Why Emerging Technologies May Hold the Future of Fashion As fashion becomes more reliant on content marketing, startups focused on sophisticated analytics, 3D printing and other emerging technologies come to the industry's forefront.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The glamour of New York Fashion Week may have moved on to London, but excitement still lingers in New York over the industry's future. That excitement is owed in no small part to Decoded Fashion, a company dedicated to bringing emerging technologies into the fashion world.
Decoded Fashion recently held a four-hour event during New York Fashion Week to show that the future of fashion lies in a marriage with technology. The February 14 event served as the finale to the 550-person fashion hackathon Decoded Fashion initiated earlier this month.
The cross-pollination of fashion and tech extended to the keynote speakers last Thursday, with new Wired editor-in-chief Scott Dadich interviewing fashion phenom Zac Posen and Vogue senior market editor Meredith Melling Burke chatting with Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley. With topics ranging from new retail technology to 3D printing, attendees from both sides of the aisle were in agreement that emerging tech provides can't-miss opportunities for fashion.
One major theme was the importance of content marketing. Many in the fashion industry are still loath to engage on social media. But Posen, once gun-shy himself, said he now embraces Instagram to "fill the craving" of fans looking for insight into his creative process. "We live in a very voyeuristic culture, and if you're able to curate that voyeurism" you can be very successful, said the designer, now a judge on Project Runway, whose gowns are red-carpet favorites for many star actresses.
On a panel about customer outreach, Valentine Uhovski, Tumblr's fashion evangelist, later touched on the same theme. "We no longer have to seek out Fashion Week coverage. It comes to us. It's inescapable," he said, referring to the way in which live streams of runway shows have made formerly exclusive events more accessible. This additional exposure, he implied, has been a boon for fashion brands.
Uhovski's panel also included supermodel Coco Rocha, known for her dedicated use of social media. (She has nearly two million followers on Google+ and half a million followers on Twitter.) Rocha said she owes her popularity in part to tailoring her posts to appeal to the unique nature of each social network. In China, Rocha said, "models are bigger than celebrities," so it made sense to sign up for Chinese social network Sina Weibo. With more than 2 million followers on Sina Weibo and 340,000 on Instagram, she doesn't just post pretty photos. She said fans look for the stories behind the photos -- and she curates them carefully. "I may take 15. I may filter five. I post one."
Meanwhile, Glossi -- one of 10 companies showcased as "startups to watch" -- also underscored the importance of placing content marketing high on the priority list. "Brands are becoming journalists. Marketers are becoming editors," said Matt Edelman, founder of Glossi, a platform that brands can use to create, publish and share their own digital magazines.
Diane von Furstenberg and DKNY are already using Glossi, as is Lucky magazine. Glossi launched in public beta two months ago. "We're seeing an exciting, diverse community of creators on the platform, ranging from teenage girls to major brands and media companies," said Edelman, whose company is backed by two Santa Monica, Calif.-based venture-capital firms, Clearstone and Anthem.
"There is so much out there that we can change this industry with," Rocha said, referring to 3D printing, laser etching and other technologies now available to designers. Fashion, of course, is the domain of physical products, but digital looks set to play a major role in its future.
Three such promising concepts were presented during the event's centerpiece, where the hackathon finalists pitched their apps to a panel of fashion judges.
The winning concept, SWATCHit, is a platform to connect designers with skilled artisans. The judges -- who included Posen, Style.com editor-in-chief Dirk Standen and Steven Kolb, the CFDA's chief executive -- chose SWATCHit over Coveted, one-click purchasing through Tumblr, and 42, an analytics suite for retail stores. The winning team walked away with $10,000 cash and a launch supported by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Liz Bacelar, co-founder of Decoded Fashion, said she is already in talks with the British Fashion Council to bring the hackathon to London in the fall. She is confident the fashion establishment is coming around to the benefits of technology, and she tries to reassure designers that she isn't out to wreck their craft. "It's disruption but it's controlled disruption," she said. "It's safe disruption."