Meet 8 fashion tech startups with solutions to retailer woes

Source: New York Business Journal

Eight fashion technology startups working on everything from A/B testing to help fashion retailers cut inventory bloat to a cocktail ring that can help women fend off would-be criminals had a chance to strut their stuff today.

In an event held at the sleek new Time Inc. headquarters in downtown Manhattan, the founders shared their business models with a roomful of investors and retailers as they graduated from the New York Fashion Tech Lab incubator, which is a joint venture between the nonprofit Springboard Enterprises, which aims to accelerate opportunities for female-led companies, and the city’s Partnership Fund for New York City investment arm.

New York Fashion Tech Lab grads gather on stage after the Demo Day graduation. Teresa Novellino

New York Fashion Tech Lab grads gather on stage after the Demo Day graduation.
Teresa Novellino

After getting intros from executives at the companies that they’d been working with during the 12-week program, including Alex and Ani, Bloomingdale’s, Halston, Kate Spade & Co., Kohl’s, and Macy’s, the startups, each of which had one or more female founders took the stage.

Take a look at their ideas:

Closet Collective: The millennial consumer’s embrace of the sharing economy — consider the success of Airbnb — and the $100 billion worth of unworn clothing hanging in women’s closets were the inspirations behind Closet Collective, a peer-to-peer fashion platform that cofounders Claire Allison and Seema Gohil created to help women rent out what's in their closets. “We’re still at the beginning of this rental trend,” Allison said. One thing renters like about the service is the extra money they can earn. One client, Andrea made $5,500 renting out her closet and used it to buy 300 new pieces that she subsequently rented out. Closet Collective recommends prices, which range from about 5 to 10 percent of the retail value per rental.

Thursday Finest: Personalized fashion is a key trend, and Thursday Finest, which partnered with Macy’s (NYSE: M) for the accelerator program, created a vertically integrated brand that helps people customize their own accessories by color and size (which is based on height), and then making it to order. Everything is 3D printed and currently the company is able to make men’s ties and knit scarves using a 3D printer. The company, which held a pop-up store in SoHo, was able to make items for customers on the spot using the printer. “We create individual patterns and we are able to make these for customers in minutes,” said cofounder Veronika Harbick. The company plans to introduce a third category later this month. Leslie Revitt, a vice president of strategy and innovation at Macy’s, said in her intro that the concept is in line with putting the customer at the center of the decision making. ”We think this is a great example of what on-demand manufacturing can do in the future,” Revitt said.

Smartzer: Brands that feature promotional video content, also called pre-roll video, on their websites to drive sales may not be getting the return on investment they want — and that’s a problem, because hiring models and creating videos can get expensive. “The trick with branded content is to get as much as you can out of it,” said Suzanne Hader, chief marketing officer for Halston. Through the lab program, the fashion brand has been working with Smartzer, founded by Karoline Gross on changing that. Smartzer is a video player that allows users to click on videos, find items that they see people wearing and easily click through to learn more about product and make purchases online. Smartzer has worked with brands including Puma, QVC, and Barbour, to make their videos more profitable. The results: 19 times more engagement than video pre-rolls, nine times more click-through than video pre-roll, and, pivotally, a conversion from browsing to buying rate that is five times more than pre-roll video, Gross says. A forthcoming Halston video featuring dancers will include the technology.

Genostyle: With her fashion data startup, cofounder Veronica Cabezas says she aims to take on the product recommendation issue by applying machine learning to the shopping process. Genostyle, which examined 5 million products and 6,500 brands, has developed a taxonomy to categorize them, consisting of 15 different “style genomes,” such as sporty/active, gothic, glam, and Bohemian. Each customer using a style platform gets a style code indicating the degree to which they skew toward or away from each of those styles, and that allows retailers to better target them with highly personalized offers. On the flip side, it can also examine retailer inventory to see whether the styles it stocks the most of really sell. For example, one retailer it worked with had a merchandise selection that was 33 percent “glam” but that category accounted for only 10 percent of its revenue. Meanwhile sporty accounted for 22 percent of revenue and 9 percent of inventory. “Money is being left on the table,” Cabezas said.

Elemoon: Cofounder Jing Zhou — who already sold a mobile ad company for $16 million in China — says her new company Elemoon has created what is the first consumer-ready flexible computer, a feat accomplished by creating its own supply chain using 17 factories across China. Its first-use case is in the wearable jewelry market, where Zhou found the style to be lacking. The Elemoon bracelet, which displays the time and alerts such as names or symbols when select people call your phone, has sold via Kickstarter, and in U.S. stores including Fred Segal and Free People, but there are many other product possibilities that can be produced by using the technology, including one especially appealing to harried New Yorkers. “Elemoon lets you use a handbag handle as a Metrocard,” Zhou said.

Fittery: Founder Catherine Iger created big data startup Fittery based on the concept that most recommended sizing tools for those shopping online are inaccurate and that leads to $18 billion worth of returns annually. It bases fit not on size, but on actual garment measurements, and then curates items specific to the shopper’s measurements, as well as the way they prefer things to fit. “We’re only going to show people the items that fit,” Iger said. The tool promises sizing that is 34 percent more accurate, and has found in tests that it can cut retail return rates from the current standards of 30 to 40 percent for online purchases to 6 percent. The company, which started out with menswear and plans to move into women’s wear, can also use its data to make recommendations to brands. For instance, a shirtmaker might sell significantly more shirts if it just makes them an inch narrower.

Siren: Founded by Kat Alexander, a former retailer who sold her business, Siren creates wearable safety accessories designed to prevent crimes such as rape and assault. Its signature product for now is the Siren Ring, which emits a 114-plus decibel alarm that activates instantly, with a simple twist of the ring, during an emergency. It is about the sound level of a smoke alarm and can be heard 50 feet away. The idea is to surprise or shock an assailant by holding out your hand toward their face, giving would-be victims time to escape, attract help, or to prompt the assailant to give up. It sold out a beta version of the ring that went for $245, and with partnership opportunities from 200-plus retailers, the company is now producing a less expensive version that will retail for $99 to $129.

Claire: This A/B testing platform for products and price points helps retailers figure out what to produce or stock next by sending customers online games to determine their preferences, in exchange for money-saving incentives when they shop. “It’s about providing clarity and simplifies the process of gathering data from consumers,” says cofounder Marta Jamrozik. Jamrozik says their work with one retailer helped determine that given the choice between a light gray and a dark gray sweater, consumers chose the latter by a margin of 3 to 1. The retailer had intended to order the same amount of light and dark gray. Thus, instead of selling $400,000 worth of the sweaters, they were able to sell $800,000 by producing three times more for the dark gray version. Claire, which was a finalist but not a winner for a Rent the Runway Foundation/UBS accelerator program held earlier this spring was instead handpicked by one of the judges, Rebecca Minkoff, to spend the summer in her company’s corporate offices.