There isn’t a better place to start a discussion about history, culture, and innovation in fashion than with the legendary house of Burberry. The company has been rapidly innovating since its founding in 1856, gaining notoriety when Thomas Burberry patented the gabardine fabric in 1880. The tightly woven, waterproof fabric became part of the signature Burberry coat that was worn by polar explorers, mountain climbers, and soldiers for its functionality. Burberry was even granted royal warrants, making it an official supplier to the British Royal Family. After its use in the First World War, the signature coat was dubbed the “trench” and soon became popular with civilians and has developed into the timeless garment we all know and love today.
Burberry’s motto Prorsum (Latin for “forward”) has motivated the company into one of the most technologically advanced fashion brands of our time. Even the retail stores attempt to blur the lines between the online and offline experience by requiring that salespeople carry iPads around the store in order to check inventory and send orders without leaving the customer’s side. Garments are even fitted with RFID chips that, when scanned in the store, show a video or description of how the item was made. The semiannual shows are streamed live and in 3D at specified locations. Last year, Burberry launched a new service called “Customer 360” that consolidates all information about a customer ranging from what they bought at a foreign Burberry store to what they said about Burberry on Twitter last week. While some were apprehensive about the plan, it shows Burberry’s assertive attempts into the digital world and its analysis of the increasing overlap of our online and offline lives. Major tech companies have recognized Burberry’s commitment to technology: former CEO Angela Ahrendts joined Apple Inc. as its Senior VP of Retail and Online Sales and Google launched Burberry Kisses, a collaboration that allows users to kiss their touch screens and send their lip prints to loved ones—no purchase necessary.
It’s the work of Ahrendts and current CEO Christopher Bailey that has elevated Burberry to the exciting company and respected brand that it is today. For a while, Burberry was in a lull and in 2006, it was crawling. Fragmented global expansion and decreasing exclusivity slowed the company’s growth to a mere 2% per year. Burberry has reinforced the company’s heritage and Britishness by emphasizing and growing their core luxury products, further internalizing their motto and bringing themselves to the forefront of technology today.
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