Fashion Tech Startups Hit The Runway At Fashion Week

Conde Nast and Decoded Fashion partnered to bring the most innovative style and retail apps to the New York catwalks.

New York-based fashion tech event series Decoded Fashion partnered with magazine publisher Condé Nast to hold the first fashion and tech hackathon held at New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Decoded Fashion founders Liz Bacelar and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff created their company to bring emerging technology to fashion industry. About their mission, Liz Bacelar said,

The goal is to educate technology creators on the needs of the fashion industry, while showing to fashion leaders the limitless possibilities of tech.

To spark further interdisciplinary innovation, this fashion hackathon brought together top engineers, graphic designers, and entrepreneurs and gave them 24 hours to create a startup concept that supports and advances the fashion industry or alleviates a problem in the industry. During a discussion about the benefits, challenges, and future developments of tech in fashion, Uri Minkoff, Founder & CEO, Rebecca Minkoff, summed up the role of technology in fashion,

The (fashion) brands that embrace emerging platforms and emerging technologies will win.

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Purveyor of style and traditional media behemoth, Conde Nast has successfully found a foothold online and on mobile devices. With an entrepreneurial spirit, Conde Nast has invested in 18 startups in the past two years. Given Conde Nast’s fashion pedigree and desire to be on the cutting edge of technology, the partnership with Decoded Fashion seemed natural. Drew Schutte, Chief Integration Officer at Conde Nast on the Fashion Hackathon:

As technology continues to shape the fashion industry, it is our mission to proactively seek out the next game-changer for brands. Through the Fashion Hackathon, we’re excited to support new, innovative concepts and play an active role in the creation of new apps from start to finish.

Traditionally dominated by men, the first fashion hackathon had a high proportion of female participants, with 40% of the over 500 developers and designers being women. In her opening remarks, Liz Bacelar, Founder of Decoded Fashion, proudly highlighted the diversity of race, gender, and thought of participants at the event, saying that the diverse backgrounds and perceptions of the participants produced truly rich and innovative app and business ideas.

Besides the diversity of gender and race, participants’ occupational backgrounds varied greatly, with engineers and designers coming from major brands, including Nicole Miller, ESPN, New York Times, and Conde Nast, as well as startups including Refinery 29, Spotify, Consignd, Plum Perfect, and Refashioner. There were also a number of students, coming from Columbia University, Saint Peter’s University, New York University, Pratt Institute and other non-technical hackers of various disciplines.

Team 42

The startups were judged on technical achievement, user interface, and their ability to further the fashion industry. During the hackathon weekend, 78 apps were created and 32 of those apps were selected to present at the semi-finals. The top five teams had the opportunity to present their concept on the world’s top fashion stage – the runway at Fashion Week to an audience of 500 fashion insiders, including tech founders, members of leading fashion brands, and retail executives. The winner, SWATCHit, was selected by top Fashion judges, and will receive $10,000 and the chance to have its app launched by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Besides the prize money, the finalists won exposure to the fashion industry’s top brass.

The teams were asked to brainstorm and innovate around a few common themes relevant to fashion and retail. Select themes are outlined below along with a few startups that presented at the semi-finals:

E-Commerce—enable retailers large and small to create easy, intuitive online shopping experience for consumers.

  • Coveted – “Purchasing at the point of inspiration,” this app that allows one click, universal check out through Tumblr. Users can click on an image and buy the products shown in the image. While it’s easy to buy, it is also easy for sellers to setup shop in the app, not taking longer than a minute to create a shop and load inventory.

Production and Design Process—making production communication easier and manufacturing more cost efficient.

  • SWATCHit – This app should prove disruptive to the global outsourcing market, since it allows streamlined communication between artisans anywhere in the world and fashion designers in developed countries. This simple app can be used over SMS for people in rural areas who do not have access to computers or smartphones. The app is based on a yes/no question premise to allow quick, clear, cost-efficient communication.

Information Technology—creating tools to track customer engagement, conversion, sales, and connect online sales to fulfillment.

  • Avant-garde – Based on analysis of consumers’ social media habits, this app allows brands to send perfectly targeted emails to customers based on the designer’s clothing items they are most likely to purchase. Avant-garde’s advanced image algorithms analyze the product a designer or retailer wants to sell and then analyzes real-time images from the social media platforms like Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram to pair the items to be sold with users who have shown similar taste and style.
  • Fashion Dashboard – An analytics dashboard for brands, this app allows comparisons between different brands’ social graphs, including comparing physical store metrics, marketing campaigns, online and social brand metrics, and online consumer sentiment.

Emerging Tech—using technology to inspire interest, pair digital and real world retail, and augment the shopping experience.

  • 42 – A geo-location retail dashboard, this app marries online data with real world happenings. The app allows retailers to interact with shoppers in-store and record their purchases and items they looked at and did not purchase. Later, when the items are on sale, the retailers are able to contact consumers with targeted emails about the items they were interested in, but did not buy.  Immediately available, the app is used on mobile devices and does not require stores to invest time or money in hardware to put the system in place.
  • Fashion Explorer – Gamified window-shopping, this fast, gut reaction app has users flip  through product images to discover and collect new inspiring items. While flipping through the products, users select to keep the image or discard the product, before moving onto viewing the next product. With this app, product discovery can be done anywhere and in any free moment.
  • Re:tale GPS – Using Kinect technology, this app monitors foot traffic and records who goes into physical store locations. This app enables businesses to quantify the success and efficiency of store window displays and their conversion from window shoppers into in-store shoppers.

Curation— helping consumers figure out their personal style, create looks, plan and manage their closets or providing them with personalized recommendations.

  • Mannequin – Inspired by fashion plates from the 80’s, this app allows users to get inspiration on what to wear by shaking their smartphone. Users can upload their closet and outfits for others to browse, explore other users’ closets, swipe to find new outfit combinations, and click to buy items they do not already own.
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Liz Bacelar, Founder of Decoded Fashion

Jump-starting the fashion technology conversation, the Decoded Fashion Hackathon sparked innovation and produced over 70 new fashion tech apps over the course of one weekend. Speaking with psfk, Liz Bacelor, Founder of Decoded Fashion spoke about the future of fashion technology:

Where do you see the future of fashion technology in a year? 5 years? 

Two trends I’m seeing that are quite interesting and growing very rapidly, it’s 3-D printing and visual searches. 3-D printing, we know that in the past 10 years it’s been used for machine parts, for airplanes, and now in the past couple years it became jewelry, metal. We see keys, we see rings being printed. In fashion, what’s happening now, it’s fabrics. And I think they’re going to go to hardware – the buttons, the zippers, and consequently more and more of this manufacturing comes back to the U.S., because it’s very complex manufacturing.

Another innovation that could alter fashion and retail is augmented reality, as a powerful sales tool and not just a marketing stunt. So, AR-enabled catalogues would allow consumers to visualize items such as handbags and shoes in 3-D and give them a 360 view of any item, which will increases sales.

From sentiment at the event, do you think brands are starting to see and accept the importance of technology to their companies and their consumers?

I do think they’re starting to realize the importance of technology. However, the struggle is also for technology to understand and try to tackle the pain points of the fashion industry, and for the fashion industry to understand the need for technology to accelerate their business. The Decoded Fashion Forum was a first step in that direction. The conversation needs to continue to evolve – it’s a process in which we want to serve as catalysts!

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