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Meeting with Christian Kunz, Plug and Play France Director

On the occasion of the 2021 ANDAM INNOVATION AWARD, we are organising a series of meetings with several members of the jury who present us their vision of tomorrow's Fashion. Today, we are very pleased to interview Christian KUNZ, Director of Plug and Play, Europe's leading innovation platform for retailers, brands and e-commerce, member of the 2021 ANDAM INNOVATION jury.

1/ Introduce yourself in a few words.

Director of Plug and Play, Brand & Retail in France, Plug and Play's main European innovation hub for all matters related to retail, brands and e-commerce.

I joined Plug and Play in 2015, and was part of the founding team establishing our activities in France and Europe.

2/ Tell-us why, in your opinion, innovation is still relevant ?

As an innovation platform and investor in start-ups, innovation is the order of the day that I and the team live everyday with our partners. It's almost a cliché nowadays, but the world and our society are evolving faster than ever, so innovation is essential for any company that wishes to keep up and get ahead of these changes in order to achieve its goals and prosper. For us, innovation is as much embracing external technologies as it is about looking internally, inviting new ways of working and continually challenging existing processes and approaches, in order to successfully address real business challenges, adapt to new consumer habits and create an environment that pushes the team, and therefore the company to new heights. Nowhere, in my opinion, is innovation more necessary than in the fashion and retail sector.

3. How did you get into fashion ? And Tech ?

I was fascinated by the idea of creating my own tech start-up from the age of 16. I directed my studies and early work experiences towards this goal. This led me to an internship at Plug and Play Tech Center in the Silicon Valley, at a time when the company had 15 full-time employees on one location (today, we have 600 in 19 countries). After a failed attempt to create an application to revolutionise the address book of your mobile phone, I joined Plug and Play as one of the first employees in Europe. Even though I hadn't created (yet) my own start-up, the chance to work with and support some of the best tech entrepreneurs in the world has been an amazing experience.

Plug and Play, Brand & Retail was the first sector-specific open and collaborative innovation platform we launched, in 2012. For Plug and Play, Brand & Retail also includes Fashion Tech. So it was only natural that Europe's first open innovation platform should also cover this sector. Having said that, I would tell that is was more by chance that I got involved in the tech world related to fashion and retail, and it all started by a call in December 2015 with Galeries Lafayette. To summarize, together we built Lafayette Plug and Play, now known as Plug and Play, Brand & Retail Europe, which has become the leading open innovation platform for fashion and retail. So I would say that through my interest for technology, I was led to my today's great affinity for Fashion.

4. An innovation related to the fashion industry that stood out for you ?

Its not easy to pick one out of all the innovations that I have been privileged to experience and learn about over the past five years, as so much has happened in the sector. However, I would say that two stand out today, both being far from complete : new alternative materials for clothing to reduce massive environmental impact of the fashion and clothing industry, and social trade, which is the hottest topic we are working on with our business partners this year. The latter is still an emerging field, but I can't think of any other innovation trend that will have as big an impact on the relationship between consumers and brands as social trade.

5. What do you expect from the start-ups that will compete for this year's ANDAM Innovation Award ?

Real innovation that creates excitement and impact ! I see hundreds of start-ups a year, so I'm probably biased, but I hope to see start-ups offering solutions that I've never seen before, or bringing a new and different approach to well established industry challenges.

6. Have you an advice to be given to them or to the innovation entrepreneurs who have entered the Fashion industry ?

The two pieces of advice I would give are the following : first of all, create something meaningful, that adds real value and approaches things differently from what already exists. I think that it has become almost "too easy" to become an entrepreneur today, as it has become a popular status symbol and there is a lot of institutional support. The support that has been found over the last few years is of course very positive, but it also challenges even more every entrepreneur to ask themselves whether what they are creating is really going to have the impact they think it will.

Secondly, for those who have started their business and are trying to work with a fashion or retail company : ensure that is it easy for them to work with you. You may think that your company has an obvious solution to their problem, but this is often not the case. Make-it obvious, prepare customized use cases and adapt to the way they work and their processes. We expect companies to adapt to start-ups, as they should, but start-ups also have to adapt themselves to companies to facilitate successful collaborations.

7. What is your ideal vision of tomorrow's Fashion ?

A sector that really tackles the major environmental issues in which it is tightly involved. There is a lot of fine words, but the industry needs to fully adopt alternative materials, sustainable manufacturing processes, and do its part to push consumers to consume more sensibly.

8. With regard to your own business, what are your priorities in term of innovation ?

Our priorities are those of our partners, with whom we work to identify their key internal innovation challenges and open their eyes and minds on the next big thinks that they should be watching for.

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