New York Fashion Tech Lab, the new accelerator for early stage start-ups in the fashion industry, had its demo day Thursday.
The event was held here at Hearst Tower, and featured the eight chosen fashion technology firms to speak about their products to retailers, brands and investors.
This story first appeared in the July 25, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The firms that presented included: online fit technology firm Clothes Horse; real-time analytics comparison platform StyleSage; crowdfunding, virtual designer studio Nineteenth Amendment; shipping logistics membership program Suddenlee; online personal stylist firm Stylit; social commerce, selfie shopping platform Stylinity; interactive display technological firm Perch, and visual merchandise trend analytics platform Trendalytics.
A collaborative effort between major fashion retailers and serial technology entrepreneurs, the 12-week accelerator program is funded mostly by retailers rather than venture capital firms looking to get a return on their investment. There is some funding from VCs such as Springboard Enterprises and the Partnership Fund for New York City.
The purpose of NYFTL is to pair fashion-tech start-ups with mentors from sponsor firms such as Ann Inc., the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., J. Crew Group Inc., Kate Spade & Co., Macy’s Inc. and Ralph Lauren Corp.
Mary Beech, chief marketing officer for Kate Spade & Co., said, “The benefit of the program for us is that we are always looking to create an experience for our customer that goes beyond the commerce side.…This partnership gives us the ability to weigh in on technology, getting in on the ground floor to do things differently in the marketplace.”
Beech’s firm mentored Clothes Horse and Stylinity, and had them meet with Kate Spade executives from multiple departments from technology to corporate communications to e-commerce. “This was an opportunity for the mentee to get feedback from various disciplines from within the company,” she said. That feedback included learning what challenges Kate Spade faces and is seeking solutions for, as well as how to pitch executives who they now “know have attention spans that are short” and have very little time.
According to Clothes Horse cofounder Vik Venkatraman, the experience has been great exposure for the startup, which was also mentored by Macy’s. “This program was a fast track to get in front of key executives that would have taken two months if we were to set up meetings on our own. We learned from them what they needed from our product to help them improve fit, increase sales and help with inventory.”
While the data analytics that Clothes Horse can provide helps design teams improve fit, the actual orders that are placed from users who provide their measurements can also help determine the appropriate inventory levels for different sizes. At demo day, Macy’s senior vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s Glen Schanen said Clothes Horse and the retailer are partnering for a pilot program in several men’s wear categories that include suiting, button-down shirts and polo shirts.
Todd Spering, chief executive officer of Stylinity, spoke of how his firm can help retailers target the Millennial consumer through selfies and shopping the social network sites. “There are 80 million Millennials and 100 million selfies a day,” he said. His firm offers turn-key setups where consumers can go to a photo section in the fitting room, scan a bar code for the item they are trying on, snap a selfie and send it via social commerce platforms to their friends, who are then able to shop the item from the photo.
Yaniv Nissim, Stylit’s cofounder, said of his experience with the Ralph Lauren team: “We learned what their needs are, and how do we craft a pilot program with them. We also learned how important it is for us to make it easy for them to integrate our platform with their systems.” That level of knowledge, Nissim said, helps his firm learn how to improve its systems and set up functions so it can work with other brands as well, both large and small.
Another firm presenting at demo day was Nineteenth Amendment, whose ceo is Amanda Cohen. Mentored by Alex and Ani, Cohen spoke about how consumers can discover new designers at their virtual studio, prepurchase items that aren’t yet produced, and then once a minimum run is purchased, have it made in the U.S. The actual production time is about three weeks. She also spoke about Millennial consumers and how their shopping preferences require retailers to provide a “constant stream of new products in a new way.”
NYFTL cofounder Kay Koplovitz, who’s also chairman of women entrepreneur accelerator Springboard Enterprises, said the program was perfect for New York City, “given the dominance of the apparel industry, from design, manufacturing and retailing,” as well as how the “tech quadrant is becoming very healthy here.
“We are definitely planning on doing this again. It is going to be an annual program,” Koplovitz said.
Maria Gotsch, president and ceo of the Partnership Fund, said the program focused on business-to-business to help the start-ups get customer traction among the fashion firms, with the idea that if they can “show customer interest in what they are doing, it would in turn help them get the attention and capital of investors,” Gotsch said.
The Partnership Fund originated 17 years ago with $110 million in capital from the private sector and wealthy individuals such as Henry Kravis of KKR & Co. The purpose of that funding, which had a mandate to invest in New York City, was to help with policy and advocacy programs that create jobs in the city.