — more broadly — their thoughts on the future of the customer experience.
Here’s what we learned:
The ‘J’ is silent
Napapijri is an Italian brand specialising in premium outerwear, most renowned for their famous ‘rainforest’ anorak jacket. Well known in Europe, their goal was to integrate themselves into the UK market and increase brand awareness in a way that both served the surrounding community and, importantly, engaged with the consumer in a bold and authentic way. Enter StudioXAG, longstanding partners with Jason, and whose mission is to “create the most exciting retail spaces in the world”, telling a brand’s story through immersive physical retail environments.
“Do you think this is quite a typical creative relationship?” Rachael asked. “The good ones are like this” replied Xavier, “The worst thing for us is if the client is disappointed, so we keep everything open all the way along. There should be no surprises that aren’t good ones”.
The concept for the collaboration was a brave one, an experiment with a new approach to customer experience. “My whole thing was that I didn’t want to bring a brand that nobody knew to the UK and just set up shop”, explained Jason, going on to outline how the main purpose of the project was to create a space where wider issues and ideas could be discussed amongst the community. To realise this, StudioXAG used bold design to “really make some noise on the street”, and stretched the concept as far as removing all merchandise from the store, focusing entirely on the physical experience. “How many brands would be brave enough to launch a store with no product?” Gemma asked, emphasising the need to take risks to create impact, and keep momentum going. Xavier pointed out that they were allowed plenty of room for experimentation, which Jason confirmed: “Napapijri is officially an incubator brand for its parent company VF, so we get to try lots of new things”.
It’s more than a store
“It’s not super commercial, it’s always about the experience”, Jason pointed out, “It was more about people coming in and engaging with the brand, and understanding that this is a brand that considers their opinions and what is going on”. Napapijri are building on a growing culture of creating a space where customers feel at home; an approach with the intention of increasing time spent in store. The innovative design, flexible layout and minimal merchandising all contribute to the immersive in-store experience, moving away from the traditional store format and encouraging the space to become a hub for the local community. It's clearly a successful approach, and Jason revealed that brand awareness in the UK has increased from 8% to 34%.
Retail is revolutionising
The traditional retail industry is struggling to stay ahead of the curve, not having the resources to contend with online giants as ASOS or Amazon. With this in mind, Rachael asked the panel what skills will be needed to develop in the future to keep customer engagement high. “If you look at the brands that are born in the digital age, they are flourishing on the high street”, said Gemma, “everything is becoming much more fluid; the stores represent a part of the consumer journey”. If brands don’t learn to adapt, evolve and become the “epicentre for brand experience” then they risk real decline.
Be a force for positive change
The discussion turned to sustainability, a key priority at the forefront of every retailer's mind and one which doesn’t come without its challenges. “If you’re going to talk about sustainability, you have to be able to back it up with facts so you’re not just jumping on the bandwagon”, argued Gemma. StudioXAG have announced their intention to become market leaders in sustainability, focusing on streamlining their campaigns and, as Gemma puts it, “reusing as much as possible whilst maintaining the aesthetic impact”. Indeed all material used within the flagship Napapijri project is recycled or recyclable.
Jason added that that sometimes “the most sustainable thing you can do is nothing” and the goal is to avoid making physical changes, “which are either going to require damage at the beginning or waste at the end”.
A big thanks to Jason, Gemma and Xavier for sharing their insights and vision, to Rachael for moderating and to everyone who came along to learn and share their own perspectives. And to Sam for his photos.