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Vanessa Barboni Hallik, CEO of Another Tomorrow

In this episode of the RETHINK Retail Podcast, guest host and Top Retail Influencer Liza Amlani sits down with Vanessa Barboni Hallik, CEO of Another Tomorrow.

Vanessa is the founder and CEO of Another Tomorrow, a sustainable luxury fashion brand that provides complete tech-enabled supply chain transparency and embedded resale. Prior to founding Another Tomorrow, Vanessa served as a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley.

For Vanessa, founding Another Tomorrow is kind of a homecoming. Growing up in the Midwest, she was really inspired by this idea of problem solving at the intersection of disciplines. After her time pursuing a degree in energy and environmental policy, Vanessa started putting her time and energy in a direction that was going to be relevant for the future that the world needed to take—never expecting to land in the fashion world. Once spotting the white space in the industry, Another Tomorrow was built on the principles of accessible luxury.

Listen in as we dive into Another Tomorrow’s brand mission and how they value transparency and sustainability while making luxury retail accessible.

Host: Top Retail Influencer Liza Amlani
Produced by Gabriella Bock

Post Transcript

Liza Amlani: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the RETHINK Retail Podcast. I am your host, Liza Amlani, principal and co-founder of Retail Strategy Group, the Merchant Life, and a RETHINK Retail influencer. Today I’m speaking with my guest, Vanessa Barboni Hallik. Vanessa is the founder and CEO of Another Tomorrow, a sustainable luxury fashion brand that provides complete tech enabled supply chain transparency and embedded resale. Prior to founding Another Tomorrow, Vanessa served as a managing director at Morgan Stanley. Welcome to the show, Vanessa.

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: Such a pleasure to be here.

Liza Amlani: Can you kick us off by telling us a little bit about your professional journey to founding Another Tomorrow, and what motivated you to launch the company?

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: I think every founder really brings kind of the sum total of their life experience to their work. And I think founding Another Tomorrow in a funny way, is almost kind of a homecoming. I grew up in a very kind of hippie, techy, creative background in the Midwest in college towns, and I think I was always really inspired by this idea of problem solving at the intersection of disciplines. And fashion is so incredibly interdisciplinary. But in the interim, I initially went to Berkeley, I thought I was going to be an architect, I ended up in banking very much by accident, started out as actually an options trader in foreign, an exchange, which was pretty wild. Coming from the Midwest and thinking that banks were tellers, I didn’t know that job was a thing. Ultimately, I found my way into emerging markets, which again kind of scratched that interdisciplinary itch. And that was really my first taste of, I would say entrepreneurship. So I got to really focus on rebuilding some very client-centric businesses post-financial crisis, which I really, really loved. I also took a brief interlude to go do a degree in energy and environmental policy. So that was kind of a consistent through line. And long story short, in 2017, I thought it was about time for me to really start putting my time and energy in a direction that I felt very passionately was going to be relevant for the future that the world needed to take. And I never imagined in a million years that would be in fashion. I thought I was going to stay within finance, I took a sabbatical ostensibly to move from emerging markets into ESG and really build out those businesses. But sabbatical is a beautiful thing, and I had this incredible opportunity to really just be curious again for the first time in at least 15 years. And I’m curious, I was, and I really accidentally fell down the rabbit hole of how incredibly impactful the apparel industry is. And despite having followed ESG and sustainability for some time, I was floored by my own lack of knowledge, by the magnitude of the problem, by the complexity of the problem, and what I really perceived to be a golf and leadership outside of the outdoor space. And so I really wanted to help model a different vision for fashion and so spent a bunch of time going through the graveyard of ideas. What had not worked. And the through line was really that other incredible companies that came to market, both B2C and B2B that were so well-intentioned, but fundamentally were relying on the end customer, whether that was consumer or business, to know more than they knew and care more than they cared. And so they didn’t tend to be very scalable solutions. And oftentimes there was also, I think, an approach, and I appreciate why this is the case, given the complexity to just one slice of the problem. So it was not unusual to see businesses that were just solving for sourcing, but they weren’t solving for the challenging intersection of supply and demand for circularity. And so we really wanted to take a systemic approach. And so I guess the early stages were fairly academic, frankly. I brought in a couple of people who are incredible experts in the field to really help me understand how you would devise a really scientifically and ethically rigorous framework for sourcing, which was fantastic. And we did a bunch of market research to really understand where the white space was in the conventional market because I believe really passionately that we needed to be solving a problem that the customer intuitively felt that they had as opposed to saying, “Hey, you have this problem that you didn’t know about and we’re going to solve it for you.” And so what we found was there was just this amazing white space in kind of the accessible luxury arena. And that was because you had two unhappy customer groups. You had a luxury customer who had this sort of intuitive sense that they were overpaying for what they were getting, wanting a new intersection of price and quality. And then equally, you had this more contemporary, aspirational customer that was really looking to trade up in quality but couldn’t quite go like Ganni to Gucci, let’s say. And so those two desires kind of met in this beautiful middle of accessible luxury. So that was the white space into which we built the brand. What was super interesting as well, is that those same two customer groups were also really dissatisfied by eCommerce. They were really frustrated principally by third party eCommerce, the lack of transparency, what things were selling for. And then also the buyer experience was not a very happy one either in terms of that user experience. So we thought, okay, we can also build an in-house eCommerce platform into this. So with that accessible luxury and in-house eCommerce approach really solidified as the white space, we then set out to build the brand in a holistically sustainable way, taking farm to table, to farm to closet in terms of sourcing. And then, really, I think one of the most important decisions we’ve made, we decided to digitize everything from the get go. So we partnered with Digimarc, which was then called Everything to ensure that every single item had its own unique digital ID. So this idea of a digital twin has been really intuitive to us as a business, and that’s created this incredible architecture off of which we can really build and innovate in a very flexible way. So that all kicked off 2018. We launched at the end of January of 2020, six weeks before COVID. So not exactly in the business plan, but it’s been pretty incredible ever since.

Liza Amlani: Well, you’re definitely speaking my language when you’re talking about digital product creation and digital twins and just being more flexible when you’re going to market. Now, we actually met, well, we can’t figure it out, but either last year or the year before in Chicago at the Retail Innovation Conference, and I was so inspired by hearing you speak about sustainability and transparency on stage that I actually encouraged you to send someone to PI Apparel so that I could talk to your VP of supply chain Tara St. James, about sustainability and transparency on stage. Now, how does Another Tomorrow define a transparent supply chain?

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: So Another Tomorrow, we really believe in beginning where the impact starts, which is really at the raw material level. I mean, we forget that clothing, unless it’s made out of synthetics, is actually an agricultural product. And so the kind of gold standard for us internally, is having relationships and traceability all the way at the farm level. And so that way you really understand what the localized impact is from an environmental standpoint, from a human welfare standpoint, from an animal welfare standpoint as well. And so really for us, that’s where we try and have most of our supply chains trace back to. I would say that’s true for the vast majority of our products, not 100%, but that’s really been our cornerstone.

Liza Amlani: I think that’s super interesting around material development because I find that a lot of brands don’t go far back enough at the beginning of the process in product creation. So I’d love to hear that. Do you use any other digital tools or digital solutions like RFID or anything to help track that product journey?

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: So through the supply chain?

Liza Amlani: Yeah.

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: So we have not to date, and really the rationale for that is that the level of technological sophistication at various stages of the supply chain varies so dramatically. And so particularly when you’re thinking about less RFID, but more, or let’s just say blockchain, you bad data in bad data out. And so we’ve largely, because you’re really literally dealing from the farm level up and you’re dealing with a diverse set of supply chains, we viewed that as, today, a relatively riskier proposition if we were to implement that. We have chosen at the outset, in terms of the consumer facing component of those, to use QR codes. And again, that’s all about understanding user behavior and what the friction looks like. So we found that that was the easiest thing for the consumer to activate. We’re fairly agnostic to the physical marker. We’re starting to layer in NFC tags on top of the QR codes. We think that’s important. RFID, although it can be incredibly helpful for things like logistics and data, we’ve had some privacy concerns about, and so we’ve not used RFID.

Liza Amlani: Okay. Let’s switch gears and talk a little bit about accessible luxury. Now, luxury is often associated with excess and ostentatious. How would you challenge that notion and what is sustainable luxury mean to you?

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: So there’s a great book that I really recommend by an economist, the name of Mariana Mazzucato called The Value of Everything. And I always come back to this book when I have this conversation because it really articulates through the last 100, 200 years how much we’ve come to associate value with price. And we’re really trying to turn that on its head in this instance by saying, what is luxury? Luxury really for us connotes quality. And our biggest kind of message is that we need to start treating clothing as an asset again. So we think about luxury as kind of asset quality clothing. Now, saying the words asset quality clothing, that’s not particularly sexy, and it’s a mouthful. And so we use luxury with that language interchangeably, but that also means a lot of things to different people. So really what we’re talking about are investable asset quality pieces that are going to last a very, very long time. And what we’re trying to encourage through our business model is we’re trying to encourage people to invest in those assets and know that they can also get some money back when they resell them, less so, of course, for a T-shirt than let’s call it a jacket or outerwear or something of that nature. But that’s really the way that we think about accessible luxury. Now, of course, the word, I think the flashpoint here is also the word accessible. So accessible means different things to different people. In this instance, we’re really kind of talking about it on a relative basis. So going from a $3,000 jacket to a $1000 jacket is not going to be accessible to a lot of people, but it’s more accessible. And most importantly, by integrating eCommerce, you’re also creating a further price tier that does allow for people to both invest and also again, realize that asset quality as well when they sell it.

Liza Amlani: How do you relay some of this incredible messaging and just direction that the brand is taking and what you’re doing from a sustainability standpoint to your customer?

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: It’s so fascinating. You really need to meet people where they are. I think everyone has different levels of curiosity and appetite and time, frankly. So we find that for our customer that the hierarchy of purchase filters is quality first, design second, sustainability third, but that that’s on basically 10 different metrics and sustainability has risen. So what we want to do is we want to make sure that our customers understand and prospective customers understand that the information is available to the degree to which they are curious. And we have a very deep dive sustainability section. And on the eCommerce side, we’ve really taken a more proactive approach to continuously messaging that this is an option, that it’s super easy, that it’s super transparent, and that just takes repetition. You know, you kind of have to have that conversation over and over and over again. But it’s one of the things that we find that our customers are super, super excited about.

Liza Amlani: I know I was reading Glossy yesterday, actually, and Liz, your creative director was speaking to Glossy about marketing and storytelling and how a lot of that is overwhelming. The clothes you look at Schiaparelli, the lion head dress, and of course Coperni spray-on dress, it kind of went viral, and of course it overshadows a lot of other designers doing great things. How, can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: People will come to us to build wardrobes that they love, and from that standpoint, the most important thing, I think, is that the line really represents what our customers need and are drawn to also emotionally. And then the storytelling is really, I think, in support of that. And again, it meets people where they are in terms of curiosity. I think what Liz has really, and I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I think for her, one of the things that’s so important is just that this is really difficult work to actually build your supply chains from the farm up and then design into it with all those constraints. That’s not a small feat. And it’s also involves making a lot of decisions for very important reasons that are not visible to the customer. And so we’ve really wanted to expose that work to the customer, in part because I think it starts to bring value back to clothing when you’re just seeing clothes in a rack, it’s very hard to appreciate all the incredible resources and work that go into them, and also really kind of reconnecting people back to the impact that all of these decisions actually have on the planet and on people.

Liza Amlani: Yeah, I love the way you put that. The other thing that she said which really resonated was when you lose sight of the relationship between product and body and how people wear clothes, you lose sight of the customer. Which brings me to one of the things that you said on stage at the Retail Innovation Conference that blew my mind, and it’s on your website today, that you have the size exchange program.

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: Yes.

Liza Amlani: I am beaming over this because I am just such a big proponent in things like inclusivity and what’s really happening with women’s bodies and are we solving the problem around sizing. So I’d love for you to tell the audience a little bit about this program.

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: Yeah, absolutely. And this came from a very kind of personal experience of working with women. It was one of the first and only events we could do before COVID hit right after we launched. And it was fascinating to see these women shopping with real joy, getting into the stories behind it with real joy. And then at the point of purchase, there was this moment of anguish of, what size do I buy? Is my body going to change? Am I going to lose the five pounds, the 10 pounds, the whatever? I thought, wow, what if you could take that off the table, that psychological kind of lack of acceptance of who we are today. What if you could take that off the table? And that was where the size exchange program came from. I said, “You know what? Buy your size today, whatever size you are, buy the size for your body, and then if your body changes, we got you, we got you covered.” And so we can’t do it with absolutely everything, but with our core product that is our, in particular, that the product that’s most kind of size specific, our tailoring product, we allow our customer to change out the size within the first year. We know that bodies change beyond the first year, and so this is going to be a program that’s going to continue to live and breathe. And of course our resale program can allow for a lot of that too. But it’s amazing the extent to which this has really resonated so deeply for women because I think that in our culture, we are, A, always thinking in the future, we’re always living in the future, and so many of us have a really hard time accepting the state of our bodies at any given mo moment in time.

Liza Amlani: Do you think that we’re leaving men out of this? When are you going to launch men’s wear? I know that my husband would be super excited because I have felt all the materials in your stores and I am obsessed. So would you ever launch men’s wear?

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: I’ll certainly never say never. We’ve talked about it extensively. We get a lot of in bounds in terms of interest. However, one of the things that is crucially important as an earlier stage business and as an entrepreneur’s focus. And so focus, focus, focus, and I think fundamentally, it’s a completely different go-to-market strategy. I do think that there’s a big opportunity in the market at a similar price point for men. We’re certainly hearing the demand. So I would say it is loosely on the roadmap, on the basis of the enthusiasm we get. And we also see people of all genders buying our product already today, which is something that’s super exciting. So we’re very welcoming of everyone.

Liza Amlani: Now, we’ve talked a little bit about sustainability, so let’s kind of go back to that. Tell me a little bit about how the resale model has helped market your sustainability messaging.

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: I mean, resale I think is one of the most, it is one of most obvious places to start. So the fact that more than half a product goes to landfill within a year tells you how crucially important it is to create higher quality product and extend its life cycle. And so that’s been one of the best things that we can possibly do. I think it’s also for consumers, it’s the most intuitive place to start. You don’t have to have a PhD in fashion supply chains to go shopping if you feel like you can buy something secondhand. So I think it’s resonated for customers a lot because, again, they have this pain point already. They are already super frustrated by the eCommerce process and they want to be a part of it. And so I think it’s been a really great door end to the sustainability conversation because it’s already so well understood. And then there’s kind of more that you can talk about from there. I mean, it’s rare that you talk to a lot of customers who know about, let’s say, regenerative farming and carbon sequestration and soil and mulesing, and toxic cotton pesticides and what have you. So it’s a really kind of beautiful entry point into the conversation and one that does feel immediately relevant to most of our customers.

Liza Amlani: Would you say that your resale model would be maybe take over some of your wholesale and DTC revenue drivers? Would you see resale growing almost a half?

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: I mean, that would be amazing. That would be, we would love that. I mean we’ve learned so much through the process that we’re actually going to be building some additional tech that I can’t yet talk about. This year I think is really going to accelerate eCommerce. So we’re super excited. But yeah, I mean we wanted to be as high as it possibly can and perhaps unlike some existing businesses, we wanted to supplant the requirement to creating new product. So that would be a huge win. From a financial modeling standpoint, we’ve been fairly conservative just because every resale model is inherently supply side constrained and as a young brand, you know, you have natural limitations of how much product is already out in the market in the first place. But we’re big believers in this and it’s a huge, huge priority for us as a company.

Liza Amlani: Last question, on resale. I’m getting too excited. I’m going through the website and I love the fact that you have a lot of recycled materials that you’re using. Is there an opportunity where you’ll receive product back, either it’s returns or product that you can’t resell, would you break it down and use some of those material components in new product?

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: It’s really, there are some scale challenges to that. And so we’re often, I shouldn’t say often, we are currently looking at partnerships specifically for things like T-shirts, which are not particularly amenable to resale, where we can actually use our T-shirts. You know, look at our organic cotton supima T-shirts, super long, stable, high quality materials, that’s perfect feed stock for recycled cotton for other people’s products. It’s difficult for us to do in a vertical way. It’s difficult even for very large brands to do it in a vertical way just because of the scale of the amount of actual feed stock that you need to make a consistent new material out of it. But that’s where I think pre-competitive partnerships are so phenomenal, and we’re having some of those conversations right now.

Liza Amlani: Okay. Well, Vanessa, tell the audience where they can find you. Are you international? Tell us all the tea.

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: With pleasure. So direct to consumer, we are at anothertomorrow.co. We ship internationally, we pay duties, we currently have customers in 40 countries, and so we are very much so international in that capacity. We’ve also become a much more omnichannel business over the last year. So you can find us at Net-a-Porter, at Matches, at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue online. So go for it there. And we are excited to be announcing some new partnerships for this fall as well in an international brick and mortar context. So more to come there.

Liza Amlani: Amazing. All of those are my favorite retailers, and I definitely found a beautiful blazer on your resale site that I will definitely be purchasing. So next time I see you, I’ll definitely be wearing some Another Tomorrow. Thank you so much for being on the show and for joining us in this conversation. Stay tuned. Rethink Retail. We’re going to be posting links across social, where to find you and of course where they can listen to this awesome conversation.

Vanessa Barboni Hallik: My absolute pleasure is so good to reconnect. Thank you very much for having me.

Liza Amlani: My pleasure.