The New York Fashion Tech Lab, which connects women-led, business-to-business, fashion- and retail-focused technology companies to advance the industry, will reveal its latest cohort on Wednesday, and the list, shared with WWD ahead of the announcement, looks like a snapshot of the fashion industry’s priorities of the moment.
Naturally, the metaverse looms large, but it doesn’t dominate. The lineup of six women-led businesses looks like an even split of technologies aimed at traditional and newfangled challenges, which is notable because the finalists were selected by a discerning panel of major brands and retailers. Think of it as something akin to a tech wish list, curated by some of the world’s top fashion houses and other industry leaders.
“Of these six businesses, it’s like existing problems and the new world, in a sense,” explained Jackie Trebilcock, NYFTLab’s managing director. “We had a lot of applicants in the metaverse, NFTs, digital skins, gaming and all that, and I wasn’t sure if we would have a whole cohort of that. I think it’s so cool that it’s really a mix between the two. So they haven’t lost focus on the core things.
“It’s like, yes, the metaverse is great. But we still have to figure out returns.”
The metaverse — or perhaps metaverse-adjacent themes — accounted for half the list, alongside focus areas like returns, personalization and social shopping. While diverse, all of them fall within NYFTLab’s mission to further technology advances in fashion and retail.
Founded by Springboard Enterprises, the nonprofit offers a 12-week program beginning this month and running through June. During that time, the businesses will meet with senior business executives, investors and experienced entrepreneurs, as well as attend workshops and panel discussions on issues relevant to fashion tech companies, such as data optimization, proofs of concept, technology architecture and scalability, privacy, security and broader industry trends.
The program culminates with the founders making presentations to fashion and retail executives, investors and media representatives at the Tech Runway Demo Day.
The concept of bringing rising stars together with some of the world’s top design houses and stores draws plenty of interest, and not just from start-ups.
For most years, the lab attracted six or seven companies, according to Trebilcock, but more than a dozen signed on for the 2022 program. Many are returning partners, such as LVMH, Burberry, Richemont, Levi Strauss & Co., Macy’s, Perry Ellis International, Estée Lauder Cos., PVH, Tapestry, Kate Spade, Tory Burch and Accenture.
This year, Walmart joins the fold for the first time. So does Marriott, as it looks at ways to connect with guests beyond their hotel stays and explores “the role hotels might have in the future of retail,” said Dana Hopp Peritz, Marriott’s vice president of retail and experiences.
The appeal is evident. Supporting female-founded, women-run businesses, especially in technology, makes for a worthwhile cause. NYFTLab can also fill an important gap for established brands on the hunt for fresh ideas and innovation — whether as a primary source for potential partnerships or to complement a company’s own efforts. For instance, LVMH, Estée Lauder, Macy’s and Walmart already run their own incubators.
“Retail’s future depends on innovation, and the industry should invest extensively in the digital technologies that can augment human intelligence, enabling them to be used confidently and with ease,” Accenture said.
For the firm, start-ups are a “critical” source of new capabilities for brands, and the lab offers a front-row view of new technologies and the opportunity to see what they can do in a timely manner.
But that’s not the only reason they seem to boomerang back to the lab, according to Trebilcock.
“The reason that they continue to join the program, they have told me — as an aggregate of comments over the years — is that they’re doing it together,” she explained. “They’re evaluating these companies, asking questions together and then ultimately deciding on the cohort. So they’re not just doing it in a silo of their organization.”
Since 2014, NYFTLab has hosted more than 30 brands and retailers, including Matchesfashion, Ralph Lauren, Vera Bradley, J. Crew, Ann Inc., Global Brands Group, Li & Fung, Alex & Ani, American Eagle Outfitters, Brooks Brothers, Foot Locker, Fossil, Halston, VF Corp., Kohl’s and Lands’ End.
Across eight editions of the program, 64 businesses have gone through the lab — including Zeekit, which was eventually acquired by Walmart; Obsess, whose participation led to a collaboration with Vera Bradley; Eon, which went on to nab a $10 million Series A round last month, and Vntana, which boasts backers like Mark Cuban and Oculus cofounder Brendan Iribe and partnerships with Joor and others.
Six more businesses will join the NYFTLab community this month. The ninth cohort comprises the following:
• Dress X, a platform for digital garments.
• Squadded, which focuses on social shopping for e-commerce.
• Window, a customized search engine for personalized shopping.
• GreenList, a peer-to-peer returns solution.
• Digital Village, developer of a sustainability-focused MMO (massively multiplayer online) Metaverse, connected to a Social Marketplace.
• Funomena, which specializes in online games for fashion, music, dance and self expression.
If the composition of NYFTLab’s new cohort reflects the balance of old versus new retail that the industry faces today, Trebilcock takes heart in that.
“It’s reassuring that, as an industry, we’re staying focused. But also looking toward the future.