What is fashion tech? It’s a subject up for a lot of debate. We all know it exists, but none of us can seem to agree on exactly what it is. There is, however, a lot to learn from the differing definitions of people who live, work, and create in the space. To that end, we asked founders from the New York Fashion Tech Lab for their definitions – and learned a lot!
Jackie Trebilock // Managing Director of New York Fashion Tech Lab.
Overall technology has become more vital to our day to day lives. It’s exciting to see how quickly innovations progress and the way in which ideas get reinvented and improved upon to help transform a specific category. Fashion Technology is truly helping to validate, accelerate, and advance the industry.
Jade Huang // Co-Founder and CEO, StyleSage
Fashion tech is the emergence of using technology to create better fashion businesses and fashion products for the public.
When we first came out the first reaction was awe of how much data we have. Next they ask, ‘how do I actually adopt this into a process that’s so creatively driven?’ So we made it more comfortable and intuitive. That was an interesting and important learning curve for us.
We have eight people in our company and it’s been so much fun working with everyone. Even though we still work crazy start-up hours it’s been amazing. The people make it amazing.
Gemma Sole // Co-Founder and COO, Nineteenth Amendment
I define FashionTech very much by what we do — looking at fashion (the industry and processes) as a whole and then figuring out how you can insert more efficiencies with technologies. For us it was the inventory model and we solved that with our on-demand software program. But the technology itself isn’t the innovation. It’s how the tech enables you to do business differently.
We’re two first-time female entrepreneurs under 30, and it’s been a little bit of a challenge to get people to take us seriously. Being part of Springboard has been great in terms of establishing our network, but also giving us credibility with investors and other people.
We got an opportunity to be included in the Macy’s Front Row fashion show, which aired on E! and was held in Madison Square Garden. The high production values were nothing we could ever afford anytime soon. That was the exposure and level we want to get our designers to, and they couldn’t have gotten there without us. Seeing that all culminate in one physical experience was very cool.
Amanda Curtis // Co-Founder and CEO, Nineteenth Amendment
Fashion means self-expression, and technology means a way of connection. So FashionTech to me means a way to connect myself — or anyone — with a greater audience. It’s all about self-expression that is highly connected.
The fashion industry is largely unchanged, and has been for about 120 years. There’s so much opportunity — it’s an amazing industry. It has so much potential and power, and touches so many people.
FashionTech is such a new space that not everyone really understand, it’s the wild wild west of technology. It’s exciting because there is a lot to be discovered.
What surprised me the most is how quickly the industry has reacted to us. We have a deal with Macy’s, which we got done in six months, which is hyper speed for the fashion industry.
I didn’t expect to be so quickly welcomed within the fashion industry. It’s traditionally a very veiled industry, and what we’re bringing is incredible transparency. I thought it would be met with more hesitation, especially from these larger companies, but what we found was the exact opposite.
We were a technology company based in Boston and moved the company to New York for the NYFTL. That was a catalyst — when we became a fashion company. We built out the technology but we needed the fashion aspect: the retailers, the expertise, the industry insight. That has made all the difference in the world.
Alison Lewis // CEO and Creative Director, Switch Embassy
Fashion tech is about the integration of electronics and tech styles into clothing and materials. It’s not necessarily fashion–I do extend this to the home so long as it’s in fabric.
The NYFTL was a way for us to talk to larger companies in a way that we couldn’t do if we were a regular start-up. We learned so much about the way the fashion industry approaches small businesses like ourselves. Most people don’t get that opportunity.
I wrote a book and it actually didn’t make any money, but for me it was very successful. It’s a beautiful book and if you ask anybody who works in wearable tech they all own it, so it influenced a lot of people. I’m proud of that.
Karen Moon // Co-Founder and CEO, Trendalytics
FashionTech can mean a lot of things, but technology is a conduit to power something. The fashion industry has a lot of dimensions: the creative, and the backbone that gets products to customers and markets to them. The point of FashionTech is not just the technology, but about making the industry run and move forward.
The fashion industry is going through a paradigm shift in a lot of ways. What we’re going to see is a fundamental shift — the innovation is going to come from within the fashion industry. No longer are brands waiting to see what other people do. You’re going to have the Burberrys of the world doing things before everyone else.
When we started with NYFTL in mid-2014 we had one customer on board. It’s been just a year later and we have over 25. A lot of them are some of the biggest names in the industry, Fortune 500 retailers. One of our top customers (which is actually several accounts now), was one of the NYFTL mentors. I never would have pitched them.
Being able to develop a relationship without pitching is important. People aren’t looking to be sold — they’re looking for a solution, and that’s something that happens in collaboration.
A big challenge is focus, and figuring out when to say no partnerships or certain investors that don’t make sense. It’s not the most obvious thing, but it’s important.
Ruchika Kumar // Co-Founder and CEO, Sku IQ
As a consumer of fashion who has to shop to acquire fashion, it’s always tied to the shopping experience. Fashion Tech is really tied to shopping and how we can improve the shopping experience with technology.
The NYFTL was a phenomenal experience for professional development, and to add credibility to the company. For the mentors involved in NYFTL to be able to vouch for us opens so many doors.
When all the little things come together that’s quite satisfying. There’s always more to do, and you have to reposition yourself for the next year, and you have to 10x again, but we did 10x in 2015 and that’s a great feeling. There were a lot of little events that came together for that 10x to happen.
Jag Gill // Founder and CEO, Sundar
FashionTech is the intersection of fashion, the creative industries, innovation, and digitization.
There’s been a lot of work done on the consumer experience, but I’m excited by the backend: helping creative professionals do their work faster, more efficiently, and more creatively.
The NYFTL provided an incredible ecosystem of mentors and peer founders — companies doing exciting innovations, redefining and rethinking product, experience and technology. It provided us with access to key players. and most importantly to potential users and potential customers of our products and services. It’s been really satisfying to see that experience go beyond the timeframe of the lab.
There are lots of micro hurdles on a daily basis. There’s adoption risk, product risk, market risk, and the initial inertia of using new tools to do a job. Changing behavior is always tough but possible, and then disruptive when you do do that.
Veronika Sonsev // Founder and Former SEO (Acquired), InSparq
The term FashionTech can be so broad – anything from fashion wear that’s tech enabled to tech that goes behind the scenes and helps a designer sell their goods. It could be that whole scope of the actual fashion as well as the technology. I look at it as both — not one or the other.
The biggest benefit of NYFTL was the contacts. they had amazing contacts especially with large retailers in NY. We really benefited a lot from that.
Thee most surprising success was the acquisition of our company. It wasn’t directly part of the program. but it happened at the same time. The NYFTL and the relationship with retailers, and the publicity the company got through the program really helped.
Cathy Han // Co-Founder and CEO, 42 Technologies
FashionTech is about the technology that can make an industry better. You can only be good at so many things. Fashion is good at style influencing what kind of trends show up in society. FashionTech companies come in and understand what the fashion industry is about and comes up with technology that can supplement and help them be more efficient.
Our most surprising success was presenting at NYFW. We came up with the idea on Friday night and had a functional version of the product within 24 hours. When we started the company, from the time we had an idea to the time we had our first product was 24 hours.
There is so much opportunity. We’ve never seen a time when there’s so much technology and consumer and style changes happening all at the same time. Consumers are moving very quickly and trends are responding to that. There’s a huge gap where technology hasn’t caught up to both of these things.
FashionTech is a huge opportunity right now. Retailers are afraid of a lot of the changes that are happening, but anytime there’s change there’s growth. There’s no better time to make a change than now.
This article was originally created for our fashion tech print magazine, Third Wave Magazine: Issue 03. Haven’t subscribed yet? Just click here!
All photos by Tory Williams. 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.