MAR 13, 2021 | 13:49

Episode 15: Retail Renaissance With Rebecca Morter

Rebecca Morter is the founder & CEO at Loan Design Club; an antidote to fast fashion aimed at connecting shoppers with ethical, independent fashion and lifestyle brands. She's taking immersive retail to another level with a 24/7 online store, international concept store experiences, and unique events.

What’s the story behind the origin of the Loan Design Club?

My background is actually in luxury women's wear, I initially trained as a designer. I was working for various design houses and ended up launching my own fashion brand. My side hustle consisted of doing some pieces, commissions, and loans for celebrities like Lady Gaga, Charlie XCX, and few other renowned names; these celebrity ambassadors got us a lot of recognition. Then London Fashion Week offered us to showcase our designs. It was an exciting journey & it led me to start Loan Design Club. Although, we soon realized the industry's challenges as a small brand; trying to get your brand into stores, small margins, dealing with minimum order quantities, and more! One of the biggest challenges was the disparity between the brand and the customers. When you don't meet the customers & are expected to build an organic and sustainable business with a commercial element, essentially solving a problem or creating something for the customers, it isn't easy. Essentially, it was these problems/challenges that led us to build the Loan Design Club.

When you're curating an immersive pop-up store, what are the elements that every store that you curate will always have?

The first thing is designers are always present in-store. The brands must spend at least one day in a week in those stores, connecting with customers. It helps with conversion and sales & also helps them gain useful feedback and experience. The second thing for us is we like to pop-up for a short time; it’s a call to action. It's short-term but has maximum impact. In 2 week’s time, every day, we’re filling the store with different events and experiences. The third thing would be to help people go deeper into the brands and deeper into our ethos; sustainability is essential to what we do, we do believe that. For us, each of the innovations and interesting stories is an opportunity to create and experience other experiences; we do workshops that the designers lead. It might be candle making, workshops, theories, experiences that will help people connect with these incredible independent designers on a deeper level.

What boxes have to be ticked to be part of a pop-up brand like Loan Design Club?
There are so many incredibly talented brands out there that think the big challenge is to access the right customer. That's what we're doing with Loan Design Club, anyone with a brand or anyone that's creative, that wants to have a brand, we connect them to the right customers. We believe we can do that through our pop-up stores and our online marketplace. Anyone can essentially join or be part of our community, the tricky bit is knowing if the brand is ready? For instance, the first stage is to fit our sustainability criteria; sustainable materials, ethical production, and social responsibility. The second stage is being part of the community. We run an accelerator program that contains masterclasses webinars & new content is released every week. It’s a way for us to build and support the brand’s growth.The third stage is joining online or in a pop-up store. To join a pop-up store, it's important that the brand is ready; you have a strong understanding of your collection, you have size runs, you feel confident in your brand, it's important for us that the quality is there, ,the sustainability story, the designer story, all of that is there and that we're able to really take that and help get that across to customers.
Do you have some tips for a homegrown label or a small scale designer on how to fuse sustainability into their daily operations?

One of the advantages of being a small brand is that you have transparency over your supply chain. The fact that you're the person that is a major part of the brand you're building is great because you've got the ability to go and visit the factories and ask questions like; Is there a proper standard? Does the factory have certification; is it recognized? Has it been audited? Is it a good factory to align yourself with because making those partnership decisions is crucial, and being confident in the factory that is manufacturing your pieces. On the other side in terms of materials. Ask questions like; Where are you sourcing your materials from? What is the composition of the materials? Could you use a version that's recycled?

Was the 24/7 online store a step towards a more sustainable approach?

The future of retail has to be a hybrid of digital and physical space. We really believe that having a physical space is equally important. It's an experiential split space for customers to touch, feel, and see the garments, but it's because we focus on pop-up stores and because our store’s nature is speedy & temporary. We really wanted to create a permanent space that is digital. This is our online space for customers worldwide to come and meet the next generation of sustainable brands. It is the company's mothership, and it is online; it's easy for designers that we work with all over the world to have their products in that one place. It's one big megastore. I wouldn't say that it was a decision in terms of sustainability, it was a decision in terms of building a community and being able to communicate with our customers for a longer period.

How would you define the 21st-century new-age shopper & what is your take on the role of immersive technologies in retail?
Due to COVID, what was supposed to happen in 5-10 years has been forced into 10 months. There's been a lot of focus on organizations and companies adapting fast and pivot and suddenly going digital. I don't think anyone was ready for it. It's been an interesting shift, not just on the brand side. But on the customer side, one of the things that we really noticed, we've used a lot of QR codes! Before COVID, nobody in the west or the UK used them. They were popular with the Italian & Asian audience. Now, When we do pop-ups, or when we use QR codes, they are second nature to a Western customer, which is amazing; there's been a massive shift in customer behavior. Simultaneously, for certain social media tools, we're doing a lot of live stream shopping. And finding this is an interesting way to connect with customers and create some physical experiences. But virtual, which has seen great success with where we're headed and the pandemic, really accelerated the brands, reliance, and innovation on technology and digital.

What is one design aesthetic that always works in fashion?
You can't go wrong with the basics.

What are the top three takeaways for brands that are a part of your Accelerator program?

Focus on one thing and do it really well: Find your niche and make it your USP, having ideas is great but the execution is the hard part & underestimating the power of collaboration.

What is your top mantra for ensuring a work-life balance?

The big thing is prioritizing personal mental health and personal space. You're much more productive & passionate when you give yourself time.

What is the key to a very successful communication strategy for any retail brand?

Authenticity & being genuine.

What is the one trend in the fashion space that is the absolute worst when it comes to sustainability? 

I think the biggest problem that we have is overconsumption, especially fast fashion. There's still such a mentality of buy quick, buy cheap, buy a lot. That is just killing the industry and is very unnecessary.

To catch the full candid podcast tune into Uninterrupted by clicking here! 

Episode 15: Retail Renaissance With Rebecca Morter