Weekly Stories

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This past weekend I teamed up with four crazy smart teammates to compete in the first-ever Fashion Hackathon.

The event was a blast and, I think, a pretty big success. It was the most diverse Hackathon anyone could remember – by a lot. The competition was tough, and people worked hard. Some honest good ideas emerged. Judges were fair and asked the right questions. It felt a little bit like Group Week on American Idol.

A month ago hackathons were an exotic notion, the terrain of guys like the genius 23-year-old developer who built me the website of my dreams. Now it’s something I’m looking forward to doing again next year.

The weekend kicked off with a diverse panel of articulate fashion insiders. They shared frustrations and ideas. Distilling what we had each just heard, my team and I quickly aligned on a few observations.

Given our backgrounds – two of us were lawyers, two have MBAs, one is a legit MD from Stanford Medical School – we came to see the industry’s problems as systemic, structural, and epidemic in nature. Everywhere you turn, you find just-slightly-lagging technology; and everyone you meet seems to feel things ought to be way more futuristic by now; but nobody has really defined for the industry yet what that is gonna look like, and people are tiring of humoring the notion that a radically different future awaits.

“The industry’s problems” may be the wrong phrase for the thing we diagnosed Saturday afternoon. But something smelled fishy, especially when we stepped back and assessed, as outsiders, the performance or health of the industry as a whole.

8446686645_9b8d8ff3f2_bAt almost every link in the value chain for fashion goods – in design, production, runway shows, curation/merchandising, distribution, pricing and markdowns, inventory forecasting, targeted marketing, and so on – people can intuit that they ought to have more data and stronger analytical tools guiding their decision-making. But nobody’s yet articulated what a good solution looks like, or how the killer app of the future differs from all the other fake-bespoke database tools already in widespread use today.

We observed that data are not at all scarce in the fashion industry – quite the opposite: there’s a ton of data, all around us, everywhere you could think to look.  The problem plaguing all these pools of information is illiquidity.  That is, knowledge fails to flow.  Ideally, information should move from the parties generating or observing it, to any or all other parties who might valuably use it.

All the information anybody could possibly want is already, today, in someone’s reach, but it’s usually in someone else’s reach.  And you can bet he or she is guarding it – jealously.

Perceiving this dynamic, my team and I explored ways we could use other people’s information to create value. We asked, if we could know anything anyone else is capable of knowing, how could we use that all-access knowledge pass to create real, lasting, exponentially-growing value for the fashion industry as a whole? A company that could do that would be everyone’s friend in no time.  So we brainstormed ways new data sets might help grow overall-industry sales or lower overall-industry costs.

Then, for each idea, we spent a couple minutes cooking up product ideas and rapidly shooting most of them down – giving serious thought only to the few that we actually made sense as products someone would use or buy.

We were supposed to find ways to use sponsor-company APIs, but we wound up exploring ways to turn fashion companies themselves into APIs.

By imagining we could tap into an existing, worldwide network of hardware, software, and information, we couldn’t help feeling – and I continue to feel, strongly – that we have at our fingertips, in 2013, all the component parts of some newer, bigger, badder fashion industry. One that makes sense for, and stands to make money in, the twenty-first century.

This was the kind of thinking that had previously led my teammates Jill and Alain to found Modalyst, and the kind of reverse-problem-solving that led me to design and build The Shoplift in 2012. Last weekend, it led our team to unearth serious structural problems we believe trap creative potential, preclude discovery, set arbitrary speed limits on trends and slow down fashion as a whole, and lead to wasteful overspending on all kinds of things.

These are big challenges, too tough to resolve in 24 hours and tougher still to pitch about in two minutes.

Which is not at all a dig at the Hackathon format, honest. I found that the two-minute pitch timing nicely reflected the reality of an industry in which everyone is terribly busy, first impressions matter a lot, and success sometimes means making a scene.8446092266_0a2463f3a1_b

Fashion insiders are furiously self-oriented people. When put on the spot to innovate, they mostly propose ideas to make their own jobs marginally easier. So far, blissfully missing out on the really important opportunities, they have steered the industry clear of the biggest revolutions, in favor of one-off features, simplifying tools, and easier ways to do business on other people’s terms (tricks to get more Likes on Facebook, for instance).

A mid-panel exit by Rachel Roy – looking amazing but ducking out early for a conflicting Saturday-morning commitment – nicely illustrated the industry’s tendency to hurry-up-and-get-back-to-work when new technology comes up in conversation.

This tendency is dangerous. It’s the kind of thing that can really hold an industry back. If we don’t decide for ourselves what the future looks like, we’re doomed to accept decisions people in other industries make for us.

I’m psyched to see how the finalists do next week. My pick to win is Fashion Dashboard, because if it doesn’t exist already it totally should.  But it’s definitely still anyone’s game, and I wish all of the contestants the very best of luck. They’re currently working round-the-clock to finish their apps in time for their big day during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. (If you don’t have tickets yet, it’s not too late.)

Look for me there or check back here for my reactions after the show.

Author Brandon Fail is the founder of The Shoplift, and the Fashion Hackathon was his first-ever hackathon. 

Miss the pitches by our five finalists teams or just want to relive the magic? Check out the video of pitches by 42, Avant-Garde, Coveted, Fashion Dashboard, and SWATCHit!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz1nJDfhKOQ&feature=youtu.be

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On Feb. 2-3, Decoded Fashion held the world’s first Fashion Hackathon, a 24-hour event where 550 registered participants and 78 teams competed to build a technology that helps American fashion designers.

About 300 developers, designers and entrepreneurs—40 percent women—worked on a variety of projects, from B2B software for production and merchandising to analytics for social media and e-commerce. Many projects were inspired by the Fashion Brief, a conversation with designer Rachel Roy, DKNY’s Aliza Licht, Rebecca Minkoff’s Uri Minkoff, Michael Kors’ Farryn Weiner, and the CFDA’s Kelly McCauley and Sideways’ Nathaniel Catanio, on what areas of the fashion industry could utilize technology to increase efficiency and drive business.

Five finalist teams were chosen to compete for the top prize—$10,000 and the chance to have its app launched by the CFDA. They will pitch live on the runway at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week during the Decoded Fashion Forum, to a panel of fashion judges including the CFDA’s Steven Kolb, Style.com’s Dirk Standen, Zac Posen, Rebecca Minkoff’s Uri Minkoff, and Gilt Groupe’s Susan Lyne.

Finalists:
42 personalizes the brick-and-mortar experience by using the best intelligence of online commerce. Founders: Cathy Han, Sarah Hum, Lucas Lemanowicz, Nicolas Porter

Avant-Garde remakes targeting marketing by matching customers with products by visually analyzing products and social media streams to understand exactly what customers want right now. Founders: Vladimir Dedov, Ajay Mantha, Carrie Mantha

Coveted is a 1-click platform for brands to sell their products through shareable tumblr images. Founders: Ian Culley, Michael Dizon, Jason Fertel

Fashion Dashboard optimizes commerce through competitive social media and merchandising analysis. Founder: Stephan Alber

SWATCHit is a peer-to-peer platform connecting global designers with emerging market artisans and overseas producers. Founders: Ramzi Abdoch, Jagjeet Gill, Jackson Lin, Henrika Makilya, Paul Yun

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Refinery29 does it again: this time they’re partnering with MADE Fashion Week to support rising design, fashion and art when the world is looking at the fashion stage in New York.

MADE Fashion Week takes place simultaneously with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, but focuses on bringing innovative fashion and emerging designers to the media spotlight. Philippe von Borries, Co-Founder and CEO of Refinery29 said that the partnership “[celebrates] personal style and [focuses] on the most original fashion.”

MADE Fashion Week’s impressive schedule includes 50 fashion shows and presentations in both New York and Paris, as well as events, concerts, and an interactive component on milkmade.com. Refinery29 will cover the event on site and on the streets  for their new, in-house development: R29 Studio, where they will conduct interviews with participating designers, celebrities, models, and makeup artists throughout the week.

The best part? You don’t have to miss a thing. Refinery29 is streaming every  MADE Fashion Week runway show on their website.

Reported by Jovana Obradovic

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Rachel Tipograph is “making Gap cool again for the first time since Bill Clinton was President,” according to Business Insider. As Gap’s Global Director of Digital & Social Media, Rachel oversees strategy, implementation and measurement. She judged the pitches at the world’s first Fashion Hackathon, and we chatted with her on what tech she can’t live without.

Decoded Fashion: What is the most useful technology to you in your job as Global Director of Digital & Social Media at Gap?
Rachel Tipograph: My iPhone. The social web doesn’t care about time nor space and having a computer in my pocket always allows me to do my job from anywhere and anytime. And Radian6. Social media stretches across every discipline of the business, and Radian6 allows anyone from the C-suite to community managers listen to conversations about Gap worldwide.

DF: What areas of fashion-tech are extremely crowded?
RT: Affiliate programs, ad tech, and SaS for social media. With the explosion of content, conversation and data happening across the web, one of the first opportunities entrepreneurs addressed was 1) how to turn massive amounts of data into meaningful interactions, and 2) turn those interactions into something that’s actionable in the sales funnel. As a result, there are an abundance of companies that have come to be in the affiliate space, ad tech and SaS for social.

DF: What areas of fashion-tech are relatively unexplored?
RT: In-store technologies and enterprise SaS. 2013 will be the year the B-to-B space explodes with innovation. Many entrepreneurs are taking learning from the B-to-C space and applying it to B-to-B. In addition, IT technology is improving at rapid speed, the cost of technology is becoming more affordable, all of these variables will influence innovation within organizations.

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Coco Rocha is a role model for social media, but also a teacher, leading classes on social media best practices for other fashion models. She shares her top three tips with us, lessons that work for tech founders, fashion designers, retailers and individuals who love and work with style, fashion and e-commerce.

  1. Don’t have just anyone run your social media. I think it’s insane when brands or celebrities relegate their social media to an intern or someone who does not know them well. Personally, even though I have a great PR team, no one except my husband and I touch any of my 10 social media accounts. It’s a lot of work, but I know that my brand, my image and my voice are authentic to me.
  2. Be consistent. Your audience wants to hear from you regularly but not too regularly. Don’t over share. People have no problem clicking “unfollow” if they feel you’re over saturating their feed. For 3 years now, I have seen people use Tumblr the way they should be using Pinterest. I also see people copying content far too much. Be original and invent content, don’t just copy and paste it.
  3. If you’re going to post pictures, be really selective about it. If I’m capturing a sunset I’ll take at least 10 pictures, I’ll then filter them using other apps, enhance them, then I really pick the best image of perhaps 30. No one wants to follow someone who does not take pride in composing an aesthetically beautiful picture. No random snap shots–treat every upload as if it was a work of art.

Coco will be speaking on the future of fashion and technology at Decoded Fashion Forum on Feb. 14. Read her thoughts on social media here, and follow her on Twitter @cocorocha.

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We may be the first Fashion Hackathon, but we’re also the first Hackathon for plenty of developers, designers and business and marketing professionals. What? how? why? do you do what? when? To answer some of the top questions, we talked to Spotify’s Hacker Advocate Andrew Mager, who’s been to more than 50 hackathons around the world.

What is the most challenging aspect of the Fashion Hackathon?
Getting people to understand that it’s more than fashion. It’s art, it’s e-commerce, it’s music, it’s retail.

What are your top 3 tips to first-time hackers?
Make friends early, network your ass off. Listen carefully to the API pitches to see what’s possible. And have fun; you’re building something in a short time that you aren’t getting paid for. You could be building the next big thing though, so don’t have too much fun!

What is the best way to form a team?
Network as soon as you walk in the door. Watch people as they watch the API demos to see which talks to interesting people. At the end of the API demos, stand up on the mic and say your skills and say what your idea is. Ask for help if you need it.

What are your top tips to experienced hackers who have never worked with fashion or retail tech?
Expand your horizons. A fashion hack is more than just nice clothes and runways. Even if you wear a nerdy black t-shirt everyday, there is a place for you at a fashion hackathon.

Andrew will meet with the Hackathon finalists for a mentorship session before they pitch at the Decoded Fashion Forum at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. @mager

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During our latest meetup, Decoded Fashion’s showcase: Rising Social Discovery, we introduced three fashion websites that will captivate you, Polyvore, Lyst and Bib & Tuck. All three have made fashion more accessible to the online user, while also creating a fashion community where users can share styles and surround themselves with trustworthy fashion aficionados.

Polyvore, a fashion platform where users can mix and max their favorite items from any e-commerce site on the web, has grown quite a lot since it started in 2005, but co-founder Jess Lee (Skyping in above) said that collaborating with brands was one of the most influential moves. She explained that it has attracted more shoppers—around 20 million users monthly—along with valuable partnership that have contributed to its popularity. Building brand ambassadors was also stressed, and the company’s main focus is still to remain loyal to their customers and always show how important they are to them.

Lyst, which brings together hundreds of brands and retailers’ ecommerce sites into one place to make shopping more personalized, also stressed the importance of building partnerships, be it with brands or bloggers. Lyst has reached out to inspirational style celebrities and popular bloggers, such as Nina Garcia and Sincerely Jules. Vice President of Business Development Hilary Peterson advised that a partnership is always a great way to get started. If the option is there, take it. Lyst now has partners in over 120 countries, but Peterson noted that the main growth comes from mobile visits—exactly why the Lyst app drops in two weeks.

Bib+Tuck, launched in November 2012, relies on building customer loyalty rather than brand partnerships, as the site specializes in vintage resale. The site allows women to “shop without spending.” How does this work? Users can post pieces they no longer want and sell them to other community members for Bib+Tuck currency, Bucks. Then, these Bucks can be used to buy a different item on the site. It’s a virtual clothes swap.

Since the site is still fairly new, their goal at this point is to create a brand identity and personality, understand who their customers are in order to target that specific user. Co-founder Sari Azout expressed their devotion to putting as much attention to the customers as to the company, making the customer feel like they belong to a community, not a marketplace.

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