In an era of digital transformation, how can fashion and technology innovate within a multitude of social, economic, legal and environmental factors is key to determining whether as an industry it will survive. Before London fashion week kicks off for another season, we take a look back at the main learnings from the January edition of #FASHIONTECH Berlin.
Highlights included Sofia Wingren, CEO of innovation school Hyper Island discussing how digital transformation killed ‘average’ - in terms of both companies, concepts and products (that we always need to be better than the average to survive - but also that the approach to the ‘average’ consumer no longer exists). Niche markets that can grow large enough are the points of opportunity that Hyper Island teaches as their philosophy, understanding that in a fast digital world, knowledge and facts quickly grow old. Wingren ended her talk with a showcase of the Zozo Suit, a bodysuit that allows you to capture your exact body measurements so that consumers can buy clothes entirely tailored to fit their figure, arguably one of the most inclusive ideas to come from the fashion tech industry in recent years.
Other key speakers of note on The Future of Work stage were by Christoph Magnussen, founder and MD of Blackboat, a tech focused consulting company that is designed to help leaders increase team efficiency and productivity. He spoke about his popular podcast ‘On the Way to New Work’ and how businesses and leaders need to capitalise on the emotional connection to formative moments.
Reza Moussavian, SVP Digital & Innovation at Deutsche Telekom talked about how human and consequently, technological development fundamentally lies in collaboration. Titled Homo Collaboratus, his talk took us through the story of human ancestry and the 1% of genetic makeup that differentiates us from apes. He put this down to three things. The first, is that we have language. The second is fiction - we are the only species in the world that can imagine fictional scenarios, alternate realities, and dream up things that don’t yet exist in reality. The third, he said, is collaboration. We, as a species, can collaborate in a myriad of ways, methods and spaces, yet so many companies and organisations today fall into the trap of growing homogenous groups, either a reflection of the founder (usually white and male) or perpetuating the myth of the lone genius. Neither tactics are conducive to building better technological futures.
Continuing on the theme of collaboration, fashion tech designer Zsófi Lévai (also second place winner of the Telekom Fashion Fusion Winner 2018) talked about her experience with hiring, team development and modern day fashion tech problems. According to her, many fashion tech projects bring both technologists and fashion creatives together, but only later add in people like her, forgetting that the ideas need harmony and cannot exist in silos. Lévai trained as a fashion designer but is from a family of software developers and engineers and has become somewhat of a mediator between these two skill sets, thinking and language in order to create projects that harmonise both fashion and technology in holistic ways.
One of the stand out speakers for us was Gary Wassner, Author, CEO of Hilldun, Chairman of Interluxe Holdings LLC, CFDA Fashion Incubator Advisory Board Member and Mentor, Fordham Fashion Law Institute Advisory Board Member and Project Runway: Fashion Startup Investor. With so many diverse roles in the industry, we couldn’t help but ask him about the biggest challenges for startups, what makes a successful fashion tech brand & beyond.
What are the biggest challenges for a fashion startup today?
It’s quite technical when I look at it. I think the problem for a young brand today is that the consumer and stores require more and more product on a more frequent basis. We used to do two seasons per year, then it went to four, then to pre-fall and pre-spring, and now we’re doing 10 drops a year. When young fashion brands have 100 units to produce as opposed to 10,000, they’re put on the bottom of the production line, and it’s very hard to get that produced, not to mention very costly. You constantly have to deliver to stay competitive in retail.
What do you think makes a successful fashion tech brand today?
Being true to themselves and knowing who their consumer is, and being consistent. Once you know what you do best and what you love, and you can go to market with competitive price points for your category, be consistent. I’d say don't try to reinvent the wheel. Take a small percentage of your design product each season and go crazy, but the majority of your collection needs to be who you are and what your consumer wants.
What areas of fashion tech right now you would say are investment worthy?
I've looked at hundreds...it's like a revolving door in my office with new apps and new ways of doing things.
Currently, there are a couple of issues in fashion that are problematic. One is the return rate. So if you’re a DTC [direct-to-consumer] manufacturer and your returns are running 35-45% monthly, that's a real problem. One of the major obstacles and challenges is reducing your return rate. Tech companies that are coming up with ways to eliminate the multiple purchases of one style so people aren't buying three different sizes of the same style to see which one will fit, technology that helps mitigate that is really important and really interesting to me. I've seen a lot of it but I haven't seen anything that's absolutely fantastic. The problem is that you also can't give the consumer too much work, or they'll move on. So it has to be very seamless, it's almost like having an interactive stylist who’s going to say to you ‘Based on our brand and your body, don't buy a size 8 buy a size 6’. That’s the kind of technology I’m looking for to help reduce the negative effects of larger returns in ecommerce.
One other thing that I don't really emphasise but I do think is important is trend analytics. For the past 5 or 6 years buyers have been strangled by data. Buyers for all the major department stores are looking at history and they are buying according to history but fashion isn't about history - fashion is about what’s next. I haven't yet seen analytics on what's old and what works, combined with predictive analytics regarding new trends. Something that combines both would be very interesting and very investable. But again, they have to be seamless. Imagine you’d be able to input data and the algorithm would tell you ‘This is what this consumer is buying now and this is what we anticipate they are going to be buying in the future’. I haven’t seen that.
I’m a little frustrated with all of these avatars and body image apps because I think it's a little bit invasive and the consumer is reluctant. So there's a lot of work to be done still, it's in its infancy.
An earlier talk today by Reza Moussavian discussed the difference between humans and apes is language and collaboration but, most importantly, that we can create fiction. As someone who also writes fiction, how would you think about the importance of fiction when dreaming up the next big thing?
Writing fiction allows you to break every barrier of the imagination. I write adult epic fantasy (like Game of Thrones kind of stuff) but what I've enjoyed so much about it is that it allows me to create anything, to let my mind go and it doesn't have to have a foothold in reality.
Over the centuries science fiction has had great predictive abilities, so writing about things that don't exist that we’d like to see is really fodder for future possibility. For me, it's been a release and enjoyable exploration. Its explorative. You don't have to take a political or social point of view, you can say anything you want and let it play out within the context of a story or a narrative. You don't have to be judgemental, you don't have to be objective and you don't have to preach, you can just throw out all kinds of possibilities within a coherent story and let the reader start thinking. That's what's so interesting to me about writing fiction. Its application to the world is that it teaches people to think outside the box.
Interview by Sabrina Faramarzi
Want more from #Fashiontech Berlin? Read our interview with Rebecca Minkoff's Chief Brand Officer, Ana Andjelic.
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