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As New York Fashion Week winds to a close, the city’s Economic Development authority is hoping that at least one of its flagship events will have a more enduring impact. This year, technology entrepreneurs were strutting their stuff to show how they can help push the fashion industry into a new wave of growth.
Just like the city’s favorite progenies Andy Warhol and Madonna, the key to New York’s success is all about its “ability to continuously reinvent itself,” according to the NYC Economic Development Center.
Throughout Fashion Week and through the end of the month, the city is running its Project Pop-Up Store at the retail curation complex STORY on 10th Avenue in Chelsea. Here, the city awarded 11 new tech enterprises — including Perch Interactive, FashionGPS, and Acustom — with business mentoring support and demonstration space to help them connect with the small businesses of fashion. The city wants to give smaller fashion businesses the new ideas that will help them keep generating employment and add to the flow of shopping dollars into the city’s economy. A particular focus has been on propping up new retail models, as this part of the industry is still set for growth of 13% over the next 12 years, while manufacturing continues to decline, and wholesale/design stagnates.
“Our retail display technology is helping fashion, footwear, and accessories retailers to connect with a highly distracted audience”, said Perch Interactive creator, Jared Schiffman, referring to the impact showrooming is having on brick-and-mortar business. “Shoppers are using retail stores as giant, physical catalogues to get ideas for their ongoing mobile and web research. We help shoppers remember why they came to the store in the first place by creating interactive displays that encourage shoppers to touch and handle the products, forging a connection that bonds them to the product and store brand. Unlike traditional displays, Perch can be updated instantly, with fresh ideas and designs, and can pull data from Twitter, online reviews, and star ratings. That’s the sort of information people are looking for on their phones, while standing in the store.”
Bootstrapped by its founders, Perch is profitable and in the process of raising outside capital to accelerate its growth. The Perch Interactive premise is that 67% of shoppers who touch sample goods go on to purchase in-store, helping revitalize retail businesses and creating a multi-sensory shopper experience that can’t be replicated online.
Fellow winner FashionGPS uses barcode scanning technology to track and manage product samples sent to media outlets in order to improve the PR workflow chain which, historically, results in lost merchandise and missed opportunities as samples lay idle on editors’ desks instead of being featured in fashion magazines.
“Fashion GPS possesses an intrinsic value for emerging designers with limited resources. By streamlining the day to day operations associated with promoting their wares, brands both big and small are free to focus on their bottom lines,” says FashionGPS CEO, Eddie Mullon. They have calculated that when a brand misses out on the opportunity to promote their new season in the leading glossies, it is the equivalent of losing $54,742 in potential revenue. By better coordinating who has what samples for promotion and how the fashion media are using them, boutique and independent designer labels can scoop up more of this revenue, FashionGPS believes.
Another tech winner of Fashion Week’s Project Pop-Up Store was Acustom. Customers can book online for a personalized fitting in their New York showroom in order to have clothing tailor made to each shopper’s personal body measurements. Scanning technologies gives small businesses a competitive advantage over online retailers: the assurance that items purchased will fit well and look good. Internationally, this technology is already trickling in to fashion retail. Botisto, for example, has showrooms in Barcelona and South Korea that use a foot scanner to take measurements for Italian custom-made leather shoes. New York City’s promotion of Acustom is aimed at encouraging more of the 300,000 visitors who come to the city for its fashions to buy locally while they are here.
Too often, technology and social media innovation are expected to solve the problems of an industry coping with massive change from globalization, the digitizing economy, and the greater power of consumers to choose. By selecting tech entrepreneurs who are helping reshape how small local retailers sell to shoppers, New York City is hoping those businesses will have a longer lasting effect than some of the trends seen on this year’s Fashion Week catwalks.
Mark Boyd is a freelance writer based in Barcelona, specializing in software-as-a-service startups, city data systems, and sensor technologies.