Katie Finnegan

The Lead’s inaugural networking breakfast drew nearly 80 executives from all facets of the fashion industry including retail, design, technology and venture capital firms for an inside peek at just how Walmart’s Store No. 8 works.

The retail behemoth created Store No. 8 — named for the store that Walmart founder Sam Walton used as an experimental laboratory — one year ago as an incubator for new businesses that can transform the retail landscape. Store No. 8 is operated as a separate company but is wholly owned by Walmart.

In a presentation, Katie Finnegan, principal and founder of Store No. 8 and vice president of incubation for Walmart, said her company is seeking to create or acquire businesses that will be viable within a few years and have a “path to scale” that can one day help Walmart enhance the shopping experience.

She said Store No. 8 believes virtual reality is one of those ideas as consumers shop more and more from home and are increasingly seeking an “immersive” experience. “And VR is a great medium for those things,” she said.

That led Store No. 8 to buy Spatialand, a Venice, Calif.-based virtual reality firm last month. This joins Code Eight, a firm headed by Rent the Runway cofounder Jenny Fleiss, and a group of hardware and software developers operating under the moniker of Project Franklin.

Once the businesses are brought under the Store No. 8 wing, they are provided with the back-end support they need to allow the founders to concentrate on building their brands.

Finnegan said most of the businesses will not be viable for five or so years, but Store No. 8 has the patience — and the funding — to wait in hopes that the ideas will eventually pay off.

The Lead was founded by designer Timo Weiland and technology entrepreneur Noah Gellman to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley venture-capital-based start-ups and fashion industry firms. Among those attending the breakfast were representatives from Dillard’s, The Gap, Facebook, Snapchat and Samsung as well as Cynthia Rowley, Steven Alan and others from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

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