As I See It- Here’s The Problem with Most Fashion-Tech Startups- a Response

The times they are a-changin’.

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the problem  with fashion techIn three years business as we know it  in all sectors will change. I  am betting on it! So too are many In The startup rush  for gold ! Fashion Tech is one niche Recently in an op-ed  piece on Business of Fashion  The Problem with Most Fashion-Tech Startups
I am actually very happy to have opened my BOF to find yet another on point and on target article. This time looking at the fashion tech question from the investor’s point of view. I have reread the article, slept on it and taken the decision to publicly address this debate.  Especially after  several  exchanges with  design my  global network of entrepreneurs.  Fashion, Technology, entrepreneurship, investment potential, all are betting on the consumer… the question is how well do  they understand fashion consumer’s  needs and/or desires of said consumer!
The writer noted that

One thing’s for sure. It will be an exciting next few years as technology transforms the  relationships amongst brands, retailers and  customers. But the biggest challenge entrepreneurs face might be themselves…  Many would-be fashion-tech entrepreneurs have a deep understanding of the fashion industry & no understanding of technology…  Or they have a deep understanding of technology and no understanding of fashion Or, they understand neither!

The opening quote sums ups the authors viewpoint… I’ll take that statement a step further many emerging entrepreneurs;-   both INVESTORS… and Journalists.

Many would-be fashion-tech entrepreneurs have a deep understanding of the fashion industry or do they…

I  recently went to the Gilt Groups Fashion Hackathon.. In fact my team won  a best  use of API... We had two brand experts, two technologist and two Fashion experts, we all were shoppers. Most of the other teams had technology expertise and shoppers. In  another conversation  we’ll talk  about the importance of teams that can not only conceive but also  execute!

Even In defining “Fashion Expertise” the  spectrum is broad.  In considering Fashion Tech space we need to  consider much more than many have thus far been exposed to and it may be easy to look at existing positioning. Seventh avenue is not the only existing model… nor is it the most  successful  In fact many of the so called “new models”  have always existed and are now simply  being  put online by the  Fashion “elite”, or more correctly  “tech connected”.

digitally print fabrics inspired by whatever you desire for your lines or individuall customers One of the other winners constrvct simply digitally  prints images onto apparel   no one present had the ability to  pose the questions on process and  market!  Since this was something I’d spent  years researching and working on for  I  was struct  by the lack  of skill by those making  an assessment! It has not been the first time. FYI this is a college (post college) student designed product  and targets  who/what she knew… college students,more or less the same size with similar aesthetic  The demographic that shops the designers I am addresses 35-65 has a more varied taste, and definitely a broader fit demand range and quality expectations. Note in one comment  to this article  someone mentioned their is no difference between in tee shirts

"A tshirt is just a t-shirt it shouldn't cost 500$

This commentor has no idea what  goes or can  go into the making of a tee shirt…  shaping, sewing techniques, surface design, trim… not all t-shirts are created equal. However I  do agree with him that product info needs to be better! 

In  researching Fashion Tech I  look for site that  span gamut the from Vintage to mass retail to  ALL of the custom space- customization, customized, made to order, made to measure, custom design  bespoke design and couture and DIY. As a someone long  pushing  for fashion tech in the NYTech scene there is also my needs as  designer, the consumers’ and other user of Fashion Apparel and  accessories! Concept development ,  Research, Trending, Sourcing of fabrics surface notions trim, execution of design concepts , samples and  production to  facilitating  the  consumer transfer process better known as sales… whether pre-production or post production, even the use of social networks to  facilitate that sale is not new … the technology is and often  designed by  people without any  concern for culture or anthropology (as in the way we do  things) they are addressing THEIR need.

The reality is that fashion is heavily varied with business models running the gamut from the low end retailer to luxury brands, it is also cultural. .. but at the end of all these the fashion entrepreneur is in the business of wardrobe and apparel  acquisition!

Please forgive the heavy quoting, This article is intended for the Independent design sector I  work with! few will click through to read… I know my audience,

“ many look great on whiteboards or in business school competitions: virtual closets,  flash sale businesses, new designer “discovery” sites, you-be-the-designer sites,  social shopping, user-curated boutiques, subscription sites, custom clothing, and so on that seek to use technology in ‘clever’ ways. But, in the end, they often miss the mark by a wide margin.”

So what is exactly is the mark …

At the end of the Runway, the showroom  or the trade show Routine… the fashion sector is in the Business of wardrobe acquisition! As my mother would say…

“the reality is the  customer only needs two sets of clothing one to wear and one to  put on when that is being cleaned everything  else is a luxury, Your job is to convince the consumer that  a luxury is a need and make the experience worth their investment.

fashion tech solutions for bespoke Custom designRecently I  explained to my one of cofounders… “If  an offline store were to arrange it’s shelves, and provide shopping  carts and self-service cash registers… even fitting  room and simply  left the sale process up to the consumer… They  too would have the  same disappointing sales.

I am a rare hybrid with Experience in  Fashion Tech Entrepreneurship… That understanding of fashion comes with over 30  years in the Fashion sector in custom design sector my  mass production skills are minimal.  I  was born into fashion and I’ve worked almost angle of the custom design sector  in fashion. I studied at Fit and apprenticed with an adjunct Parson’s professor for four years. I came to the Fashion tech experience smug in my  ability. My mother a custom clothier who taught pattern making and trained many in the type of support programs needed for the local fashion sector in my native Trinidad.

In the Mid 1990’s I had the opportunity to run a dress shop on the  upper east  side to this day I define that as my real education. What I  “ accidentally discovered was a collision of culture, expectation and “appearances” that defied explanation. I had access to the closets of some of the cities wealthiest and the responsibility of helping them perpetuate a “lie” that the  “Fit” the expectation laid down  in some elite brand’s design  studio!  These women supplemented their Tahari, Anne Klein and various other labels from stores such as “Saks”, “Bergdorf” and “Lord’s” with $400 alteration  bills!  Less than 20% of wardrobes actually  fit. I was shocked. 

My tech experience is as varied but was less willingly ventured into; at 18 my father a computer programmer saw to it  I was certified in Cobal language. Years later my  brother a self taught hacker or “Api-er as some in the Caribbean may called them developed some of the first video stream modules for the now Joomla platform and helped me build my  first sites. sibbling  dissent  did what parental wisdom could not I  discovered barcamp & the NYTech scene due to pure sibling rivalry. I intended  to show I was right.

It is only recently though  led by  frustration that I took to attending hackathons and spend a great deal of the time speaking to  the “developer evangelists” about the capabilities of their API’s.  Twice I was part of the winning team in best use of API… for the most part  when I questioned developers I’m  met with … “we’re not there yet!,” or  “We’ve not  thought of that…”

Here in lies a huge problem GIGO  … Garbage in Garbage Out

Few even the hackers, fully learn what the technology is truly capable of, few understand the process i need to execute… I am able to explain simply  because I was born int the right  situation “I understand tech”

Till technologist learn  entrepreneurship and have more than a casual, contact with the entrepreneurs they hope to serve we’ll see the vast sums wasted in Hackathons and investments with increasing numbers of abandoned concepts. Many, actually  with a little tweaking can truly  serve mankind … in many sectors!

Note I said certified. I read and understand code I hate code (try admitting that in a room of hackers). I know better yet  wading through the present solutions is daunting… I  guarantee I cannot get many of my  fashion  colleagues to even attempt  using  the technology at it present state!  We simply  put  up the cash register ..we don’t expect to have to put it together!

I am a rare hybrid with Fashion Tech and Entrepreneurial expertise yet I did not understand investment or investors, It’s a learning process and one day I hope to  one day be able to have  a one on  one with the fashion tech investors such as the author Lawrence Lenihan. In short  while we need these services it is not a process that can be rushed! 

WHAT ARE THE PROBLEM. This year I buckled down and took a serious look addressing  the problem  in the high end  custom design fashion and creative sector. I have spoken to  clients at all price points… regardless of aesthetic they  want  clothes that

  • Fit
  • Flatter
  • Creative Choice & Individuality
  • “Ease (of Care)”
  • Quality
  • Shopping Experience

So Let’s Look at  FIT… In online FIT solutions alone there are numerous options but  what  do you search  for just on alone…  Virtual Fitting RoomTry-OnFitting RoomFitting Room, or In-Store Experience and that  not taking into account having to  define Webcam Social Shopper do they address fit.

Add to that, the fact that, many, who are actually building these apps may not necessarily  BELIEVE that a solution is actually possible as I discovered in responding    to a PSFK article  TRY CLOTHES ON AT HOME USING A COMPUTER SCREEN AS anAUGMENTED REALITY MIRROR

Fit, can’t be done. Not with the accuracy that shoppers would expect (with a 2d or 3d camera)… but even if it could be done, 3d asset creation is cost prohibitive.

As I stated in that same conversation and to others

These augmented reality and other 3d fit solutions may one day work… once user measurements and an extensive database is collected and once manufacture are convinced to use that data in pattern making and construction process. Even then each individual label has a “fit”. When technologist and those with experience in fit and sales work together we will truly see results in the space! another option claims that

fit is the main reason for returns,, on average, decreases returns by 22%, more among the higher priced and fitted garments.

The challenge is that my FIT or rather the  Fit  from the clothing  comes from the measurements used to create the clothing! Trying to  select  fit post production is futile!  The closest thus far and even then the algorithms used in successful pattern-making  changes across cultural groups and body  types!

As for the experts…

“Fit isn’t a matter of what objectively fits you but what you like and are comfortable in,” says retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research. “

This is the advise investors bet on. for the record “style” is what you like and are comfortable in… as for Fit,  should you really invest  based on  your friends “likes”! Since I started focusing on Fashion Tech I have understood that before we disrupt  the  Fashion Sector with Technology… we need to address the holes in the system or process… In fact It is at the point where I see the solution as one of “Regenesis”  (to coin one of my  favorite shows)  Earlier this year I officially gave up a fashion Unconference  meetup to concentrate on a REAL solution for designer and our consumer… still it’s a lot of work! When we first started  fashion Camp in 2009, I took the planners to local designer   so they would get a firsthand view of the “Process’ and be inspired I  distinctly remember pointing out the Fashion Clipping and “Books”  Just this year launched a Look book service. As  I watched their pitch during Techcrunch  disrupt I learned that StyleSaint is collaboration between a designer with industry experience and a technologist!Finally…  ,SUCCESS HAPPENS WHEN EXPERTS AND TECHNOLOGIST WORK TOGETHER 
Back to the article…

“the biggest flaw I see is that these “Internet entrepreneurs” fail to understand how the Internet will fundamentally transform the fashion industry, not just provide another access point to buy something… Every brand must figure out how to build a revenue model around connecting directly with its customers” Online retailers will not succeed as customer access points for brands anymore, because the brands can now access these customers directly. So, the online retailer must be more. I would argue that Net-a-Porter is as large a threat to Vogue as it is to Bergdorf Goodman.

I am biased here, my niche is that of high end, branded and custom bespoke design;- I  deal directly and intimately  with the customer individual or brand from start to  finish!  I lack tools and I’m in the process of designing  three
  • Canvazz a custom service offering  textile design, digital printing  n delivered as marker service with fulfillment &  production services
  • A Telespresence centered customer service and sales platform for creative fashion service providers
  • A sales associate or personal shopping assistant for  your personas

The last  I had the opportunity of filling out at the Ecommerce Hack, where I was able to focuses in on replicating the selection process sales people & personal shoppers engage the consumers with from the moment they enter the store!  

“the emotion that a customer feels when they shop an incredible physical store”

 As for replication the in-store experience  I not only believe, we’ve been testing with the use of video globally at a local level and I have spoken on this at the First  TV Goes Social. Our  forte is the Boutique and what makes  an incredible physical store…  it is the forte of each designer in my  niche.

Simply displaying products like they are in a grocery store (rows and categories) doesn’t work… 

I’ve used video to work with artistes and creatives in several projects …  we’ve laughed, cried, fought,  A fact  crystallized  in an experience with various artist emotion is driven by sensory  stimuli. Fashion makes you feel. It is about emotion.. . Fashion is not a unilateral experience…intimacy  even spiritual energy is possible via the digital realm!  However it is the foreign  artist the ones needed access to the us suppliers, and audience that are the most open! Telepresence work!                                                                                           

As an investor, I am putting my money behind brands (people that make stuff!)

Halleluia….  I think… “people who make stuff?”

But are you… anyone  these days can be a maker…  most of these people seem to have little prior (or present) experience making and selling  stuff.  The consumer sees the equation from a different perspective!

Designing making and selling  stuff people will buy is tough!  The  exit  strategy (the sale) is an art-form in itself and this is where I take investors to task.

Piping the smell of pizza into the air when  all you serve is popcorn, may sell tons of popcorn but the  consumer is dissatisfied and eventually  goes elsewhere…. at some point  it’s worth it to  build the pizza often and haul in the ingredients or  the customer simply won’t buy!

Working with makers is tough… there are issues to solve.

Now brands can aggregate customers themselves, not based on where the customer lives, but on the values, interests and aspirations the brand and its customers share and use technology to create incredibly unique, intimate, personal, interesting and fun relationships.

Let me let you into a little secret. Just about every custom designer artisan I know has 2-3000 lists and they know these individuals. Often travelling  during  summer and at  key holidays. Sometimes customers make yearly pilgrimages. Sure these customers also go to the large retailers.. Then bring the items to be customized… including some large names in  fashion and entertainment! Technology  simply  made less trips easier process and more contact!

While using technology to more accurately anticipate demand…


“I never have left overs”… that from a colleague in 2007.

Many would-be fashion-tech entrepreneurs have a deep understanding of the fashion industry and no understanding of technology… Or they have a deep understanding of technology and no understanding of fashion Or, they understand neither!

From where I sit, be it pitches at hackathon, or listening in from my studio,  many  of these companies have a misguided  understanding of much of this sector an intimate knowledge only  in their niche or needs!

Virtual closets, flash sale businesses, new designer “discovery” sites, you-be-the-designer sites, social shopping, user-curated boutiques, subscription sites, custom clothing….

It takes years to learn the fashion production process, the business of fashion and the effective use of technology to serve my Vested Interest Parties. The mark that is often missed is that I need and have used all  these as have my mother to close the deal  PRIOR TO TECHNOLOGY to assure the customer is satisfied!  We now seek to use technology to simplify and make the process easier both for us and those we serve, we need tools not apps; and THAT is “the potential that lies in this combination of technology and fashion”

The entrepreneur/s who find strong partnerships with vested interest parties or expert in all three will find success! 




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