story and photos by Charles Beckwith
There was an open call for panelists for the most recent Fashion + Tech NY event, held January 29th in a beautiful little auditorium at the Hearst building on West 57th Street. Organizers overbooked, and ended up with nine panelists, plus a moderator who participated in the discussion, all on the stage at the same time. It was understandably a bit hard to follow, but keenly represented was the gold rush currently happening somewhere between the Garment District and Silicon Alley, with footholds from Dumbo to Greenpoint, taking financing from the direction of San Francisco. Moderator and Third Wave Fashion founder Liza Kindred said her group is currently tracking over 600 initiatives in the field. Technology start-ups related to fashion are booming.
Panelist David Goldberg is the CEO of FreshNeck, a mens accessories exchange service, “Netflix for ties, bow-ties, pocket squares, and cuff-links.” Jill Sherman is CEO of Modalyst, “a curated, online marketplace connecting emerging designers and independent boutiques.” Melissa Fudor is Marketing Director at inSparq, “a social commerce technology company.” Michael Rosom is CEO at Eyeon Response, an interactive advertising company. Samantha Lim is the Fashion Indie Editor in Chief, as well as Fashion Director at Lookbooks Media. Sabine Seymour is Chief Creative Officer at Moondial, a smart materials research group working for the likes of Siemens and GE. Valerie Kerbage is CEO of Leechee NY, which provides design services for everything from ad campaigns to e-commerce. Also on the panel were Robyn Scheck and Michael Robinson of Hearst’s digital group.
Liza kicked off the panel with introductions and asked each panelist to mention a favorite app or idea of the moment. Michael Rosom said he sees the return of mom and pop operations; Melissa Fudor was enthusiastic about the discount eyeglasses by mail golden child, Warby Parker; Sabine Seymour mentioned a company that doesn’t even have a web site yet called OM Signal, “bio sensing apparel for well-being,” according to an angel pitch; and Jill Sherman advocated Fohr Card, “the first verified blogger directory that helps brands connect with bloggers by providing organized, verified and searchable data.”
The first discussion question put to the panel, “what is fashion tech,” drew lots of similar answers, but no definitive consensus, as they mostly began with, “using my company as an example. . . .” A more interesting round came when Ms. Kindred asked the panel about the nature of social media in relation to fashion. Several panelists seemed to agree that different platforms have different value, and it’s really about what works for you individually or as a company. Melissa Fudor brought up social commerce, Robyn from Hearst agreed, saying sharing and tap to buy are the big things in digital magazines right now. “Six to ten percent of shares convert to purchases on inSparq,” said Ms. Fudor. Liza Kindred brought it back to something that had been touched on briefly int he introductions, a site called Bib and Tuck, which represents the forefront of what is being called “collaborative consumption,” aka “re-commerce.” Users of Bib and Tuck, rather than buying and selling, simply give and take, “shopping without selling.” It is similar in concept to panelist David Goldberg’s FreshNeck tie-swapping system, and miles away from how people have previously done online commerce with now traditional sites like eBay and Piperlime.
Panelist Sabine Seymour seemed to be the most technical person on the panel, with her work on making smart textiles. She predicts that sooner than we think, we’re going to be wearing motherboards and not even realize it. With technologies like carbon nanotubes which can harness and store power as you move and fabric flexes around you, it’s not just going to be your refrigerator that’s getting its own MAC address, it will probably be your skirt and coat, and your gloves tracking your gestures, and they’ll all be talking to each other behind the scenes of your life, with your seams being like the back staircases in Downton Abbey for an army of helpers that support your lifestyle.
A site that got a brief mention near the end, still in beta, is Fashion Solver. There, visitors are invited to guess the brands being worn by people in street style images. It is a sort of The Price Is Right model for crowd-sourcing answers to the eternal question, “where did you get that fabulous coat.”
In the closing remarks, Samantha Lim made a statement about our out-of-control consumer culture, observing “we create all these technologies to organize all this stuff,” but the panel quickly moved on. Fashion folk are rarely disposed to dwell on the fact that we don’t actually need most of the things being advertised and promoted at us all the time.