Brands, Be Humble: Why humility is becoming ever more important for brand growth.

December 04, 2017

Everlane is doing the unthinkable. No, they did not just invent how to instantly deliver clothing to your doorstep or any other retail dream you might have. The big news is that the online purveyor of ethically made clothing has opened its first retail store in New York on December 2nd, 2017. While this next step is traditional for fashion companies, it is a radical endeavor for a company whose CEO, Michael Preysman, famously told the New York Times T Magazine in 2012, "We're going to shut down the company before we go into physical retail."

Everlane’s decision to seek out a new pathway is both brave and humble, two key ingredients to innovation according to Mitch Sinclair, Design Director at IDEO and Italia Innovation mentor. She points out, “To me, innovation is about bravery first and foremost. It’s also about humility. It’s about saying I don’t have all of the answers. You know who does? Probably the people I’m designing this for.” That’s exactly what Everlane did when it turned to customers for design guidance.

Preysman told The Washington Post, “Our customers tell us all the time that they want to touch a product before they buy it.” Everlane also discovered that people prefer to do returns in stores. This reveals that the Everlane shoppers were the ones who persuaded the company to follow a different path. After experimenting with pop-ups and different concept stores, Everlane finally settled on a more traditional, yet well-designed store for customers to interact with the brand. Now to add value to its online platform, Everlane offers a real-life version to interact with the community.

What is really impressive about Everlane’s venture into brick-and-mortar stores is its ability to put aside all hubris and evolve into something it and others really didn’t think was right for them. While a few years ago it seemed like digitally native brands were going to wipe out retail stores, that no longer is the case. On its social media channels, Preysman writes, “They told us retail was dead. They told us not to open a store. They told us to stick to the internet.” One can only assume that the “they” are trend forecasters, experts, and other business leaders—people who you would think have all the answers but in reality don’t. Those who went out and spoke with customers figured out that shoppers still want retail. In fact, WalkerSands reported in their 2017 Future of Retail research that younger people actually prefer to shop in physical stores.

Since Everlane is a trailblazer in the digital landscape it may seem that they went against their brand DNA or took a backward step on their innovation path, but they really didn’t. The fundamental mission of Everlane is to offer exceptional quality, ethical factories, and radical transparency. While they launched on a digital platform, it’s not a tech brand. Everlane is also staying true to their original model by offering lower prices and free shipping to customers who buy online. Their ability to reshape the original concept without undermining it is an example for all companies as they navigate today’s complex marketplace.

The consumer environment has changed. It’s no longer about brand knowing best, but consumer knowing best. Everlane understood this. Its leaders realized no matter how experienced or smart they are, without adapting to the environment shaped by the customers, they can’t grow. Everlane proves that flexibility, experimentation, and humility are ever more important for brand success because without stepping “down to the level of the people,” as Mitch Sinclair points out, brands will not only lose valuable insight opportunities, but also the ability to design amazing futures.