From sourcing clothing to marketing original pieces in real time, technology is changing the way brands and buyers experience fashion.
In a world where evening gowns include responsive fluttering butterflies, sports bras offer a refreshing cool down and cocktail frocks know the wearer better than she knows herself, fashion innovators have ample opportunities to push the industry to futuristic limits.
Technology is playing a bigger role than ever in fashion — a trend that will be evident in New York Fashion Week and the London, Milan and Paris Fashion weeks that follow.
From rings that alert wearers to their most important messages and calls to apps that organize outfits and enable users to secure their favorite looks, fashionistas have never had more opportunities to purchase and wear the latest trend pieces.
“At the intersection of fashion, retail and technology, there are amazing innovations taking place that are transforming the industry,” said Jackie Trebilcock, managing director of the New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTL), a 12-week program that connects fashion tech startups to major retailers, industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors.
“It is becoming more crucial to consider how you can integrate technology into every experience — both on and offline — in every industry,” she said.
An increasing number of women are at the epicenter of these transformations — so much so that, for the first time, the NYFTL will be focusing solely on women-led fashion tech companies this spring. Here are four mothers of invention at the forefront of wearable technology, inspiring the industry and the next generation:
Christina Mercando D’Avignon, Ringly
For some women, smart jewelry is desirable only if it’s discreet. That’s the idea behind Ringly, a wearable tech startup that UX designer Christina Mercando d’Avignon built with simplicity in mind.
In a recent interview with Cambio, the founder and CEO said she wanted “the most relevant information sent to me without it really being distracting to what I was doing or who I was with.” The result is a collection of semi-precious smart rings for iOS and Android that retail for $195 to $260.
Users can tailor their alerts, including calls, messages, calendar alerts and apps like Facebook. A connected phone vibrates and flashes customizable notifications. This means a user can choose to be notified only if, say, a call from the sitter or the boss comes through.
“We decided to use no screws, no plastics, no buttons, no USB ports,” Mercando D’Avigon told Wareable. “It looks like a ring, and with it sitting next to another cocktail ring, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That’s part of the magic of what we do. It’s a really difficult design challenge to make the technology disappear.”
While the patent-pending technology may be difficult to discern, it’s there — each ring (available in eight styles including black onyx and emerald) connects via Bluetooth to the Ringly app on a user’s smartphone. The accompanying ring box doubles as a charger.
D’Avignon told Wareable that the vibration motor in the rings is like “a personal assistant, tapping you on the shoulder.”
Jenny Griffiths, Snap Fashion
Jenny Griffiths was studying computer science at the University of Bristol in the U.K. when she first started coding the algorithms that would eventually allow her to launch her tech start-up, Snap Fashion, at age 25.
Currently, Snap Fashion has more than 250,000 “snaps” per month; Griffiths also recently beat out 300 companies to win first place in Cisco’s British Innovation Gateway Awards, which aims to find the best tech startups in the UK. The website and app lets shoppers match an image of an article of clothing with a similar product they can then buy online.
“I’m one of those people who always struggles to find the looks I’m after,” Griffiths told the fashion site Drapers. “Searching by images seemed like the obvious thing to do.”
After an image is uploaded, the software searches more than 250 online retailers to find a store that carries the item or one like it. The app also allows a user to create a wish list that sends alerts when items go on sale.
“Visual search is a sector of computer science which teaches a computer how to see,” Griffiths said in an interview with Computer Weekly.com. “It comes naturally to humans, but to computers it’s just a bunch of pixels, so we’ve managed to program a computer to see colours (sic), shapes and even textures.”
Wray Serna, Cloth
“It’s important to see all of your outfits laid out in one place,” fashion designer and Cloth cofounder Wray Serna told Forbes.com. “Cloth lets you see what you wear for different occasions and in different weather conditions.
“Seeing your outfits all organized like that helps you to develop your personal style,” she continued. “It also helps to fill in your wardrobe gaps with new items or to make new outfits out of what you already have.”
With Cloth, which was part of the NYFTL in 2015, a user can search to find the best options for the current weather or ask friends to weigh in on outfits before a first date or job interview. The app also allow users to search looks and share outfits on social media.
If the idea seems oddly familiar, it is. As Forbes.com points out, “There are many memorable scenes from the [movie] Clueless, but for most fashion fanatics, the one that stands out best is Cher scrolling through her virtual closet on her computer.”
Veronika Sonsev, inSparq
To help brands capitalize on the fashion trends that bubble up from social media, Veronika Sonsev cofounded inSparq. The company allows retailers and brands to identify and market products that are trending on social media in real time.
“InSparq is a recommendation engine, and the way we power our recommendations is we look at what people share socially across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+,” Sonsev explained to the New York Business Journal.
“Once we figure out those products, we give [retailers and brands] an opportunity to do this on-site, in email marketing and now we can do it in ads,” she said.
In 2015, inSparq was part of the NYFTL — an opportunity that helped the company gain traction with wider audiences.
“We joined the tech lab to gain visibility among large retailers,” said Sonsev. “The program was fantastic for us, as we were matched with Kate Spade and Alex & Ani as mentors.”
Soon after completing the program, Sonsev participated in the NYFTL Demo Day where she met Adiant Media, the digital technology company that then acquired inSparq for an undisclosed amount.
Since the sale, Sonsev founded Women in Wireless, a non-profit that promotes and develops female leaders in mobile and digital media and acts as a mentor at several startups.
“I’m an active mentor at XRC Labs, Dreamit and ERA and on the advisory board of FashionDigital and on the retail committee of Remodista,” said Sonsev, who advises retail tech startups on marketing, strategy and business development. “It’s been fun taking everything I learned and using it to help other young companies.”
With support from organizations like Women in Wireless, creative minds will continue to turn their fresh ideas into smart fashions that someday may actually knock the wearer’s socks off.