The State of Fashion Tech: There is No Bubble


Third Wave Fashion post

Third Wave Fashion is opening up access to their full fashion tech database, which has 10,000 data points on 670 companies.  Last night, the consulting company’s founder, Liza Kindred, gave a talk on the current state of fashion technology (Third Wave’s specialty) and what’s going to happen in the near(ish) future. Kindred, who is also launching the first-ever monthly fashion tech report, illustrated three big points:

1. Fashion tech is overly saturated with starts-ups; however, it’s not in a bubble, it’s actually growing.
2. Certain brands are specifically winning in the fashion tech space.
3. These brands and start-ups need to work together more.

To begin with, here’s a list of categories within the fashion tech sphere, and start-ups that fall within them, who are doing things well:
Recommerce:  This is basically people selling used stuff.  There’s Poshmark, which offers a beautiful app, online and offline “posh parties,” and has a massive community.  The site has 2 million social interactions a month and $50 million dollars in investment. Kindred also cited Bib + Tuck, which uses virtual currency, and offers a very curated community.  And Vaunte, where the site chooses closets from known tastemakers, has also been getting a lot of attention lately.

True and Co. will do your bra fitting without taking measurements.

Algorithmic shopping:  Done right “on the front end you shouldn’t know you’re engaging in this,” Kindred noted.  The companies are tapping into your social graphs, but to you, they’re just asking questions. Poshly, which surveys users and sends them free beauty samples in exchange, was one example.  In using it, Kindred said “you probably signed in with your Facebook account.  On the surface you get free beauty products, but Poshly is creating a huge data set for you and people like you.”  True and Co., a bra company “started by a bunch of men,” Kindred pointed out, put together an algorithm, for which you take no measurements, to solve the problem of bra fitting.  The algorithm asks you about what you’re currently wearing and how it fits. A men’s shirt site, Bombfell, taps into the social graph and uses the same kind of algorithm.

Content and Commerce:  Style.com, and their new print magazine, is the ultimate example of an online endeavor going offline. Of a Kind (one of our favorites) was cited for successfully marrying product and content through curation. And, Kindred said, they’re “the only fashion tech company that actually started on Tumblr.”  Joyous offers online commerce but does amazing work with videos. And of course, Net-a-Porter does the best job of mixing content with luxury.  Last but not least, there’s Farfetch, which merges content and commerce in both the online and offline spheres.  For instance, they’re having their audience help them find the best offline boutiques.

Farfetch offers a range of boutiques.

Direct to consumer: “is exploding!” noted Kindred.  There’s Warby Parker, Everlane, Frank and Oak, Bonobos, Elizabeth and Clark, Sole Society, Chloe and Isabel (this one uses the Avon model, with college-aged women selling at parties in dorm rooms), BaubleBar, and Combat Gent (the founders come from garment-manufacturing families, and visit their Compton, LA factories every day).  You get the idea.  What’s also great about these start-ups is that many maintain a charitable, one-to-one infrastructure while still keeping product costs low.

Mass customization and bespoke:  These tend to be men’s wear companies, though there are some women’s.  Albert Ming will send a tailor to your home if you’re in their service area. Proper Cloth and Bespoken Clothiers are also start-ups doing well here.

Proper Cloth is part of the wave of made-to-measure men’s start-ups.

And as for the growth of the industry?  Well, $200 million was invested in fashion tech start-ups just last month.  $48.3 million of that went to b2b companies providing tools. 70% of the companies being invested in were in the US.   And here’s why Kindred doesn’t think we’re in a tech bubble: Glossybox, the UK’s answer to Birchbox, has raised over $70 million and shipped over 2 million beauty sample boxes. Nasty Gal earned $100 million in 2012. ASOS has over a million visits per day, and 46% year over year growth from 2011 to 2012.

Some other things to consider?  Kindred believes we’ll soon be hearing more about the “Internet of things,” e.g. connected, responsive objects, like pills that know when they’ve been taken or sensors that let cows send texts when they go into heat (really).  For fashion, Kindred cited in-store hangers that light up to show you how many Facebook likes the garment they’re holding has.  Consumers are also increasingly showing interest in “slow fashion,” which, like the slow food movement, lets people understand where what they’re wearing comes from.

Lastly, the fashion tech world needs more collaboration, with a focus on case studies and sharing information, and less launch buzz and focus on investments.  It also needs fewer duplicate businesses (a point well illustrated by the thousands of data points in Third Wave Fashion’s database).  And finally, truly speaking to the convergence of offline and online, mobile and desktop: Kindred said she and her team have stopped using the separate terms e-commerce, m-commerce, and f-commerce — because more so than ever at this point, it’s all shopping.


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    Really interesting stuff! It seems like there’s one more evolution just waiting to happen like virtual dressing rooms that actually work.

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