Envision 2022: Syama Meagher, Scaling Retail

In October, Bigeye published an exclusive report, Retail Disrupted, and recently released ENVISION 2022, a video exploring key findings. This week’s pod is an extended interview with ENVISION guest Syama Meagher, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Scaling Retail, an innovative business consultancy. During our interview, Syama shared new insights about traditional and digital fashion – and why she believes the metaverse and Web3 offer retailers exciting opportunities. 

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Syama Meagher: I consider myself a consumer futurist. I’m always following the money, right? I’m going, “Where is new wealth being created? How are customer values shifting? And how are we looking at being able to take some of that market share, take some of those dollars and be able to create value?”

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Last October, Bigeye published a market research report entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed over 1,500 consumers aged 18 to 55 across America to find out how their shopping behaviors have changed as a result of the pandemic. Now, we’ve recently released a video, ENVISION 2022, in which four experts discuss key findings from the retail disrupted study and explore some of the potential implications for retailers and brand marketers. A consistent theme of our conversations was the metaverse. Decentraland, a virtual world, hosted the first Metaverse Fashion Week last month, featuring dozens of global brands. Visitors were able to virtually experience fashion shows, attend live music sessions at branded after parties, and buy and wear digital clothing directly from catwalk avatars. Our podcast today is an extended interview with one of our guests for ENVISION 2022, who joined me to discuss the new world of digital fashion. With a background in traditional retail and e-commerce, Syama Meagher has held senior positions with Macy’s, Barney’s, and Gucci among others, and today is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Scaling Retail, an innovative business consultancy, specializing in launching and scaling successful fashion retail companies. She’s also an in-demand keynote speaker, a regular contributor to Forbes, and a sought-after fashion industry commentator. Syama joined us from her home in San Francisco. Syama, welcome!

Syama Meagher: Thank you, Adrian. I’m so happy to be here. 

Adrian Tennant: When did you first develop an interest in fashion?

Syama Meagher: When I was nine years old, I was that girl who went into Macy’s and went, “Oh my gosh, why are things on sale?” And wrote one of my first papers on it. So I think from a retail interest point of view, sadly, I think I’ve been curious about the retail industry since about the age of nine. And what I think has been so interesting is to kind of see how that very first inclination on why things go on sale has led me towards a whole new world of building and growing business.

Adrian Tennant: So, was there a particular time or an event that prompted you to pursue a career focused on fashion?

Syama Meagher: You know, what was so interesting is I realized that I had developed a very strong love of economics, and I always was very passionate about how systems worked. But I was also very much in love with fashion and style. And what I’d realized was the best way to execute these macro principles, these ideas around behavioral economics, but to do so in a way that was very tangible, is really what got me to fall in love with fashion because fashion is so personal. It is our identity. It is how we engage with others. So I would say, you know, it actually came out shortly after college. In university, I studied economics and philosophy, and I said, “You know what? I don’t know if I want to apply these things that I know how to do to the finance world. I think I want to be able to apply all of these great principles and ideas to the fashion world.”

Adrian Tennant: Are there particular fashion houses, designers, or entrepreneurs whom you particularly admire, or who have had a significant influence on your own approach to the business of fashion?

Syama Meagher: That’s a fantastic question. You know, I find that when I’m looking to the innovators of tomorrow, I try to look at very cross-disciplinary types of folks. So for example, thought leaders like Tom Goodwin is someone who I very much look up to. I love the ideas and thought leadership that he’s brought to tech companies. And as we look to see how fashion is growing and what happens and what moves in it, I find that actually, people from other arenas are able to provide some very interesting insight. So specifically, in terms of fashion designers, I mean, look, core to my heart, I would say I’ll always be a Phoebe Philo fan from Celine. She’s always been someone who I just admired: tastes, aesthetic, strong points of view, and commitment I think to community. And so what I think is so fascinating is when we think about the early luxury and advanced contemporary fashion brands, like, you know, Comme de Garçons and some of these brands that were so niche early on. They really garnered the love and attention of fashion fanatics, and they stayed so true and core to their identities that they’ve really been able to stand the test of time. Like Rick Owens, for example. And now you have all of these direct to consumer brands who are trying to build community, but what we’ve seen through designers like Rick Owens is the ones who stayed true to their core, their core aesthetic, their core consumers, those are the ones who continue to stay forever.

Adrian Tennant: Syama, could you tell us a bit more about your company, Scaling Retail, and the types of clients you typically work with?

Syama Meagher: Absolutely. So the thing that I love the most about Scaling Retail is we take a very 360-degree approach to business building, which I think is very different for most consultants who will come in with a very particular lens. What we’ve been able to do working with first time founders, and those who are interested in getting into spaces for the first time, is hold their hands across five main pillars. And that’s understanding your finances, your operations, looking at your product, your sales, and your marketing. And those are really five integral pillars. You cannot have siloed business models anymore, right? We need to be able to work integratively. So that is a very unique approach that we take to business. Now, in conjunction with that, we’ve also been able to attract an assortment of very interesting and exciting brands. Everything from working with the United Nations on product launches, to working with cities like the City of Coral Gables to help them with their city revitalization of their small businesses, to cannabis, fashion, lifestyle, you name it. It’s been an incredible gamut of companies and the impact that I think that’s been so incredible to see is when you see a business go from $250,000 in revenue to 10 million in revenue. That takes a moment to pause and say, “Oh my gosh, how do we actually start to create the secret sauce and to do so with every client in their own unique way?”

Adrian Tennant: Now of course, Syama, you’re also an investor and advisor. What elements typically need to be in place for you to consider investing in a startup?

Syama Meagher: That’s a really great question. So when it comes to the types of businesses, I invest across multiple verticals. And what I’m looking to do is get in on that pre-seed or seed stage round. So that’s either on the cusp of having product or good product market fit, very early stages to be able to see great accelerated growth. I am looking for companies that are on the forefront of innovation, whether that is sustainability, supply chain innovation, business model innovation. And predominantly these days I’ve been really focusing and doubling down on female-owned businesses and really starting to support the ecosystem of female entrepreneurs.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of companies have you invested in?

Syama Meagher: So one of my favorites so far is a company called Rebundle and what they’re doing that’s fascinating is they’re the first product to innovate in the hair-braiding beauty space. Traditionally, when women get their hair braided, they’re pulling hair, either it’s synthetic hair that’s been produced for the purposes of being braided, or they’re getting hair that’s coming from other countries. And so what’s so important here is that beauty is obviously a tremendous market. And what I love so much about the thesis of Rebundle is they’re actually sourcing natural fibers that are recyclable in order to create this product that traditionally contributed to so much waste. And so this kind of innovation and product development in the supply chain, I think is so incredible. So that’s one. Another one that I’m so excited about is called The House of Wise and that is a CBD brand that’s really geared towards women. And what I love about the thesis around this business is it’s empowering women to create their own communities, to have conversations around sex, sports, wellbeing, sleep. And to be able to talk about these things very candidly while building these friendship networks and connections. So again, another female-driven business across different sorts of verticals, but focused on innovation and community.

Adrian Tennant: Now, you mentioned Rebundle as one of the companies you’ve invested in. In our retail disrupted report, we saw a greater level of interest among Gen Z consumers in recycling and reselling clothing and accessories. How are you seeing fashion brands adapt to younger consumers’ social and environmental concerns?

Syama Meagher: One of the things that I love so much about contemporary new businesses, and small businesses in particular, are the ability to be agile. You know, over the last 10 years, the ability to shift and change whether that’s supply chain, sustainability focuses, that has been really to the benefit of many young brands today. Some interesting innovations that I’ve seen are really building in the end of life of the product into the onset of the business model. So therefore right, when a Gen Z consumer is purchasing that product for the first time, there is already a resellable or recyclable program that is built into the business model. And that, I think, that circularity, of being able to sell to a consumer, have there be a platform to resell it or even to buy it back, I think is going to be fantastic, not just for Gen Zs, who want to feel more connected to their products and have products with more values, but ultimately, Adrian, to the environment, right? For us to be able to have a much healthier planet and a much healthier lifestyle.

Adrian Tennant: Digital fashion, nonfungible tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, the metaverse. I know you believe they all offer opportunities to revolutionize the ways in which fashion brands conduct business and connect with consumers. So Syama, I’m curious, was there one particular moment or event that triggered your interest in Web3?

Syama Meagher: So, back in 2014, which is now nearly 10 years ago, I had the privilege of opening up a retail store for a client in the West Village. And that opening of that store was also the advent of when we first launched the Bitcoin ATM. So you can say I’ve been crypto-curious since about 2014. And what’s hilarious is that at that time, people care less about a Bitcoin ATM, but for us at that time, it was extremely innovative and exciting. And it really was my first toe in the water that let me say, “Hey, there’s something here.” Now, fast forward nearly seven years later, we saw the first sale of that Beeple NFT from Christie’s. And what I thought was so fascinating about the sale of that was it showed not only that we were ready to have a new form of art and a new form of communication, which obviously artists are always on the forefront. But we were actually able to see a market that was hungry, rich, and ready to spend. Now for me, I consider myself a consumer futurist. I’m always following the money, right? I’m going, “where is new wealth being created? How are customer values shifting? And how are we looking at being able to take some of that market share, take some of those dollars and be able to create value?” So the moment that I saw that there was really an abundance of transactions that were happening on the marketplace in terms of people buying into crypto, crypto really kind of increasing its value. So now we have more crypto millionaires in 2020 and 2021 than we’ve ever seen before. Combining that with the utility, right? Of being able to now express that into art, into having a commodity, to me was like whoa – my mind kind of exploded. And I said, “oh my gosh! We need to be able to educate brands into how to properly execute this new invitation for our consumer to come and play with them in a new way.” And it’s not using the US dollar, it’s using Ethereum or Bitcoin or any of these other tokens and solutions. So I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for April is Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Paid Attention, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N, P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts, including this week’s podcast guest, Syama Meagher.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand.

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022. For details, go to bigeyeagency.com/insights.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to a conversation with Syama Meagher, the founder and chief executive officer of Scaling Retail, who was recently a featured guest with Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 video event. Well, I mentioned in the intro that you worked with Gucci in the past. The iconic fashion house released a digital version of one of their purses that actually cost more than the physical version did. Syama, what’s the appeal of investing in an NFT from a luxury brand compared to purchasing a physical product from that brand?

Syama Meagher: So interesting, right? Because it’s not like the person who bought the NFT got the handbag, right? They just got the NFT. Now, what I think is important to project ourselves into is, a future or a lifestyle where we want to represent who we are, wherever we’re engaging with people, right? You and I are engaging right now. How do I best represent myself? How can I show you who I am in the context of this digital conversation? And so when I think about things like the value of an NFT, you know, there are so many different utilities for it, but someone who’s going to buy that Gucci NFT, who wants to engage with that brand digitally. Chances are they’re spending a lot of their lives, right, and their life online, engaging with other people digitally, right? If I’m spending a lot of time going to parties and events, and I’m seeing people in real life, well, you better believe I’m going to want the social capital and status that comes along with having that Gucci handbag so I can show it off in real life. So if you think of our products and the things that we buy as extensions of identity and extensions of self, one doesn’t have to look much further than saying, “Well, where am I showing up every day? And where do I want people to get to understand and know me better?” So that digital version of a handbag, right, having those NFTs from luxury brands or from artists are going to become increasingly important as we have more platforms and opportunities to showcase and share with each other, our social capital.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I understand how that works for really well-established, large luxury brands. I know your client base also includes pre-revenue, or early growth stage companies. So in what kinds of ways are you thinking about NFTs and web three in relation to their businesses today and into the future?

Syama Meagher: Great question. NFTs are an invitation for consumers to be a part of a journey. As a small brand, there are so many ways in which you want people to be evangelizing and to be a part of your community. And so many reasons why it’s so valuable. The first is we are seeing now smaller brands use NFTs as fundraising mechanisms. That means instead of going to, let’s say a crowdfunding place in order to raise capital for your business, you can raise non-dilutive capital. So that means capital from consumers that are coming into your bank account that are not going to require a line item on your cap table. They’re not going to own a piece of your business, but they’re going to own a piece of that journey. So what I’ve been working with brands on is really not only how do we get you Web3, but truly, what are the consumer problems that you’re solving that actually Web3 is going to help you solve a lot easier? So good examples of that would be: let’s say I’m building community and I’m inviting everyone to come to an event. And this event that I’m doing is going to be one in 20 events of the year. And I want to see who are my most loyal fans, right? Not even consumers, but loyal fans. Well, I might, for everyone who shows up to my event, I might airdrop them an NFT. That’s almost like a ticket for the event and that way we can see who’s attending the event. Now let’s say they collect 15 out of the 20 events. Well, that person may not have been a purchaser of my product, but they sure as hell are brand loyal. These are our evangelists. So I’m going to go ahead and reward that person who’s now unlocked these different NFTs with some sort of reward mechanism, right? They’re now part of a certain segment of loyalty. That’s just one way of being able to engage a consumer. The other ways are being able to offer collectibles alongside physical products. So, hey, you’re going to now have, and there are so many companies that are working on this problem, but you’re going to have a digital gallery of all of the art that you own that’s an NFT. Well, if I’m a small brand, I might say, “well, you know what? With every product that I sell of this limited edition collection, I’m going to go ahead and give an NFT alongside it. And that NFT is going to be proof of ownership and proof that you actually have an authentic piece of the small collection.” Now, if someone wants to resell it, they’ll resell the NFT, right? And that I think is a very simple and easy way for smaller brands to say, “Hey, I’m already producing sustainably, limited edition quantities. I already have a niche consumer. How do I help my consumer evangelize what I’m doing on all the spaces that are important for that consumer to show up in?”

Adrian Tennant: We’ve seen sports brands like Nike and Adidas selling virtual sneakers, and then of course, as we’ve been discussing, many luxury fashion brands are also active in this NFT space. It’s still very early days, but are you getting a sense that metaverse consumers are the most enthusiastic brand loyalists in real life? Or do you think these fashion consumers in the digital realm are representing different types of buyers?

Syama Meagher: Hmm, this is interesting. If you were to look at the saleability factor of let’s say a new hot, like you mentioned, Nike, a new hot Nike sneaker. Right? Well, think of it like this: if a new hot Nike sneaker, sometimes people are buying those products not to wear them, but they’re buying them to resell them. We hear about this all the time. Right. People who are sneakerheads, or sometimes, you know, the ones who own them and wear them and like to look at them. But also there is an entirely new ecosystem of the resell market. I would say some of these NFT loyalists might also be flippers, they’re looking to invest in new hot drops, and then they’re looking to resell them. That’s just one slice of it, right? And that would be almost very similar to that kind of StockX sort of equivalency. Get first in line, buy the sneaker, and resell it. So think of the NFT as also having that brand loyal resell ability. Now also think of who these brand loyalists are, right. Or who’s consuming these NFTs as also people who were very interested in terms of what is community and what’s going to be building. So what we haven’t yet seen because NFTs are so young, like we’ve established, we actually haven’t seen any sort of NFT program launch full circle in terms of customer experience over time. So all we’ve seen so far are the beginning stages of this, right? And in the beginning stages, it simply means like, “join this and we’re going to give you the promise of Y if you buy X. ” but we haven’t actually seen is: are those promises being made good on? Right. Like, what is the actual loyalty community program over time? Now, certain companies have done well in terms of getting their foot in the door. Breitling did a launch of an NFT blockchain project that helped with authentication of their products so that people who had one of the watches, had the NFT, they could join an exclusive club, but we have yet to actually see many of these roadmaps take off in a way where we can track how frequent someone is engaging with the community. Are they truly buying more items from that brand or do they just continue to buy NFTs? lots of questions TBD.

Adrian Tennant: What is the one aspect of retailing that you think is most likely to be disrupted or look completely different by 2030?

Syama Meagher: I can only pick one? Um, okay. So one thing about retail, that’s totally going to change. Oh, my gosh. I want to say two things. I’m going to say one, and then if you, if you let me have the second, I’ll have the second.

Adrian Tennant: Syama, of course, I’ll let you have a second.

Syama Meagher: Okay, great. So I think the first thing that I’m so excited about actually is what all of the shifts in our supply chain are going to mean for how we consume products and our value of products. And what I mean by that is we’ve seen so many shifts and changes, obviously with disruptions in the supply chain, in manufacturing, and shipping and logistics and where we are producing products that I actually do believe that consumers are starting to understand how fragile our supply chain infrastructure is. And also the value of buying a domestically produced product. This is something that really suffered in the last 10 years. We heard a lot early 10 years ago about made in USA and how great that is. But very few consumers were actually willing to be able to put their resources or money behind those products because they were more expensive. But now, as we’re kind of looking at where, you know, supply chain shifts are happening and people are starting to understand that they’re not going to get those products in time, or as quickly as they want unless they’re manufactured locally. I think consumers are gonna be willing to spend more money for the product they want in order to have them in time. And so I think that the supply chain shifts now are going to change how we look at the value of domestic manufacturing. And I think more consumers are going to be willing to spend the money, whereas before they might’ve seen it as a vanity or fad To be able to luxuriously pay for me, made in the USA. So I think that’s a huge shift. Now, in terms of how we, and the second, thank you for giving me the second. Um, I think the other thing that’s going to be so fascinating or exciting is going to really be how we think about shopping and what it means to be able to have our identity showing up in all of these different spaces. And so when I’m looking at how consumers right now are thinking about, being brand loyal or having repeat purchases or what they’re buying from, there is going to be a synthesis of the metaverse within real life. And that means it’s not only going to be having a seamless, e-commerce experience, but it’s truly going to be, I think the advent of having an iPhone, being able to hold it up to something, being able to buy, have access and see through layers of engagement. And I think that our smartphones will be the gateways to how we start to purchase and consume more on-demand.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent! Syama, if people would like to learn more about you, your consultancy, Scaling Retail, or attend upcoming events that you’re speaking at, where can they find you?

Syama Meagher: Absolutely Adrian. All of our socials are quite robust, but I would say the Scaling Retail Instagram is a fantastic way to see all of the fun and exciting things that we’re up to. And then also on our newsletter and Adrian, I’d be remiss not to mention we’ve got an extensive YouTube platform with just a ton of fantastic retail and business information. I mean, I think being on the forefront of what’s happening in this rapidly changing world and being able to see the vision and execute tactically is something I’m so deeply passionate about. And I think people will be excited to see more.

Adrian Tennant: Well, that definitely comes across. Syama, thank you very much for sharing your insights with us!

Syama Meagher: Oh, thank you so much, Adrian. Such a pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guest this week, Syama Meagher, the founder and CEO of Scaling Retail. As always you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyegency.com, where you’ll also find details about Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 video event. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host. Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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