Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between fashion and technology— mostly in the context of wearables—but a recent meetup at The Working Group in Toronto shifted my focus towards the relationship between tech and fashion as it pertains to retail.
Decoded Fashion is a network of events and people aimed at exposing the fashion community to new ideas, demystifying technology, and fostering creative partnerships. The series is the brainchild of Liz Bacelar, a former CBS News producer and Emmy nominee. Bacelar also created the world’s first fashion hackathon with Conde Nast in 2013.
Decoded Fashion touts itself as the top event of its kind, connecting decision-makers in fashion, beauty, and retail with emerging and established tech companies. The series was acquired by Stylus last year and will be the official partner of SXStyle at South by Southwest in Austin in March.
Bacelar decided to carve out her own space after experiencing resistance in Silicon Valley, the place typically pointed to as the centre of the tech and startup universe. Liz’s idea of marrying fashion and tech is right on the mark: a recent article in Style.com argues that the tech industry is actively seeking the fashion world’s leadership, and that these two seemingly separate industries need to learn to play nice.
The night featured a panel discussion with Sean Power and Olivier Van Themsche. Power is an executive at The Coveteur, Canada’s second-largest lifestyle media company, while Van Themsche is the CEO of Cools, a luxury eCommerce site. The Working Group’s Rob Domagala moderated. Topics covered spanned from personal branding to social media conversions to the relationship between content and commerce.
Overall, the conversation highlighted what a massive change we’re witnessing right now when it comes to not only how we shop, but also how we brand and market fashion. “The last 20 years has been about atom-based business models shifting towards bit-based business models,” said Power. As an example, he points to how Netflix devastated Blockbuster.
At the same time, digital marketplaces have made retail more competitive than ever. “Just selling products isn’t working anymore,” said Van Themsche. “You have to give context through storytelling to package your product.”
The night also involved pitches from three startups: John Coombs showcased Rover Lab’s iBeacon, an engagement platform looking to transform your in-store experience. Beacons placed throughout retail stores might one day interact with our smartphones in ways that are location-specific. Beacons placed on runway models could also push notifications to audience’s smartphones at fashion shows.
Karn Saroya introduced us to Stylekick, an app that wants to be your fashion inspiration community. Stylekick learns from your wardrobe choices and recommends items that best speak to your personal style.
Of all the pitches that night, I was most enticed by Bryan Gold from #Paid (spoken as “hashtag paid”), an automated platform that connected brands with influencers on social media.
On #Paid, celebrities and popular social media users on Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat can create accounts and set a fee for incorporating a company’s product into their online profiles. Brands can search influencers based on number of followers and demographic specifications. Keep your eyes on this startup.
Bacelar emphasized how Canada is becoming internationally recognized for its startup scene. “There’s something going on here that’s being felt globally,” she said. “So be smart about it. Don’t let Silicon Valley take your future.”
Photos courtesy Amanda Cosco & Jasmine Pazzano