What is Fashion Technology? What does fashion tech really mean? There are over 1,9 billion Google search results, dedicated meetup groups with thousands of attendees, hundreds of ‘innovation in fashion’ conferences, and many specialised startups and accelerators.
To some, it is just a new discipline that allows designers to explore and use innovative tools in fashion. To others, it is an innovative space exploring the intersection of tech in fashion, from design to retail. Some also argue that fashion technology encapsulates all innovations directed at the fashion realm.
However, it is not that simple. Using a three-legged stool analogy, to be considered a fashion tech – innovator, startup or company – one must have at least two of the following qualities: disruptive technology, innovative business model, and most importantly, social impact.
Fashion Technology Is Big Data
Back in 2010, the fashion was looking to gather big data and explore the use of sophisticated algorithms. Nowadays, almost every fashion startup utilises ‘cutting-edge technologies’ in some way or another.
Back then, fashion labels existed mostly offline. Nowadays, thanks to the advances of the internet, most fashion tech businesses combine online with offline elements.
For example, Poshmark hosts offline tech-infused parties to complement their online events. Warby Parker lets you try on VR their glasses before you buy them. And, Bonobos invites customers into their digital ‘guideshops’. But, still, can the use of big data, algorithms, online and offline resources be called fashion tech?
Fashion Technology Is Co-Creation
Technology is now at the core of any co-creative processes. Modern consumers help brands decide which items to design and produce; Moda Operandi takes pre-orders for designers, and ModCloth and Stitch Collective allow consumers to vote on designs.
As Lawrence Lenihan, founder and Managing Director of First Mark Capital said: “Every brand must figure out how to connect with its customers and structure their business around the relationships they want to have with their customer rather than letting their distribution channels define them.”
Other fashion technology startups are erasing the line between brands and publishers. NET-A-PORTER and Style.com are best known for the constant adoption of the fast-changing tech innovations in their businesses.
Other fashion tech startups let users tap into existing networks or join new like-minded communities. For instance, Stylitics allows users to track how often they wear clothing, while Chloe + Isabel have taken the Avon model and applied it to funky jewellery for the college set, and StyleOwner lets anyone set up their shop.
The use of tech in fashion also marks the beginning of empowered users as startups are making useful large data sets. For example, Stylitics sells granular data back to brands, while ‘Shop It To Me’ uses customers’ preferences to send them customised sale information.
Similarly, Poshly is creating an exhaustive database of each customer’s physical characteristics and product preferences. In some ways, algorithms, curators, and ‘discovery platforms’ have merged to become the new recommendation engines for fashion buyers.
FashionTech Is – Future Driven
In many aspects, fashion and tech are a great match: both industries are future-driven, consumer-focused and when combined appeal to the fast-growing segment of young consumers.
However, the quest to give fashion technology a comprehensive, all incapsulating definition continues. For that, we have reached out to experts in the space and here is what they had to say:
Charlie O’Donnell, Founder of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures and VC extraordinaire:
“There is no such thing. Technology is both a channel and a best practice around delivering a product. It could mean a unique and convenient purchase experience, or it could mean a means to acquire a customer, but unless you’re experimenting with materials science, you’re just following your customer.”
Hilary Peterson, VP of Business Development at Lyst:
“Technology is all about using scientific knowledge to improve or solve a problem. Fashion technology is a specific area in which technology finds new usage. In my mind, fashion technology covers everything from using nanotechnology to improving fabrics, to sites like Lyst which improve shopping online.”
Jennifer Margolin, Founder of the Social Edge Summit:
“In the most basic explanation, fashion tech is the space where technology and fashion have merged to create faster and more innovative ways to shop, market, educate and experience fashion.
In the past, the only way to be a part of the fashion industry was to live in a fashion city such as Paris and work at a publication house, PR firm or with a designer and work your way up. Technology has opened the fashion industry wide open.
Bloggers sit in the front row at Fashion Weeks and partner with prominent fashion brands. It was less than ten years ago, publications such as WWD and others were saying that e-commerce was a fad and wouldn’t stick as people needed to touch the items they were purchasing.
Rob Sanchez, Founder of the Fashioning Our Industry Conference:
“A fashion technology company and a technology company in the fashion vertical are distinct entities. A technology company may make a product for the fashion space or that targets at the fashion vertical. A fashion technology company works with and builds upon the fashion universe by enabling, modifying, or enhancing some unique aspect of the industry.
The best way to explain this is through illustration: An e-commerce solution is a technology company. A curated e-commerce store specialising in women’s wear for the tween crowd is a fashion retailer if using traditional e-commerce solutions and not fashion-tech.
An e-commerce store selling custom-made dresses that use crowd-sourced design coupled with geographical data and an algorithm that scans public Facebook photos to determine the current season’s dominant colour trend is a fashion technology company.
A company that creates a social network that identifies fashion trends and monetises the system by building an e-commerce platform that integrates with its community is a fashion technology company. Fashion technology companies are rethinking how we shop, purchase, design, source, manufacture, alter, swap, try on, or otherwise engage in the fashion world.”
Laura Zapata, Co-founder of the Future of Fashion series at Projective Space:
“In a broad sense, it’s when fashion, what we wear, what we aspire to be, how we present ourselves to society through clothing, meets tech innovation, digital presence and engaging online content. It is when fashion embraces a new and digital component to sell/present their business model.”
So, back to square one, what is fashion technology? Guess it is safe to say that it is many things to many people. However tricky defining fashion tech might be, there is no doubt that it has the interest of entrepreneurs, investors, media, and most importantly, new generations of fashion consumers, and an interesting space for many years to come.