5 Things You May Have Missed This Week

By Georgia Buchanan

1. FashTech Summit Video Highlights Day 1

For those of you who missed our inaugural London Summit, or for those of you who made it but are getting withdrawal symptoms and want to be transported back to Studio Spaces once again, click here to see a video of Day 1 highlights.

2. Fashion Brands Are Turning To The Little Guys For Help

As the big fashion brands start to become increasingly aware of the changes occurring in their industry, it is the smaller tech start ups who begin to benefit. In previous digests we have talked about both Topshop and ASOS joining forces with L Marks and Wayra respectively to launch accelerators to help find new upcoming tech start ups to work with. But why the sudden interest in the tech world from these retail giants now? Why not just continue to develop ideas in-house? Martin Newman, founder and chief executive of e-commerce consultancy Practicology, said: “It could be cheaper and could generate good ideas that deliver a better customer experience and enable retailers to serve customers more cost-effectively. Start-ups will be more agile and will find existing solutions that could otherwise take retailers a lot longer to develop and cost a lost more.” This isn’t to say that the brands are relying solely on these outside start ups, however. Cliff Cohen, chief information officer at ASOS, says the company is also greatly expanding their tech team alongside of launching the start up programme, demonstrating their recognition of a need to move towards innovation.

Brands failing to innovate to meet their customers needs, such as BHS, are falling at the wayside. If you are not responding to what your consumer is needing or lacking from your online and in-store experience, then your consumer will go elsewhere. And for each brand, this need is unique. For ASOS, innovation means keeping up with customers on mobile and social media as more than 50% of their orders come from mobile devices. Therefore, Cohen explains that “The [start up] brief is looking at advanced search, personalisation and more. We are also very focused on mobile - but not exclusively.”

River Island is another retailer tapping into the expertise of technology start ups in the search for innovation. Partnering with accelerator TrueStart, they have gained early access to start ups. TrueStart’s chief executive, Baz Saidieh, says that start-up partnerships seem to be very ‘in vogue’ at the moment, but that retailers need to be smart in the way in which they implement these partnerships in order to be using them to the greatest of their potential. He criticises Topshop’s brief as too specific and thus reducing the scope and size of their possible investment pool. There is also a risk on the side of the start up of compromising their own growth by tying themselves to one single brand.

But regardless of these small points to consider, it is undoubtedly an exciting time for start ups as the interest in them from fashion brands continues to grow. “The potential is significant. Online fashion is still a small percentage of the entire fashion market and new technologies will have a significant impact on this” says Cohen. #FashTech

3. Amazon Set To Take Over As Top US Fashion Retailer

Long gone are the days of Amazon: the book and electronics seller. In an unprecedented turn of events, the online marketplace seems set to overtake Macy’s as the top fashion retailer in the US next year. Whilst designer fashion brands seemed adamant never to sell via the e-commerce giant, it seems that now the website is becoming a popular destination for both apparel shopper and wealthy customers, making said brands question their firm stance against the site. We may not be seeing the likes of Gucci or Burberry appearing Amazon’s pages anytime soon, but it’s looking as though the less expensive designer brands are under increasing pressure to get on board.

Whilst interest in retail shops continues to decline, Amazon’s membership has seen a 50% increase in 2015 alone, putting its overall user database at around 54 million people currently. Of course, not all of these 54 mil will be into the idea of buying clothes from the e-commerce site, but research has shown that Amazon Prime’s key demographic (upper-income households) are highly likely to purchase clothes on Amazon, making twice as many purchases as their non-Prime counterparts. It is this subgroup of Amazon consumers that makes Amazon appealing to designer brands. And whilst some may think that the site needs somewhat of an image overhaul before it can realistically expect to attract certain labels, Morgan Stanley carried out a survey which found that “convenience, Prime, and broad selection - the same factors that have driven [Amazon’s] success in other categories - are driving its growth in clothing/apparel as well.” Added to that, 35% of women said Amazon was an “excellent” or “great” source of fashion inspiration. So maybe they should follow the age-old phrase: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

An enticing feature Amazon has promised to its hesitant labels, however, is a promise not to discount their goods, as is the case with most other products, which seems to be helping the shopping site’s case. That, plus the fact that it’s becoming harder and harder to deny the “Amazon effect”. Bricks-and-mortar shops are struggling to generate sales and footfall and Nordstrom’s co-president Pete Nordstrom says that “Amazon has a lot to do with it.” So for the bigger fashion brands it basically comes down to a question of image versus sales; do you want to protect your brand’s ‘dignity’ and avoid aligning yourself with Amazon’s lower-end branding, or do you swallow your pride and admit that this e-commerce giant might just help to bring in your biggest consumer base ever?

4. Fur: The Next Step In 3D Printing

This week it has been revealed that researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have taken the next step in 3D printing, developing a method for creating artificial hair with their printers. This latest breakthrough means that they are able to print anything from paintbrushes to fake fur; the latter being a cause for excitement in the fashion world.

The technology, called Cilllia, is able to print hairs as thin as 50 microns in diameter, meaning that new types of tactile surfaces can now be created artificially. “3D printers nowadays have potential to change the way we design materials, yet we are still mostly using it to print static objects like plastic cups,” said Jifei Ou, a PhD student at the Tangible Media Group. “We aim to create programmable materials, and hair is just one of the examples we are exploring in our lab now.”

Not only does 3D printed fake fur make us think ‘fashion!’, it can also be produced for low-friction surfaces and touch-control interfaces, as well as creating new aesthetic and tactile experiences. “This creates a new design space for printing figures that have detailed surface texture, jewellery that has a soft touch [and] paintbrushes that have customisable stroke” explains a movie about the project. Not only this, but the materials can also be used as low-friction moving parts in motors, or as Velcro-like surfaces that bond without adhesive. The software used to design the materials can assign each hair with specific characteristics, such as direction, thickness and length, meaning the physical properties of the surfaces can be precisely controlled.

“This work presents a computational method of 3D printing hair structures,” said Ou. “It allows us to design and generate hair geometry at 50 micrometer [micron] resolution and assign various functionalities to the hair.”

The possible uses of this 3D printed hair are endless. To read the full article, and see photo and video examples of the different ways in which this new breakthrough could be implemented and developed, click here.

5. European Fash Tech Start Ups Are Raising Record Numbers

Europe is the fashion centre of the world (most would argue), and it seems Europe is also emerging as the clear fashtech centre of the world, with a report from tech.eu showing that in 2015, a total of 54 European and Israeli fashion technology companies raised an overall capital of €434 million. The UK (in first place) and Germany, or more specifically London and Berlin, have emerged as Europe’s leading fashion tech hubs, accounting for the vast majority of investments in 2015, which is not surprising when these are the homes to Berlin-based Zalando and the UK’s ASOS. The success of these e-commerce powerhouses has contributed greatly to the launch of other clothing and retail businesses in the region. Even Natalie Massenet herself has been quoted hailing London the “capital for fashion technology”.

But most of this we know. The most recent stat to note is that investment in fashtech businesses so far this year has already surpassed the €434 mill raised overall in 2015. In just these first five months of 2016, European and Israeli fashion startups have raised more than €440 million in funding, across just 20 investments. And how has this been possible? Farfetch’ and Global Fashion Group’s massive multimillion pound deals, accounting for 90% of the €440 mill invested in fashtech this year.

Excluding these two deals, the sums have not yet come close to overtaking last year’s total, but even so, as the rates currently stand, funding activity in this sector is still increasing year-on-year; proving that this is an industry on the up, and industry that people are willing to invest the big bucks in.