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Rebecca Morter, Founder and CEO of Lone Design Club on digital and physical presence and challenges in the fashion industry
Date published: Date modified: 2023-09-07

Rebecca Morter is the founder and CEO of Lone Design Club, a disruptive omnichannel retail start-up. Launched in 2018, Lone Design Club offers a unique shopping experience, providing brands with a direct route to market, online and offline. LDC's data-driven, multi-brand "pop-up stores on steroids" allow customers to meet designers, hear their stories, and form lasting relationships.

Ahead of joining the panel at our upcoming Retail & Leisure Trends Summit, we spoke to Rebecca about the importance of both a digital and physical presence, and current challenges in the fashion industry.


Could you give us some background on Lone Design Club?

Lone Design Club is an agile retail technology platform for direct-to-consumer brands and commercial property landlords. Our platform collects and collates the relevant data and analytics of physical retail spaces overlaid with the digital. Our mission at LDC is to help direct-to-consumer, social media and e-commerce-grown brands and commercial property landlords better understand the granular insights, data and behaviours from the forefronts of retail so both sides can make informed decisions on their strategies and build confidence in the right brands for the right locations. Essentially, LDC is a click-to-bricks strategy. Our platform gives these brands a cost-effective, agile, ‘backed by data’ route to dip their toe in physical retail whilst supporting our property partners to better understand their future consumers and acquire new brands that will be their future tenants.

Social media and e-commerce-grown brands have mastered the online worlds, but to really grow they need to integrate physical retail, and this is where we come in. We operate two to five pop-ups a month in all different locations, all data-driven based on demand, customer demographics, seasonality, concepts, tourism and the market— Through our tech platform, brands have the ability to plug into any of the locations and essentially build up the data, analytics and confidence about a specific area, customer type or validate the need for their own pop-up or permanent space, where we can support them to then make this happen.

For a landlord, it’s about helping them matchmake the perfect future tenants. One of the biggest challenges right now is the “copy / paste” high street that’s full of big retail institutions. What we’re not seeing is who the future brands are going to be. In the past five or ten years, we’ve now seen businesses that were the OGs of digital retail, Warby Parker, Glossier, Allbirds, Gymshark etc., all digitally native brands now integrating a physical retail strategy as they’ve seen how important it is to not only reduce their CAC, but increase their LTV, loyalty and engagement with their existing customers. Many of these brands never expected nor wanted to go into IRL retail, yet have since, [after] seeing the importance and necessity by which to really grow their brands. This has shown us that a brand needs a physical and a digital play to properly operate, hence the importance of an omnichannel strategy. However, it is super challenging for a brand to access and effectively operate physical retail when they’re from a digital background, it’s not their team’s expertise so it’s important they bring in the right partners to support this. Our goal is to matchmake brands to locations with landlords to de-risk retail for everyone.


How did the business come about?

The idea for LDC started out as a sales vehicle for my own brand as I was experimenting with how to reach more shoppers IRL after seeing the success of a trunk show or shopping event. I never set out to start this kind of business. My background is in luxury fashion, and in design. I had my own brand pre-LDC, [working] with celebrities like Charli XCX, Lady Gaga, Little Mix, much more on that side of the world. I was super lucky to be offered a showcase at London Fashion Week back in 2015: I was just out of university, it was very much a business grown organically. The biggest thing I saw, which is why LDC now exists, was that social and e-commerce is a great platform— it’s expensive when it’s not done right, and it’s expensive when you’re a self-funded and self-growing business, but it’s an incredible tool to build a network and audience.

However, it’s like an acquisition channel. To effectively convert, to properly increase sales, loyalty and engagement, having a physical presence was key for us in the business. Back then, the only options were selling to stores, wholesaling. Whilst this is a great channel, it was always a risk over sell-through, volumes, MOQs and the margins were so tight, all of which made it very difficult to sustain the business. At the same time, you’re not getting any feedback: what is the customer resonating with, what do they like or not like and how can we learn from this to really build a brand they want to shop? There’s a lot of guesswork in there.

What we realised was, if we could get in front of the customers, not only would our sales skyrocket, but the amount we would learn from our customers would help us amend the business, and focus it in a way that was responding to what people wanted to buy. We were learning directly from our shoppers. We were increasing our average order values because we were able to recommend things. It was the engagement you couldn’t get online and you couldn’t get from the high street.

That got us to a point where we were having so much success by using this model that other brands were asking to join the community and to join the pop-ups. It essentially organically started this new business as a retail movement that put more control into the brand owners' hands, we became a growth partner, not a retailer. It was about how brands can, in a collaborative community way, manage retail where the brand has control.


Why does digital need physical, and vice versa?

A lot of this was accelerated by COVID. Digital is convenient. We’re all constantly hooked on our phones; the time a brand must be able to connect with a customer can, in theory, be longer. Obviously, it’s geographically not limited. The possibilities are endless when it comes to digital.

The biggest challenge, though, is that you have a much more clinical and less intimate relationship with your customers. It’s hard to build loyalty, it’s hard to build a narrative, and it’s hard to bring someone into your world and create meaningful relationships with so much other online distraction. Physical is so important because it gives customers space to come see and feel. It’s really about an integrated approach that blends the worlds seamlessly. I don’t think you could just launch as a brand anymore from the beginning, physical only, and then build a digital one. You need to play where your customers want to play, gone are the days where brands and publications dictate what we wear and how we buy.


What is the biggest challenge in the fashion industry at the moment?

Sustainability is the biggest challenge at the moment and the fashion industry has, for so long, avoided dealing with it. Now there’s an anti-fast fashion movement, a movement towards longevity and being able to stand behind the products you buy, which I think is amazing. That’s one of the reasons that, at LDC, we only work with brands that are based across our sustainability pillars. We look at sustainable materials, ethical production and social responsibility, that’s how we define sustainability.

When I started Lone Design Club, so many of the brands that were struggling were in the sustainability space. They were seeing great success and engagement online, [but] they were not getting picked up by stores. People didn’t want to write about them, didn’t want to take a risk because they were new and a little too disruptive. Now it’s very on-trend and everyone is invested. Interestingly, whilst a lot of people were denying them access, customers were really engaging with them. They wanted to know where things were sourced, and who made them. That gave us a lot of faith that that was the direction retail was headed in for the future.


What's the most important thing for you to concentrate on in the months ahead?

It’s been a huge year of growth for us. We’ve gone from supporting brands in accessing physical retail and growing their audiences, growing their sales, growing their customer engagement and lifetime value, to also supporting global property estates. We work with about 850 brands now, and we work with four major landlord partners.

We’re at a point now where no brand can exist without a physical presence, yet nobody wants to take a risk. Nobody is in the space that’s providing lean, agile access to physical retail that can also show the brand the tangible results— whether they’re successful or not— and an unbiased representation of what is happening in that physical space.


Anything you would like to add?

This year alone has been anything but conventional. There’s not been a year like this on record. Everyone’s very aware of that. On reflection, we didn’t get the year of boom that we necessarily thought we would, but what innovations and learnings are we seeing that are going to remain? I think everyone’s challenged right now with trying to identify those, because it’s just been so volatile. I’m super interested to hear about the learnings over the past six months and what people think is going to influence our future.

Also, AI is changing things at such an insanely fast rate— again, what of that is here to stay and what’s not? AI is probably the first time that we’ve seen something digitally that’s less gimmicky, that has a solid case and is going to support so many businesses in a way that a lot of digital innovations just haven’t. But what does that really mean in terms of innovation, in terms of growth, and in terms of retail itself?

Sam Mercado, LDC Marketing Executive

Sam Mercado, LDC Marketing Executive The Local Data Company 901 901

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