The future of fashion tech begins in a chemical laboratory, where one woman dons her best hardhat and most fashionable goggles. This woman is Asmau Ahmed, CEO and engineer of Plum Perfect. She was among three other women on the ‘Future of Fashion Tech’ panel at the 2014 Empire Startups Summit, a two-day conference that took place at Webster Hall this last week.
The panel’s other leading women of fashion tech included: Lisa Morales-Hellebo, co-founder of New York Fashion Tech Lab; Aubrie Pagano, founder, CEO & Creative Director of Bow & Drape; and Heather Marie, founder and CEO of Shoppable. They were joined on stage by moderator David Freschman, founder, CEO and Chairman of FashInvest.
The overarching theme of the conversation was innovation – its potential and its and barriers. Freschman pointed out that the panel on stage consisted of women with scientific and business backgrounds. This is where the seeds of innovation are planted, applying hypotheses and theories to the commercial landscape.
Plum Perfect’s Ahmed, has a background in chemical engineering. Her fashion and lifestyle recommendation product began in a chemical plant, where her accouterments were a hardhat and goggles.
Through her work, she arrived at an unbiased recommendation engine for makeup, utilizing her experience and curiosity for chemical behaviors. Ahmed shared how she had no background in the fashion industry, but ended up solving a problem by approaching the topic from a very different vantage point.
The ability to view situations from a new angle is essential to innovation. The women on the panel all agreed that there is a learning curve when working with corporate brands.
Shoppable’s, Heather Marie explained: “Every retailer said no out of the gate. Their inclination is to say no to anything they don’t do or haven’t done. They are around for a reason, what they have done in the past has worked.” We didn’t accept no at the beginning and learned to educate them about the technology; it was about pushing through the no.”
Lisa Morales-Hellebo of New York Fashion Tech Lab, an accelerator that brings together major fashion retailers and early stage companies, added, “The retail industry is inclined to say no since they have systems in place. You need that internal champion.”
The goal of Morales-Hellebo in founding the New York Fashion Tech Lab was to create facilitated interactions between the two.
Ahmed added that a pain point that still exists in the adoption process is “life after the technology.” She found it wasn’t the technology itself that the corporations were having friction with as much as it was how to get it to the consumer – how they can market and integrate the tech into their brand.
Freschman asked the panelists what the future of the fashion tech industry has in store. The founders each provided their own point of view on forward-thinking trends that serve as opportunities for the industry at large:
Bow & Drape’s Pagano feels that customization is king.
“Burger King was one of first to customize with their motto: ‘Have it your way.’ If we could make this a fun, accessible process, it would be an enjoyable experience for the consumer. The key is integrated user experience as a part of the end result.”
Marie’s perspective on the future of the retail market outlined how people will approach shopping through new behaviors.
She explained, “The way we’re going to shop in 5 years is going to be dramatically different. We [Shoppable] are going to take the traditional retail model and flip it in its head. Instead of pushing the consumer to the retailer, we go to where the consumer is.”
Ahmed believes in “leveraging the culture of social commerce.” Through her product, consumers can take photos to find items that suit their style. She alluded to the ‘selfie’ specifically, reinforcing how individuality influences culture.
“The possibility of utilizing photos to shop is endless,” she said.
Morales-Hellebo is a proponent of contextual search, or “peer to peer micro-commerce.” She has found through her work as a co-founder of Instagram shopping app, Shopsy, that consumers are caring less about the brand and more about context.
Morales-Hellebo also added that data standardization will lead to peer-to-peer commerce at all different price points.
Vertically Integrated Brands
Along the lines of Morales-Hellebo’s observations of the consumer focusing more on context, Pagano pointed out the industry disruption from vertically integrated brands.
She gave Everlane and Warby Parker as examples of fashion companies that are leading the way in this new retail model. She predicts that retailers will be working together to capture more of the sale through these vertically integrated brands.
According to Freschman, ‘fashion tech’ became a distinct subset of the technology ecosystem around 2008/2009. Heading into 2015, it seems this sector of the technology industry will not be slowing down anytime soon.
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