Our buying behaviors have indelibly changed this year. Most of us shifted to online shopping more than ever before during historic quarantines. And so many more consumers began to shop ‘consciously’, paying attention to a brand’s overall values, sustainability practices, ownership and even personal connection as they made buying decisions.
So what do these economic changes mean for retail and the landscape of our towns and cities moving forward? It’s a question on all of our minds. While big economic shifts like the one we’re experiencing now can be harrowing for businesses, it also provides opportunities for major innovations.
Earlier this month, we visited Cuyana’s new mobile shop — a new traveling showroom of sorts and the first application of Toyota’s Agile Space concept. The goal of the project is to reimagine the use and provisioning of urban spaces for multiple new purposes and applications.
Cuyana’s mobile (and sustainable) new format will visit five of Southern California’s best shopping centers, from DTLA to Newport Beach. In doing so, the women’s lifestyle brand will be able to expand it’s footprint exponentially, even if just for short periods at a time, and test new locations across Los Angeles in a way we’ve truly never seen before.
We asked Cuyana’s Co-Founder and CXO, Shilpa Shah, to talk to us about the new undertaking, what consumers can expect and what she thinks is happening next in retail…
The Chalkboard: How was 2020 for Cuyana? It’s a good time to be such a trend-less, classic brand with staples women still need for everyday life.
No doubt, this mobile experience is the top innovation for you, coming out of this chaotic time for retail. What else evolved in your business this year?
Shilpa Shah: 2020 certainly came alongside unique challenges and obstacles, but it also encouraged us to double down on Cuyana’s core philosophy of ‘fewer, better’.
This past year allowed all of us to reflect upon our priorities and develop a newfound sense of appreciation for the things that matter to us most. In doing so, customers have become increasingly intentional about their purchasing decisions, which resonates really well with our brand and what we stand for.
For us, work bags and travel essentials have historically remained among our best-sellers, but we saw a shift in the products that customers were gravitating towards, such as our ready-to-wear pieces, lounge offerings, and smaller bags that helped carry them throughout brief outings and errands.
TCM: Let’s talk about the mobile space! It’s beautiful and I love the experience. Would you describe the concept in a nutshell:
SS: We are firm believers that retail is not dying, it just needs to be reimagined. In our collaboration with Toyota, we are doing just that. Our new traveling showroom is a win-win for all parties involved, allowing our brand to test new locations across Southern California, filling a void for landlords that currently have unused space, and most importantly, bringing our ‘fewer, better’ shopping experience to customers in the most beautiful way possible.
TCM: Talk to us about what the process and priorities were with Toyota’s Innovation Lab to create this ‘building’? You mentioned how much 3D printing is going on in the space…
SS: Toyota understood our brand priorities to create a warm, inviting space that represented the Cuyana brand. Our shared vision was to create a space that was more like a building than a vehicle. Our architecture firm, BCJ (Bohlin Cywinski Jackson) designed the store to match the high-end finishes of our permanent stores using materials that were lightweight and sustainable. The walls were 3D printed and then we brought a ton of natural light and vertical dimension in with the lightweight ‘lantern’ you see capping the whole space without adding weight in transport.
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TCM: The opportunity to open this mobile retail space across the city at some of it’s best shopping ‘epicenters’ is exciting. What do you anticipate will be your brand’s biggest advantages and challenges with that?
SS: We couldn’t be more excited about this new opportunity. In terms of advantages, Cuyana In Motion allows us to introduce our brand to new customers, as well as to test new markets for permanent locations in the future. We will also be in the company of a number of incredible brands that live at these shopping centers already, allowing us to build new relationships and bring exciting partnerships to the table for customers to enjoy when they come shop with us.
As far as challenges go, while most customers are comfortable waiting for their purchases to arrive by mail, there may be some customers who prefer to receive their items immediately. Our retail stores have always carried inventory for customers to purchase on-site, so that may be an adjustment. We hate to disappoint even a single customer. However, we believe that our agility and ability to meet the customers where they are will overshadow the few disadvantages that present themselves.
TCM: What other positive innovations in retail do you see coming out of 2020?
Personalized Experiences: In a post-COVID world, consumers are craving personalized, 1:1 experiences with the brands that they love. With that in mind, we think that retailers will go the extra mile to pay close attention to detail and consumers’ personal needs, in order to offer them the best possible shopping experience.
Experiential Elements: To get customers in-store, you need to provide more than just a traditional retail experience. We think that consumers’ heightened demand for experiential, out of the box elements will play out into some fun, innovative retail experiences throughout the next few years.
Integration of Technology: Throughout the pandemic, retailers had to get creative and utilize technology to offer virtual experiences for their customers. We anticipate that these technological innovations will remain, as brands incorporate unique digital components into their physical storefronts.
TCM: What should consumers expect to experience at your mobile space? It’s a mix of online shopping and in-person discovery?
SS: Exactly! Cuyana In Motion is a hybrid experience, allowing customers to get a sense of our digital presence, while simultaneously discovering the fewer, better lifestyle and quality of our product within the showroom space. Within the showroom itself, consumers can expect to see our best-selling totes, alongside other core bag offerings, small leather goods, and jewelry. While there’s a limited number of products that we’re showcasing within the physical space, any of our products can be viewed and ordered digitally on-site, and will be delivered directly to your home.
TCM: What would you like consumers to know right now? So many of our readers are trying to shop more consciously at this unique time in our economy..
SS: As we look towards this new chapter, we would encourage consumers to remember the lessons that we have learned over the course of the past year. Whether you’re revamping your work wardrobe, or excitedly preparing for upcoming travels, be thoughtful about your purchases. Intentional shopping is here to stay, and in return you will be rewarded with lifelong wardrobe essentials that deliver in both style and quality.
TCM: You’re currently at Platform in Culver City which we love. Favorite spots there?
SS: We love Platform! We’re personal fans of Bianca for incredible pastries and Loqui Tacos for a good meal — who doesn’t love a taco moment?! We also love stopping by Aesop for a little self-care splurge while we’re there.
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