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LOS ANGELES — For her next role, Kate Bosworth is modeling herself as a tech entrepreneur.
Partnering with a co-owner of specialty retail chain American Rag Cie and a former president of Gemstar-TV Guide Interactive, the actress is launching an app called Style Thief that lets people snap a photo, do an image search for a fashion item and buy it through a couple of clicks. Touting the tag line of “Snap & Steal,” the app is tapping into the popularity of street style, as well as the addictive habit of taking photos on phones and the growing importance of mobile commerce.
This story first appeared in the July 15, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“Everyone has fashion envy,” said Bosworth, as she demonstrated the app’s beta version at WWD’s offices. “Everyone can relate to that feeling of looking at an editorial, for example — or a friend, or the runway, for that matter — wanting to steal something exactly as you’re seeing it, or something similar.”
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Harboring her own urges to steal looks from Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore and Alexa Chung, Bosworth is promoting Style Thief from a vantage point as a street-style star, Hollywood insider and fashion-industry favorite. When not filming, Bosworth is also a global ambassador for skin-care line SK-II, and after designing two tie-ups with Topshop, she’s now working on a new collection to be released worldwide next spring with an unidentified Los Angeles-based fashion brand. Indeed, the black Calvin Klein minidress, Ampersand as Apostrophe tote and gold Giuseppe Zanotti kitten heels she donned recently would provoke fashion envy among her more than 120,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram.
“Every time I look at a collaboration, whether it’s with product or an online presence or something like an app, it really is the melding of art and commerce, fashion and tech,” said Bosworth, 31. “Understanding how to refine search for customers is, I think, something on the forefront of tech and fashion.”
With Bosworth on board, Style Thief hopes to distance itself from the other start-ups — including Style-Eyes, ASAP54, Snap Fashion and Styloot — that merge style with image-recognition search and e-commerce. So far, however, none of them have gained traction to become the Shazam or Instagram of the field. The e-commerce function isn’t seamless, often requiring the user to register and make a purchase on another Web site. Another challenge is the absence of a standard for the image-recognition technology that was adapted from the security industry. The apps’ success also hinges on the quality of the image. For instance, dim lighting could turn a white blouse into a pale blue concoction in a photograph.
“It’s very difficult, historically, for fashion brands to bridge that gap between physical and digital worlds,” said Scott Forshay, a senior strategist at mobile-app developer Mutual Mobile, in Austin, Texas, who has extensive experience in the retail sector. Still, he noted the importance of photos, especially for fashion-centric tech ventures, explaining: “Photography, especially on a mobile device, is a far more useful platform compared to things like texts. People love taking photos and sharing photos. I see that trend obviously continuing.”
Another ongoing trend is for celebrities to enter the tech world. While Ashton Kutcher leads the pack with some 42 investments in companies, ranging from social-commerce jewelry to a wash-and-fold laundry service, model Lily Cole created an online social network that encourages members to do things for others for free. Stylist-turned-designer Rachel Zoe helped fund apparel-related start-ups such as Pose, DailyLook and NuOrder.
Style Thief is Bosworth’s second dalliance with technology. In 2010, she connected with MySpace cofounder Josh Berman and Diego Berdakin to launch and design JewelMint, the subscription-based accessories line from BeachMint, in Santa Monica, Calif. Her involvement lasted more than two-and-a-half years.
With Style Thief, “it’s a natural evolution of my interest in tech and fashion,” she said. “In this particular sense, the simplicity of how the tool was designed was what I was attracted to.”
Holding the title of Style Thief’s chief marketing officer, Bosworth recruited her husband, director Michael Polish, to finesse the app’s graphics as chief creative officer. Since jumping on board in the past month, she gave tutorials to friends, including stylist Cher Coulter, who saw the potential of quickly finding clothes for photo and TV shoots. Plus, she has a vision for the company.
“We’re not producing merchandise for the app — yet,” Bosworth said coyly.
For now, Style Thief, which relies on Cortexica for its visual-search and image-recognition technology, aims to be a one-step service for consumers looking for clothes and accessories for women, men and children. The focus on ease of use is the Los Angeles-based company’s rationale for not immediately adding a social aspect to the app, despite the buzz around social media. It does include options for typing a text search and sending an alert to notify the user when an item goes on sale. Users also can search for specific prints and patterns.
“We want to be a service app,” said Sam Russ, the app’s creator, who is the daughter of American Rag co-owner and Style Thief chief executive officer Larry Russ. “You don’t need to go through a social interface in order to take a picture of a top that you want to buy later on. Down the line, you’ll be able to share, you’ll be able to like [and] you’ll be able to see user reviews for items.”
Bosworth and Style Thief executives declined to disclose the amount of their investment and the forecast for revenue. Ian Aaron, the former Gemstar president who now serves as Style Thief’s head of operations and technology, said he expects the nine-person company to become profitable by yearend. Since the launch of the beta version last November, active users come back about seven times a month
Paving the path to profitability are launches in European countries, such as the U.K. and Germany, within the next 60 days, as well as a feature that enables Style Thief to pass on a user’s registration information to a retailer and fulfill a purchase in a manner similar to Amazon.com’s one-click ordering. Acting like a unified wallet, that function will become available this holiday with two yet-to-be-announced retailers in the U.S., Aaron said. The retail partners are also promised preferred placement in searches and integration into special collections curated by Bosworth, he said.
Style Thief receives a commission for the retail sales. It aggregates search results from more than 300 retailers, including Forever 21, Swell.com, Madison, Saks Fifth Avenue and Moda Operandi. Originally designed for the iPhone, the app will be available on Android phones later this year.
To attract consumers, Style Thief plans to kick off a marketing campaign, including TV commercials, later this year. It is also counting on Bosworth. Earlier this month, she spotted a picture of a red dress, took a screen shot and scanned it on Style Thief. The app discovered that it was designed by Valentino and sold on Net-a-porter.com. Bosworth bought it with plans to wear it to Style Thief’s launch party on Wednesday at the Chateau Marmont, in West Hollywood.
“Our intention is to be a tool for consumers to find something and ultimately purchase,” Bosworth said. “It’s as easy as that.”