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Collaboration is key

By Jon Downing, Innovation Partner • Visa Europe

February 19, 2016

All this month we’ll be looking back at our Cashless on the Catwalk project with Henry Holland. First up Jon Downing tells us how collaborating closely with Henry Holland and his team was key.

When I sat down with Henry Holland with a brief to create a fashion first and asked him “who in your team would be the best person for us to work with?” Holland replied “without question, me personally. I want this to be a success and I’m going to be directly involved.”

This was music to my ears. As the Innovation Partner in Emerging Payments for Visa Europe Collab I was given the opportunity to develop a new product in the wearables space. My search for a genuinely innovative partner led me straight to Holland. When we met we hit upon the perfect scenario, would it be possible for people to purchase items directly from Holland’s live fashion show at London Fashion Week, and receive the items, paid for and ready to transport, at the end of the show?

A huge issue within the fashion industry is how hard it can be to make things work in real time – there is often an unnecessary and arbitrary period after a shopper at a show decides to purchase an item, and that item being delivered. By the time it arrives, the industry has already moved on. What we had in mind was a new kind of retail journey – immediate, efficient, and bringing the “wow” factor.

The brief evolved and the idea hatched to create a specially designed Henry Holland ring to present to VIP members of the front row at the House of Holland catwalk show during London Fashion Week. The ring, thanks to its near field communication (NFC) properties designed and delivered by John McLear, the man behind the NFC Ring Kickstarter campaign which raised nearly a quarter of a million, was designed to communicate with a bespoke designed payment receiver tag, linked via Bluetooth technology to a virtualised terminal.

All the VIP’s had to do was hold their ring close to the electronic tag and the item was purchased immediately, the details of the sale relayed backstage, and the item packaged and positioned ready to be picked up without fuss at the show’s conclusion.

We created our three key success criteria:

  • To prove and showcase the wearable tech and the end to end payment flow
  • To integrate the design into an actual live LFW show, creating a sense of theatre and managing the logistics precisely
  • And finally, to be able to say to the world, actually, we, as this very reliable, very secure, very high speed payments company, can also do things very differently – work with different partners, and showcase some vision of the future.

Feedback from the VIPs (who all made real purchases using pre-paid gift cards) was crucially important, but perhaps the project’s greatest success was how it engaged and fired the imagination of one of Britain’s premier fashion designers. From Holland’s point of view, the thing that really was the game changer was the fact that none of the limitations were due to the tech. What was really important to him was that we created a really desirable, covetable piece of jewellery, which happened to have this NFC-enabled capability. He would put this piece of jewellery within his collection, and he would sell it with or without the technology. That was a really important element.

It’s all very well creating a game changing piece of new wearable technology – but to have done so in just 100 days, incorporating not only NFC technology based in the UK, but proximity ID technology based in Miami, without compromising on style was truly unique. There were multiple different parties, all who had to work in sync for this to be successful. The Proof of Concept test came down to the final two minutes at the end of the show. It was like the Olympic final. The success of the purchases on the night truly made it a gold-medal winning performance. And close collaboration made it all possible.

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