With a background in software engineering, and 20 years of experience working in UX, web development, design and analytics, you’d expect Navabi’s Daniel Barker to be heading up the plus-sized fashion e-tailer’s technology department. But interestingly, Barker leads Navabi's efforts in marketing. His interest in technology ensures he keeps his finger on the pulse of all the latest digital advancements which helps the brand get closer to its customers, who have traditionally felt frustrated with the limited fashion choice available to them.

According to Conlumino, while over a quarter of women in the UK are “plus sized”, they only make up 12% of sales, due to a lack of choice, as plus-sized clothes account for a mere 10% of the overall assortment. Enter Navabi. Founded in 2019, it now offers 8,000 plus-sized styles from 200 brands to online shoppers in over 200 different countries.

We catch up with Barker to learn why marketing and IT have to work closely together to drive forward a digital-first business in a previously-ignored segment of the fashion industry.

1. Tell us a bit about Navabi’s use of technology…?

Navabi holds a place where there was a gap in the market before. If you're a 50 year old woman at home and you can't go to the shops to buy the kinds of things you want to wear, being able to buy them from a company over in Germany is not something that would have even been possible ten years ago.

We also offer free delivery and free returns, so you can try a whole range of different clothes. In fact, if we sent 10 items to you, and you return nine of those, that's fine with us, because if you liked the one item, then probably you'll come back to us again. 

Our technology infrastructure is a mixture of in-house and outsourced products. Our website was fully built internally, which is great for us because it allows us to be really really flexible and there's lots of things built into it which are based on learnings we have on customers, so it's very tailored to the customer's needs. The CTO has been with the business from the very start and there are features still within the platform that he built.

I've done lots of re-platforming projects, so we look at the website a lot to see if we should move to another system, but we've recently decided we'll stick to our in-house site for the time being. 

2. Do you think it is important to be a CMO with a technology background?

Over the last few years lots of marketing has moved towards technology, so having an understanding of how that works is important. You don't necessarily need to know how to code – but understanding how technology works is very useful.

3. Has Navabi ever suffered from a clash between marketing and IT?

Not at Navabi, but I've worked for over 100 brands and yes, at other companies, this is a very familiar story. It can cause big problems, because the things a technology person wants to do is very different from the things a customer-focused person wants to do.

The big frustration is there might be a functionality missing from the website and the CMO wants that functionality but can't really communicate to the technology team why that's important, while the technology team is thinking their job is to make this thing resilient: “We're not going to build this new feature in here as it might impact internal systems.” – so yeah, it can create big tensions internally, which at the end of the day can damage things from a customer point of view. 

4. So what are you doing with CRM?

We have an entire business intelligence (BI) system, which I built, and it has everything related to customers, marketing and stock, so we have all of the data that a customer has ordered historically – even down to everything a customer has clicked on – which allows us to be very personalised in what we send to customers.

But it also allows us to do things like if someone has bought from us before, we know what size they are, so we can avoid sending them information on products that we don't have in their particular size – things that should be very basic, but most websites don't do it. 

The BI system also helps us spot gaps in the market. We have 14 of our own brands and the reason for that is because there are gaps and things we see could fit in a particular area – we see the demand, which allows us to create [the clothes] and fulfil the demand.

5. And what about social marketing, are influencers here to stay?

Influencers are something that's been around for a long time – celebrities are really a type of influencer – but the non-celebrity influencer movement has come about over the last few years and has grown and grown and grown and is very important for us. As you see for things like Instagram, it's become a marketing channel within itself and can deliver actual value for retailers, access to an audience and an affinity with a particular audience – that's something that won't go away. 

6. The social media trend towards #bopo (body positivity) must have impacted your business...?

We've always focused on this within our marketing, but plus-size has been largely ignored by the industry for many years. Part of Navabi's reason for being is to offer fashion to people who have been ignored by the fashion industry and I guess society in general. And where the mainstream fashion industry historically was telling these people they were wrong and outside the norm, we do not think it is wrong, and as professionals we should be offering things to everybody.

So we've focused on that in the marketing all the way through, but we have noticed while earlier on it was hard to get that message across, it's now become slightly easier. Vogue recently put a plus-sized person on its cover for the first time and that's a model that we worked with a few years ago. So I hope things will continue in that direction and all the stigma that used to be attached to plus-sized is gone for good. 

Navabi has even partnered with plus size influencers to create exclusive capsule collections

7. And finally, are you worried about Amazon?

If Amazon pushed into plus-sized that would help us in one way, because the sales price of Amazon's fashion tends to be very low, but we cover from the low price (€30) up to a much higher price (€600), which is almost luxury. It would help to grow the market more generally.

We could, if we wanted, sell through Amazon and we haven't really pushed that yet, but we could do that. Navabi is very customer focused, and a lot of things Amazon does is around the customer – such as improving fulfilment and product where they can – so we follow a similar ethos from that point of view. We're a bit more tailored and we really want to help our customers, whereas Amazon it sells to everybody.