Mikhail Damiani sits down with Amanda Cosco of Electric Runway to talk fashion and how technology is driving sustainability throughout the fashion industry.
February 25, 2020
Named among the top five fashion podcasts globally by Elle Magazine, the Electric Runway podcast looks at innovation through the lens of fashion. In each episode, fashion futurist Amanda Cosco interviews the makers and shakers in apparel, retail, and manufacturing to explore how technology is transforming every aspect of the industry. Here she sits down with Blue Bite CEO and co-founder Mikhail Damiani to talk fashion tech and sustainability.
From eCommerce to wearables, digital innovation has greatly impacted the fashion industry, but how can technology empower a more sustainable fashion future? In episode 120 of the Electric Runway podcast, FashionTech journalist Amanda Cosco sits down with Mikhail Damiani, the CEO and co-founder of Blue Bite. Blue Bite connects brands and consumers by waking up products and bringing them to life with digital technology. In doing so, they transform items like handbags, sneakers, apparel, and even signage into a new channel that engages consumers in ways current channels can’t. Today we delve into how the company is collaborating with brands like adidas, Bulgari, and Ocean Bottle to help further sustainability efforts.
Amanda: In today’s episode, we’re continuing our pre-coverage of the WEAR conference. That’s the World Ethical Apparel Roundtable, taking place October 7th - 8th in Toronto, Ontario.
For those who don’t know, WEAR is a form for global stakeholders to gather and discuss fashion's role in climate change.
According to recent reports in 2016, the apparel and footwear industries alone generated between 5 and 10 % of global pollution impacts.
Today, we’re continuing the conversation of how technological innovation can help power a more sustainable fashion future.
Our guest today is Mikhail Damiani, the CEO and Co-founder of Blue Bite.
Blue Bite connects brands and consumers through products by bringing them to life with technology. In doing so, they transform items like handbags, sneakers, apparel and even signage into new channels that engage consumers in ways current channels cannot.
Today, we’re going to delve into how the company is collaborating with brands like adidas, BVLGARI and Ocean Bottle to help further their sustainability efforts.
Mikhail, welcome to the show.
Mikhail: Thanks Amanda, great to be on.
Amanda: So for those who don’t know, who are you and what is Blue Bite?
Mikhail: My name is Mikhail and I’m the CEO and one of the founders of a company called Blue Bite.
Blue Bite is basically a software platform that empowers brands and companies with the ability to drive change and they do that by actually turning the physical products they make and create into a gateway and into a platform to communicate with consumers one to one.
Amanda: Blue Bite plays in the NFC and QR code space, you’re going to be speaking at WEAR conference coming up in Toronto which is all about sustainability so I have to ask, how do the technologies that you’re working with fit into this conversation of sustainability?
Mikhail: Great question, NFC and QR are two technologies that we use pretty often and while they have different relative strengths and weaknesses, as a company we really focus on the platform itself that drives the consumer engagement and experience.
NFC and QR are really just bridges or connectors. When a consumer engages through those two technologies, they receive an experience on their mobile device and we make sure that those experiences are personalized and that they’re highly contextual, meaning you’re getting the information you want and need at that point in time and as it relates to sustainability.
We’re really focusing on a few major use cases in terms of protection for both brands and consumers through authentication, a lot of storytelling and education with this whole focus of sustainability and ultimately, building a community with some peer-to-peer use cases as well.
Amanda: Sounds fascinating. So, let’s talk about experiences, when it comes to consumer behavior, we know that the trend is moving away from ownership and towards experiences. In fact, Forbes recently reported that 74% of Americans prioritize experiences over products. So how does Blue Bite enable unique experiences?
Mikhail: The idea is you’re turning the physical product into an experience and I think that’s a pretty new way of thinking about it. Traditionally when you buy a product, you’re buying the physical value of that product itself. By turning this product with an enabler like NFC into a digital gateway, you’re now able to completely redefine what the value is that you’re delivering to your consumer and that value lives on throughout the lifecycle of that entire product.
An example of that being one of our customers, Bulgari, embeds NFC into their luxury and leather goods. You can buy a Bulgari bag and if you walk into the store you can interact with that bag and get an associated presale experience that tells you about the elements and components that went into building that bag. It gives you a preview of the value that you can gain from the digital experience after you buy the product and once you do buy it, it automatically will change and evolve. The idea is this experience lives on from the point of sale to the consumers home and as they’re walking around, potentially for years, this value exchange continues.
Amanda: So that the audience understands it correctly, this is a platform that can be updated over time, as you were saying, so it can be showing one thing pre sale but then after something has been purchased, they can actually customize the content within the Blue Bite Experience Studio, it’s easy, you don’t have to know how to write code.
Mikhail: That’s correct, so that’s really the whole focus of the platform is to make it super easy for brand managers and people on the marketing team to change that content, add new content or experiences or update the logic.
What I mean by logic, again, is if somebody interacts with the same item over and over again, that will change and actually invoke different things in their experience so they can control, in part, their own journeys. So if somebody taps once, or twice or if they tap an item in multiple cities throughout different parts of the year or the day, the content within that experience will change to be as relevant to them as possible.
Exactly to your point, the idea is to make it super easy. If there’s a new product drop or access to an exclusive event that they want to promote they can do that very quickly and give the consumer the ability to have access to that in no time.
Amanda: It’s so exciting how we’re beginning to wake up our products and bring them to life in a new digital way, it really is a whole new frontier. We know that recommerce is a sustainable trend that's on the rise, whether that’s shopping vintage or secondhand such as on online markets like Poshmark or Depop, how can Blue Bite power the resale experience?
Mikhail: I think the first part starts with transparency and protection, making sure the products that you’re selling as a consumer, and from the brand standpoint that you’re potentially repurchasing, are authentic. You want to make sure that both parties are protected between two consumers in a peer to peer exchange as well. One big part of it is authentication and we do that both on the branded side as well as in secondary market places. On the branded side, adidas is embedding this technology at the factory level and then the consumers have that trust in the authenticity of the product and if they’re returning it to the brand or it’s part of a recommerce or recycle program, the brand now knows the products they’re buying back are, in fact, authentic.
We’re also doing that with secondary marketplaces, take Sneakercon for example. The secondary sneaker market is now a multi billion dollar industry, annually, and what they do is they have these events in major cities and they also have an online marketplace and the only way you can exchange or participate in that recommerice is if you have your product authenticated. They set up these booths and they have to train their authenticators to find minor differences in the different products to see if it’s authentic or not. So, we help them with that and once they do authenticate an item they put tag on with NFC that runs through our platform and now anyone that wants to transact can easily tap that and verify the authenticity of that item.
By doing those two things, I think it instills trust and confidence in that recommerce process because if you don't have trust, people won’t participate in that. If recommerce and recycling and sustainability is a big focus, you really need to make sure people are doing it.
On the other side, if you think about counterfeiters in general, brands are investing a ton of money right now into sustainable sourcing and transparency of their supply chain and processes within the factories. The counterfeiters aren’t necessarily doing that. So if we can kind of put the counterfeiters out of business and really make sure that people are only buying authentic products, then you’re also promoting sustainable sourcing and production by making sure that the products being produced are actually coming from those brands.
Amanda: Interesting, we hear a lot about how storytelling is playing a really important role in educating consumers about who made their clothes. We’ve seen this hashtag circulate now on the internet. Can you tell us about how Blue Bite played a vital role in sharing the story of ocean plastic waste surrounding the recent adidas collaboration with Parley for the Oceans?
Mikhail: Absolutely. So Parley, for those of you who haven’t heard of them, is a global organization that really fights to prevent plastics from entering the ocean as well as remove plastic to help clean up the oceans. They’ve have a partnership with adidas, going on for multiple years now, where they use those ocean plastics and actually weave them into the fabric of shoes and other apparel.
As part of that, as you can imagine, storytelling plays an important role. The digital experience here was inside of a shoe, you can walk into a store and tap the shoe and the first part of it is really educating consumers about the production process and about what makes this shoe different than all of the other shoes that are on the display shelf. Again, with this shoe, it’s the fact that it has ocean plastics that have been recycled, reworked and now weaved into those shoes themselves.
The second part is really getting people involved in the cause and educated about what Parley stands for, how to participate and how to make a difference or an impact. Finally, the cool thing is if you think about this chronologically, all of the content, all of the storytelling leads up to an event, which is Run for the Oceans, that happens once a year. Through this you have an invite and you’re creating a community and getting people to actually take action and go and run for the oceans and they’ve been doing this for many years now.
Amanda: Yeah it’s interesting because if there’s no storytelling attached to the product or the object itself how is the consumer supposed to know that it’s made of ocean plastic or it’s sustainably sourced so it seems that more and more in conversations of sustainability it keeps coming back to storytelling.
Mikhail: Absolutely, I think one of the other parts about it is if you think about recommerce in the storyline, let’s say that shoe goes from one person to the next, there’s only so much that’s written on a hang tag and usually people throw out hang tags and pamphlets, especially when the product has been owned for awhile.
In this case, because the story is part of the product, if this product goes through multiple owners, you can continue that story and educate more people and broaden the user base that is knowledgeable about this and can potentially participate. I think that’s a really cool part of having it be a part of the physical product itself rather than just something that’s a piece of collateral that somebody may potentially throw out.
Amanda: Yeah absolutely, aside from apparel, footwear and accessories you’ve also worked with consumer product companies like Ocean Bottle to help gamify and essentially condition more sustainable practices. Can you tell us more about this project?
Mikhail: Ocean Bottle is a more recent customer of ours, they have a sustainable water bottle that they create in order to fight the amount of plastics and other one time use containers that are out there currently in the water bottle industry. They have NFC embedded into the base of the bottle and again, part of it is education and storytelling about the cause and what ocean bottle does differently.
Then, to your question, they also have gamified the experience where you can record the number of times you’ve refilled your bottle. It has a cool visual interface and in order to do that it shows you where all the nearest refill stations. If you need to refill the bottle and you happen to be in a new area, you can simply tap on your water bottle and it will give you directions to the nearest refill station which is extremely helpful. The Ocean Bottle experience conditions a behavior. I think storytelling is one thing, but if we can actually impact behavior, then we elevate the experience to a different level and increase the value proposition of turning this product into a platform. It doesn’t need to be something so huge, I think there’s different levels on the spectrum of impact that you can make.
Another simpler example is a customer of ours is Banfield Pet Hospital, a pet hospital in Canada, and their take on sustainability is basically to stop printing pamphlets that go into the veterinary offices. It’s a simple thing but again, you’re taking something that you’re spending money on and you’re creating this potential waste that you can and replace it with a simple QR code and remove that entire experience to digital.
Everyone has a phone, everyone can scan a QR code and now you have this access and this library of all this information and content on your device. Some companies that we work with have a big mission and other companies have these small things that they want to do but if more and more companies did that it would make a huge impact.
Amanda: Yeah, I think consumers are all for it because who wants to remember where that piece of paper your vet gave you is? If you have it on your phone then it’s a lot more accessible.
Mikhail: Exactly, and you can share it easily if you have a friend that’s going through a similar issue, then you can share that with them and so I think it makes it a lot easier to both have access to information and share that content.
Amanda: Yeah so, along those lines, in your opinion, what role can Blue Bite play in shaping a more sustainable fashion future?
Mikhail: The best role we can play is just as an enabler, right? So we’re helping these companies and helping brands to turn these products into a platform and shift some of this value from just the physical value of the product now into this whole new realm of digital value and content and really doing that across three main levels as it relates to sustainability. Education is number one, I think removing friction would be number two and then actually driving action is number three.
I know we covered education and awareness pretty heavily in this conversation and that’s all about content and storytelling. Removing friction from the process again, this is the question you asked about recommerce and what role do we play in that world and it’s really about instilling trust and confidence, making sure it’s authentic and making it very easy for people to engage in that. So to the extent if we could remove friction, more people will engage. Finally, driving action, whether it’s big or small in things like eliminating waste and engaging in more sustainable practices.
Amanda: So how did you get into this?
Mikhail: Blue Bite was actually started 12 years ago. The name Blue Bite is a play on words on Bluetooth because that was the enabling technology that existed at that time. For us, from the beginning, it was always about connecting physical spaces and things to a digital consumer. The initial idea was the media that exists in New York City, our home, and as you walk past a bus shelter or a billboard we saw that as a big opportunity to take that physical display or digital screen and create a connection to deliver information and content to consumers that were interested or passing by. We did that with Bluetooth and then technologies like NFC and QR came out later on and that gave us the ability to take that same concept but apply it to a smaller product where every single everyday product that we have is now relevant for us to create some kind of interaction from.