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The relatively slow penetration of global apparel behemoths in the online space has left the playing field open to small fashion start-ups. These leaner, swifter and highly innovative enterprises have the potential to be gamechangers. According to London Startup Weekend, summer 2013 saw over £347 million invested in fashion tech startups.
Euromonitor International visited Startup London Weekend: Fashion Edition to witness first-hand upcoming innovation at the grassroots level. Participants of this 56-hour long challenge had to establish a minimal viable product in the fashion tech space, a business model and customer acquisition strategy and an engaging user experience. The winning ideas fit these criteria, but also, most importantly, had all the elements in place were their products to be launched immediately (including an accessible user base).
In tied-first place was Swappi, a smartphone app designed for “super simple group fashion swaps”. It was founded after observing an existing subculture of swapping amongst students at Central Saint Martin, one of the world’s leading fashion universities and home to a new generation of trendsetters.
Initially targeting this student crowd is a savvy move, given their appetite for high fashion, alongside a cash-strapped nature. For many, being able to swap clothes is a desirable way to update ones wardrobe with new designer items, without having to resort to disposable fashion alternatives for a dose of wardrobe newness, implicitly promoting sustainability and slow fashion.
The app has a simple interface, enabling users to click and upload photos of their clothes, and scroll through existing images to find something they like. Once a match is made, users can begin direct messaging, akin to the hit dating app Tinder.
Swapping rather than simple monetary transactions also provides a more social experience for consumers, making it something brands are likely to be interested in as well. In fact, the team aims to offload excess samples from designer brands to build an initial critical mass of high-quality designer garments on the app. It would be an interesting tool for brands which are in sync with the fashion-forward youth to partner with. Asos, for example, could use it as a complementary tool to its other community-building initiatives, like Fashion Finder and Market Place.
The other first-place winner was Fashion Brief, which is fashion shoot and show project planning software. This is a B2B solution, specifically tailored for the fashion industry, with a more image-centric design compared to solutions like Basecamp.
The app’s main competitor would be Fashion GPS, a similar web-based B2B tool. However, this is based more around the PR and communications side of the business (sample tracking, invites and seating plans), whereas Fashion Brief aims to tackle the initial stages of event organisation. It focuses on call sheet management, mood board sharing for looks, hair and makeup, and location details.
It is evident that the very nature of the fashion show has evidently changed from being a close-knit trade show, solely for buyers and press, to a star-studded, live-streamed marketing extravaganza. But, this does not change the fact that fashion shows remain an important part of the industry. Arguably, the number of shows is increasing, as the fashion cycle is speeding up. Additionally, brands from lower price tiers, like Whistles and H&M, as well as lingerie brands like Etam and Calzedonia following in Victoria’s Secret’s footsteps, all staging high-profile fashion shows, suggests there is potential for the large-scale roll-out of technology such as that offered by Fashion Brief.
In second place was Wardro, a men’s fashion mobile app which uses a learning algorithm to source style recommendations. As highlighted in previous analysis, most male consumers are not inclined to spend hours browsing in-store, neither are they likely to sift through fashion magazines or Pinterest boards for styling inspiration. For them, the shopping experience is less about exploration and more about being informed about what they should be buying.
Hence, the name of the game is simplicity. It is a trait that runs through most menswear startups. US-based Bonobos was founded on the idea of providing well-fitting clothing with a simple and painless shopping experience. Others like Trunk Club make the process of looking stylish simple by employing stylists to do the searching, delivering the curated box directly to the consumer.
Wardro, which also serves as a stylist, is unique as it encourages users to build upon items they already own. The model is based on an easy-to -use “I want, I have” wizard. Users enter existing items through a “I have” wizard, entering basic attributes like colour, fitting, etc, and then select what they want to buy (eg a shirt). The app uses an algorithm which considers existing clothing items, latest fashion trends, and price preferences to provide recommendations. While these initially will be linked to third-party sites, the app aims to eventually sell direct to consumers.