[Future of Work Ep. 1] Future of Fashion: Using Data to Predict What Will Sell with Julie Evans

What if fashion brands asked their customers what they want to wear before (over)producing new designs?
By Claudia Virlanuta • Updated on Jan 3, 2023
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Episode highlights

  • In this episode, Edlitera CEO Claudia Virlanuta is speaks with Julie Evans, Founder and CEO of Sustalytics, a fashion analytics company that uses real time demand data to help brands predict which designs will sell and which will flop.
  • Fashion is first and foremost a creative industry, so getting insights from data is still in its early stages for most brands.
  • Many fashion brands do not have the know-how to get insights from consumer data, even though they may have lots of data in-house.
  • A technical partner can help fashion brands test their designs such as which designs will sell and which will flop.
  • The future of fashion will see consumers have more say in future trends and what gets produced to avoid waste.


Transcript (edited for clarity)

Claudia: What is the last thing that you learned and that gets you excited and why?

Julie: Since the pandemic has started, we all must connect so much on Zoom calls and organize our agenda, which can get crazy if you are on different time zones. There was one thing that got me super excited that I am sharing with everyone I know. It is a tool called Mixmax which is great. You just add it on, and it will synchronize with your own calendar. In one click, you can see your availability and share time slots that work for you, and it is all very visual. The other person receives an email and can visualize different slots in just one click. This tool has changed my whole rhythm. I feel like I have a lot more meetings now because of it.


Claudia: Fashion is an industry that has been around for a very long time. What do you think is missing within the fashion industry brands and their ability to use data effectively?

Julie: Fashion is a creative world which has not always been focused on data. Most of the industries have shifted to data, and the world has been revolutionized by it, and I think that the fashion industry needs to start looking into that too. Right now, we are at a tipping point, and I do not think that the fashion industry can continue the way it does. There were already plenty of problems before the pandemic, but now they have the biggest infantry crisis ever. I think what the fashion industry misses is a brand’s ability to understand the value of data, and to be able to organize and collect data in the right way. The fashion industry needs a partner like a ‘bridge’ to help them understand the value of data and make use of that value. A scientist and a fashion businessperson on their own might not get any value from data – it is when they get together that they make the most value.


C: All the companies that we work with at Edlitera - they all have a solid collection of software tools to collect data. There is a very solid data collection infrastructure in most companies that I've encountered. Does the fashion industry have the same level of data collection and use for inventory planning?

J: SAP is very famous in the fashion industry as well, and I have worked in many companies that have SAP. However, it is a very heavy and costly integration. Unfortunately, most of the fashion companies abandoned this way because they do not see the value in it. I have had the opportunity to talk to amazing CEOs, and I know it is their dream to integrate all of the systems out there. Anyway, integrating all those systems is not the core of the fashion business, which is a creative world, and in this case is our mission to bridge the gap and show that data can also be helpful for the creative industry. We are trying to make the data ‘sexy’ for them.


C: If you were to zoom forward, 10-20 years down the line, what do you think is the future of the fashion industry?

J: I believe that the fashion industry is changing fundamentally right now. For example, the music industry has lived this revolution. When we were kids, we were copying CDs, and that was problematic for the music industry which was crushing. However, now with the ability to stream and share music, the industry is revolutionized, and the power is in the consumer’s hands. We gave Despacito’s success because we listened to it billions of times. In the past, it was a big music company that would decide what was the next big hit we were to listen to all summer. In my ideal world, we would do that for the fashion industry too because right now it is still the big companies and the big brands that decide what we should wear. Actually, at least a third of what the fashion industry produces is stuff that we do not want. I think we should connect with the fashion industry and be part of its processes. Marketing is all about AB testing on consumers, and the consumers’ response – algorithms  for social media are developed for our responses and our behavior. Netflix produces TV series by first analyzing consumer behavior. Maybe giving the power to consumers in the fashion industry too will shift the whole industry.


C: How do you spend most of your time at Sustalytics these days?

J: Most of my time is connecting, managing, following-up the team, and I have a lot of calls. Most of my days have really shifted – it is all different from when you start a company, to continuing growing that company, to then going after clients. It is a continuously evolving process.


C: What has fundamentally changed in how you work now with companies on fashion analytics compared to how you were working before the pandemic?

J: Before the pandemic we were totally focused to provide our services to clients. When the pandemic hit and the whole world paused, it was the first time that we were taking time to step back and build a brand image and a strategy. We focused all our efforts into that, and we gathered with people who are specialized in that. We started having a brand book, a brand image, social media channels, we have learnt what kind of content our clients enjoy the most. We started showing the world out there what we do with real examples, and it has been a continuous learning process that is very different from how we were working before. We were in a shadow, and all of a sudden, we were thinking about a global strategy for global brands.


C: When you start a company for the first time, you have a very vague idea of what you want to do, and you start trying things out to see what sticks and what not in terms of developing your idea and growing your concept. It is like throwing a bunch of spaghetti into the wall and seeing what sticks, and if something sticks, you throw more of that. Did it feel the same for you in the beginning?

J: It is always like that. It is a continuous process of learning what the clients want. We are called ‘Sustalytics’ which stands for ‘sustainable analytics’. In the beginning, we would provide services to clients and we would give them tons of tables, distributions, analytics about the data that we were seeing. For me that was interesting because I see the value in data, but by talking to clients, I understood that they do not really care about all the details. They just want a clear visual answer. For example, we had this new sustainable brand that was testing different jackets for men in different color combinations. I can give you a ranking, and tell you the best color combination, and what colors should be avoided. If you were looking further into the data, you could also understand that the consumers enjoy white sleeves because every combination with white sleeves was ranking higher. Knowing what your consumers like is very important. That is what we are building – we are moving towards market intelligence and tagging all those details.


C: What is a cool project or initiative that you are working on right now and that you want to share with the world?

J: Recently we have partnered with Zilingo which is a big retail tech player and they are a sourcing platform. The idea behind sourcing is that you can start off your brand with Sustalytics by testing your design and finding out which designs consumers fall in love with. You can then use the Zilingo platform to source those products. They do all the sourcing, and you can then do everything digitally and everything is fully transparent. You can follow the whole production process. It is amazing because they also offer a lot of sustainable fabrics like bamboo hemp. And everything is at the tip of your fingers, very easy to access. Sourcing solutions like this were not available before unless you were working with a big company and they would put that at your disposal. I am super happy to start partnering with them.


C: I know that you are French and that you started Sustalytics in France, and back then you were working primarily with brands in Europe. What is the biggest difference that you have seen between fashion brands in Europe versus fashion brands in the US?

J: I would say that the biggest difference is in consumer preferences. There are trends in the US that are bigger than they are in Europe, and maybe sometimes those trends come to Europe too, but that happens maybe a season later. For example, biker shorts and active wear generally are super trendy in the US. So, biker shorts are more likely to sell in the US than in Europe. On the same note, GAP is super popular in the US, but not Europe. Not everything that works here also works in Europe.


C: Julie, for anybody out there who wants to learn more about Sustalytics, how can they find you?

J: They can go on our website (sustalytics.com), and we are also very active on LinkedIn and Instagram. We share a lot of content and insights on cool trend on our YouTube channel. You can also register on our website to test out the Sustalytics platform.


Claudia Virlanuta

CEO | Data Scientist

Claudia Virlanuta

Claudia is a data scientist, consultant and trainer. She is the CEO of Edlitera, a data science and machine learning training and consulting company helping teams and businesses futureproof themselves and turn their data into profits.

Before Edlitera, Claudia taught Computer Science at Harvard, and worked in biotech (Qiagen), marketing tech (ZoomInfo), and ecommerce (Wayfair). Claudia earned her degree in Economics from Yale, with a focus on Statistics and Computer Science.