Tommy Hilfiger wants virtual influencers and 3D design to boost its brand credentials

Luxury fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger is investing in virtual influencers and 3D design as it looks to boost both its brand and sustainability credentials.

Chief executive Daniel Grieder has revealed it’s set to launch an influencer programme that will let creators design virtual ‘avatars’ and use them to market its clothes. The business will also design its own range of avatar influencers.

“It sounds completely techy but it’s not so far in the future. We’re already testing it and plan to scale that test next year,” Grieder explained during a talk at Web Summit on Wednesday (7 November).

It won’t be the Tommy Hilfiger’s first attempt to blur the lines between the virtual and the real. For its Spring 2019 show in Paris earlier this year, the brand teamed up with digital influencer Noonoouri – a figure created by graphic designer Joerg Zuber that has racked up 331,000 followers on Instagram in the space of two years – to showcase its products.

Since then, Noonoouri has worked with brands like Marc Jacobs, Dior and Versace and featured in advertising for Kim Kardashian’s makeup line. Other fake influencers like ‘singer’ and ‘model’ Lil Miquela (1.6 million followers) and ‘skateboarder’ Blawko, have run sponsored posts for brands like Fendi, Spotify and Absolute Vodka, showing a growing appetite among businesses to tap into the trend.

Tommy Hilfiger has long invested in both celebrity influencers like Gigi Hadid and those with smaller followings on Instagram, but Grieder disclosed the fresh experiment as he delved int the brand’s ongoing digital overhaul – or as he described it “a rolling vision for 2020 plus.”

“We want to be the biggest fashion tech company in the world”. “That’s our ambition,” he said, saying the almost 35-year-old brand is gearing up for a more digital future amid a revival in interest which has seen global revenues increase by 2% to $1.2bn in the past year.

The bold ambition follows on from shake up the fashion firm’s marketing function. Last month, seen Tommy reprise its chief marketing officer role, appointing former Hollister exec Michael Scheiner to lead marketing globally with Grieder saying the hire would help fuel the company’s “ongoing digital transformation” and position it as a market leader.

Transforming design

Design is also a major area undergoing a rethink: by 2022, all garments sold by the fashion house will be created in a digital lab with colours, textures, fabrics and samples prepared by designers using computers instead of sketching patterns manually.

“It is a transformation and it won’t happen overnight. Our designers used to draw on paper, but now they’ll do it digitally,” said Grieder at Web Summit on Thursday 7 November.

In a world where fashion brands are guarded about how much they waste, and where 86% of consumers say companies should address urgent social and environmental issues, Grieder also acknowledged that the new strategy would boost his company’s sustainability credentials.

“We won’t have to produce all the samples, so there will be less waste. We don’t have to ship these samples, so we will benefit from it. It will be cheaper and faster too,” he said.

Grieder went on to explain how his team was also working on making merchandise, sell-in, production, shopping and point of sale more tech-focused. The company is already pitching products into retailers using virtual models and samples, and its ‘store of the future’ concept stores in cities like London and Zurich – which carry digital experiences and screes in bricks-and-mortar stores – are serving as a preview of the direction its retail business is headed.

On why Tommy is disrupting its business model, Grieder had a message for other brands.

“You cannot think about short-term profit, you have to invest for the long-term and create a purpose for your brand, your business and your people. Only then will you survive in this fragmented world and rise to the challenges around us,” he said.