Hackathons Take a Fashionable Step Down the Catwalk

Hackathons Take a Fashionable Step Down the Catwalk

For those of us familiar with the tech world, hackathons are nothing new. These all-night technology development, design and idea-inspiring events occur quite regularly. In terms of fashion, however, this is something we don’t see very often– actually, ever. Until now.

With New York Fashion Week right around the corner, two teams of fashion tech minds have come together to form the first-ever fashion hackathon. The first, presented by Decoded Fashion and Conde Nast, took place this past weekend (we were there to cover it all). Followed immediately by the Hearst Fashion Hack  which is this coming weekend, February 9th-10th.

Considering that these events are right up our alley (fashion and tech), we decided to get the inside scoop on hackathons and their transition into fashion. We reached out to Liz Bacelar, the Founder of Decoded Fashion and the woman behind the first-ever fashion hackathon, as well as Sabeen Ali of AngelHack, the group behind the Hearst Hackathon.


TWF: What is a hackathon?

Liz Bacelar: Let’s start with the basics. To “hack” is to solve a problem. A “hackathon” is a competition in which designers, developers, and entrepreneurs come together to solve a specific problem. The key with a hackathon is to be specific in the problem that is being solved, yet broad enough as to not stifle creativity. We’re not telling the developers a specific app to build, we’re letting that creativity and intervention happen within the teams.

Many startups that we love, including FourSquare, have emerged out of a hackathon environment. We’re excited to see what comes out of the first-ever fashion hackathon.

Sabeen Ali: A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others in the field of software development, like graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software-related projects.

TWF: Why do a hackathon in fashion?

LB: Last year we launched the conversation with designers and brands, moderated by DKNY’s Aliza Licht. We asked brands if there was an app they wish they had. We listened to their key points, and couldn’t help but think they needed a hackathon.

Here’s the issue at hand: There are a lot of startups forming on the tech side without a clear understanding of fashion. Fashion has the opportunities for tech to thrive, but what fashion brands are being pitched are numerous solutions they don’t really need. Education is needed on both sides. If developers better understand the real problems in fashion, we can work together to come up with the apps that actually solve those problems.

SA: Various industries realize the power of a hackathon and are quickly grasping onto the concept of innovation, creativity and self-expression. Fashion is a similar parallel and the hope is to create the next generation of tech tools that facilitate fashion, real-time communication between designers and buyers, editors and readers, producers and consumers.

TWF: How does the process work?

LB (on Decoded Fashion Hack): After we initially came up with the idea of a fashion hackathon, we immediately reached out to the CFDA to see if they liked it. There is a stigma with the idea of a hackathon. They’re seen as very negative, and often times brands  won’t to be attached to that word, “hackathon.” We found that the fashion industry needed to be educated on the benefits of a hackathon, while simultaneously educating the tech industry on the opportunities in fashion.

We reached out to the top hackers and developers, those well-versed in hackathons, and tried to get them excited about fashion. Though not any easy feat, it worked!

We hunted down over 500 people in total (60% of them being women) which include: 190 developers, 100 designers, as well as many remaining “ideas people.” Essentially, creating the perfect recipe for a successfull hackathon.

As per the logistics of the event, the day started with a fashion brief, sent via email, to steer developers in the right direction — force them to focus on what the industry needs, rather than what they want to do. Next, there was a Q&A session, hosted by Rachel Roy, with the “hackers” about what life is like on the other side. The developers were able to ask questions about the fashion industry in order to determine what they are open to, and what they are not open to; allowing them to really learn what brands and retailers need. Then at noon, the teams were formed and projects were started.

The teams worked through the night, taking turns sleeping (caffeine provided) until the 11am deadline the next morning.

Once all projects were submitted, the pitches began. Each team was given 2 minutes to pitch their idea, while judges narrow down the contenders. Judging ended at 3pm, at which time preliminary prizes were given and the top ideas are announced. The actual finale will take place during fashion week becoming the first-ever tech event to happen inside those iconic fashion-filled tents.

SA (on Hearst Fashion Hack): Attendees will join us at Hearst early Saturday morning, some will come with ideas, some without. Individuals will form teams and begin the “hacking” process of creating a prototype from scratch. Various Application Programing Interface (API) and sponsor partners will attend to mentor those on their ideas and best use of API tools and technology. Competitors will build their products straight through the night and will present to an esteemed panel of judges on Sunday. One team will be given a $10,000 cash prize from Hearst and VIP access to Fashion Week. Other prizes include $2500 Amazon Web Service credits, Windows 8 laptop from Microsoft and a ton of other great prizes.

TWF: Who benefits from a hackathon such as this?

LB: First and foremost, the fashion industry. They will hear a lot of ideas — ideas they can use, and ideas to help them re-evaluate where they can go from here. On the tech side, budding startups can learn a little bit more about themselves and consider changes to ensure future success, using what they learn to build an app that actually addresses and solves the problems that exist in the fashion world.

SA: There is a benefit for all involved. Hackers get the opportunity to build in a unique industry, thus allowing them to stretch their creative boundaries and open themselves up to new tools and APIs. Our API sponsors benefit from the opportunity to have a vast number of developers using their API, and the fashion industry benefits from the amount of creativity, energy and innovation being brought into this otherwise “non-technical” market space.

TWD: Is there anything else to know?

LB: Our hackathon was officially presented by Conde Nast, and with the support of this major brand we’re reminded that the emphasis is on the industry. It’s the real deal.


The Hearst Fashion Hack is happening this weekend. For more information please visit their site here.

Kellie Friedman was a Research & Editorial Intern for TWF. Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave.  Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.

Image via The Skinny Beep.