The Rise of Tech Startups for the Fashion Industry

Fashion is always a little late to the game. However, they have finally realized that investing in technology is a safe bet for the future of their entire industry. Every part of the fashion life cycle is getting the tech treatment. There are multiple startups servicing parts of the process, from design to sales to everything in between. Many large fashion groups are organizing their own fashion tech accelerator programs, hoping to secure these advancements for their business. Let’s have a closer look at what’s happening in this space.

B2B Technology Startups for Fashion

b2b fashion tech startups
A selection of companies operating in the B2B fashion technology space.

First up we have tech startups revolutionizing the design phase. For example: Shimmy uses AI to speed up the conventional apparel design workflow without sacrificing creativity. Vojd Studios uses 3D printing technology to print high fashion accessories for brands like Alexander McQueen and Loewe. And there are quite a few startups like Frilly who create sustainable designs tailored to the fit of each shopper. And there are startups like Looklet, who combine fashion, photography and technology to generate high fashion images for retailers to use on their eCommerce sites.

After design come production and supply chain. Indian eCommerce site Myntra developed Rapid, an AI-based process that speeds up and completely automates clothing manufacture by analyzing sales and identifying best selling attributes. They then use automated machines to produce these items, making fast fashion even faster and supplying demand. Paris-based startup Lokad has developed predictive optimization software, which streamlines and automates all fine-grained supply chain decisions, like when to buy stock and how much of it.

Perch’s real-time analytics provide insight into customer behavior.

Fashion Tech For Online Shopping Experience

Technology is also rapidly evolving the shopping experience. In terms of in-store, most things are geared towards AR and VR these days, with brands like Zara, Westfield or Gucci all applying these functionalities to their in-store spaces, apps and ads to add an extra digital layer. Actimirror have created smart mirrors that offer personalized recommendations and provide customer data analysis. Or consider Perch, who have married physical products with digital content to engage customers while also analyzing shopping behaviors. They work with brands like Bourjois to power virtual try-ons of their makeup in-store. The virtual makeover space is quite hot, with apps like ModiFace vying for the best virtual try-on experience.

There are just as many startups for fashion eCommerce. Here again, AI and personalization are keywords. For instance, we at Fashwell automate many visual merchandising tasks to the highest accuracy, thanks to deep learning algorithms that have the fashion knowledge of a human stylist. Visual Search is of course one of the most popular functionalities currently, which we power on the Zalando and Nelly apps as well as for Bon Prix. Linc has automated customer care, making this usually painstaking process both seamless and effective.

Zalando visual search fashion
Fashwell powers Visual Search on international editions of the Zalando app.

Most social media are the ideal marketplace for fashion. After all, fashion bloggers and influencers rose to fame on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. Although the shopping experience here is still not that seamless, Instagram, for instance, is finally starting to offer shoppable tags on brand images. Then there are startups like CherryPick who analyze social media comments for transparent product performance, or Headliner Labs which is increasing engagement through extremely targeted and smart bot messaging.

Retailers and Fashion Luxury Group Accelerator Programs

For the past two years, “fashion tech” accelerator programs have been popping up left and right. All of them look for “disruption”, “innovation” as well as a new techy image. In return they promise the chance to work with the biggest names in fashion.

Just this year, LVMH announced La Maison des Startups, a program for 50 international startups geared towards innovation in luxury fashion. Kering is a partner of Plug and Play, a 12-week program based out of Europe and the U.S. This program is focused on social and environmental impact within the fashion industry. Then comes Farfetch, which recently announced its intention to launch an accelerator for startups to connect with their network of luxury brands. John Lewis was an early investor in innovation, with the JLab innovation program now entering its fifth year.

LVMH launches “La Maison des Startups”. Image via LVMH

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless accelerators not directly connected to fashion brands that are still dedicated to bridging the gap between fashion and technology: NYFTL, VentureOut, XRC and Techstars, just to name a few.

Innovation within fashion brands

When brands aren’t accelerating, then they’re certainly investing. H&M created CO:LAB, which invests in startups focussed on sustainability and gives out yearly awards to startups making headway in that area. Zalando, one of the biggest retailer in Europe for fashion, also has a strong focus on technology, investing in companies like Magazino, who are focussed on warehouse logistics, and digital fashion brands like Ivyrevel. Similarly, both ASOS Ventures and Alibaba invest heavily in fashion brands and startups, with the latter funding the likes of Lazada Group and Paytm Mall.

The rise of tech startups for the fashion industry makes perfect sense. On both sides there’s plenty of motivation to work together. Fashion is looking for the tech edge and advantage. And startups want to sell their technology and improve the industry as a whole. It will be interesting to see how fashion makes use of it in the future.