The New York Fashion Tech Lab, known for innovating new technologies to advance the fashion industry beyond the runway to help shape the future of retail, will be opening applications for the 2020 program in a few weeks.

The nonprofit program, cofounded by Springboard Enterprises and elite fashion retailers, is community-driven, relationship-building and collaborative. The support and active involvement in the NYFTLab program by supporting retailers and brands, including Levi Strauss & Co., PVH Corp., Foot Locker and Accenture, is perhaps the largest source of success. During the program, brand partners, all who recognize the importance of technology in advancing the industry, work directly with participants on a journey to revolutionize the way brands operate, bringing solutions to brands, retailers and consumers.

Technology, NYFTLab says, is shaping and reshaping how consumers and retailers experience and inform fashion trends. Here, Jackie Trebilcock, managing director at NYFTLab, talks to WWD about the upcoming 2020 program, the innovative ideas in tech pushing the fashion industry forward, and previews what the retail industry can expect in the near future.

WWD: What can you tell us about the focus for the upcoming year’s program?

Jackie Trebilcock: Each year The New York Fashion Tech Lab works closely with our partners to target new, innovative solutions to advance and push the industry’s traditional boundaries forward. We focus on recruiting, qualifying and catalyzing companies whose innovative approach to creating solutions and services have the potential to address an area of friction experienced by our retail brand partners, and ultimately consumers.

As the program has evolved, we are seeing a greater influx of companies and their developments that may not have been created for the fashion industry but do have an impactful solution that could be applied. Our search for promising innovations in 2020 has expanded to reach global markets, with the intention being to engage our fashion and retail partners with the most ground-breaking innovators worldwide.

WWD: Can you describe the application process for the program?

J.T.: The Lab runs for 12 weeks annually from March until early June each year. Recruitment for the program takes place the prior year in October, after which the reviewing process of applicants begins in November. This year’s application opens Oct. 7, 2019, with a deadline of Nov. 15.

A number of selected finalists are invited to interview with our partners each February, in order to decide which companies will be selected for the program. NYFTLab will then announce the selected lab companies along with their 2020 fashion and retail partners to the general public in early March.

WWD: What does NYFTLab look for in applicants?

J.T.: A goal of NYFTLab is to support women-led, female-founded companies. One piece of criteria for applicants is that the company has either a female founder, cofounder or senior team member who has decision-making responsibilities and an equity stake in the company, comparable to the rest of the management team.

Once the applicants are identified, the selection process begins for companies that are considered “market ready,” meaning their product or service is already in use with customers in beta and is ready to deploy. Our fashion and retail partners look for companies they can work with to innovate and complement their impact, with the intention of hopefully integrating into existing systems and processes.

WWD: What does the experience look like for these up-and-coming innovations?

J.T.: NYFTLab prides itself on being an innovative and non-traditional business catalyst program that provides unmatched industry access and resources for innovators. The selected participating companies have a unique opportunity to work directly with our brand partners to bring impactful solutions to the brands, retailers and consumers by revolutionizing the way brands are able to operate.

Lab companies also receive support from and access to NYFTLab’s one-of-a-kind Expert Network, consisting of industry experts, successful entrepreneurs, investors, as well as from our technology and consulting program partners. The participants have access to highly curated training and programming, which includes pitch sessions and exclusive networking opportunities. The objective is to arm lab companies with practical tools and valuable insight to the industry that should assist them in growing their companies.

WWD: How has the program changed since its inception in 2014?

J.T.: New York Fashion Tech Lab launched in 2014 as one of Springboard Enterprises’ industry sector programs, with the mission of engaging fashion and retail leaders headquartered in what is known as the Fashion Capital. As NYC’s premier business catalyst program for emerging tech innovators, we began to receive an influx of requests from interested applicants and new partners spanning from Russia, Singapore, China, Paris, London, Switzerland, Tel Aviv, as well as other major cities in the U.S., allowing us to expand our recruitment and selection of entrepreneurs and brand partners globally.

WWD: What is the future of the fashion tech industry? How is retail changing with the growth of technology?

J.T.: Technology is now seen as an intersection for all industries, including retail. Lab companies have created and implemented solutions in the areas of visual search, AI, Fit technology, AR/VR for shopping, and consumer insights to name a few. The goal is to bring together technology solutions that are innovating at the intersection of fashion, retail and technology and help the end consumer be more efficient and direct in their shopping experience and process.

WWD: How have consumer behaviors changed with the emergence of technology in retail? How will this continue to change and develop?

J.T.: The change in customer behavior is driven by the embrace of technology on a grand scale. As new technologies are introduced into the market, consumers are dictating how they wish to engage with brands and retailers. Consumers are in the driver’s seat. Staying abreast of tech trends and managing consumer expectations are imperative for retailers and brands because the industry is ever-changing. In the past, brands and retailers were in the position of dictating what consumers wanted. Consumers are now leading the charge in how they interact with the brand and retail experience.

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