“. . . at its best, fashion can be an incubator of ideas, a means for shifting our thinking, a way of altering how we view ourselves and our world.”
—  Deborah Needleman, “The New Look”, NY Times Style Magazine, 13 Sep 2014

Per our recent edict to expand into the FashionTech space, I quickly learned about FashTechNYC, a one-evening mini-conference which “aims to drive creative partnerships between fashion and technology startups, and provide a platform for the latest innovations to be showcased to leading brands and retailers.” It looked like a great networking opportunity and cost nothing, so in the spirit of Ms. Needleman’s astute observation quoted above (which just happened to appear in this weekend’s Sunday Times), I signed up.

This was the official launch of the event’s New York incarnation, which, according to founder Alex Semenzato, began as a series of similar events in London earlier this year. Building on those early successes, FashTech expanded to San Francisco, and now, as of last night, New York. The space featured an exhibition area consisting of fifteen select start-ups, and a presentation area for the panel discussion, all hosted in WilmerHale’s 45th floor offices at 7 World Trade Center. What a view!

Touring the exhibits, it quickly became clear that the primary focus was on consumer-enablement, e.g. apps and services to help people find products (Cortexica, TrendOnTV), decide what to buy (Perch), what to wear (SKYLER), and how to wear it (Stylit). I’d been expecting (and hoping) to see more of a focus on tech-infused products/apparel, along the lines of what the Creators Project has dubbed “next-level projects”. But that wasn’t the case . . . clearly this was more about how tech facilitates the purchase, not how it actually integrates with fashion itself.

To be fair, though, there were two startups that stood apart:Perch Interactive and Cortexica. Perch Interactive actually does bring something new to the table, literally. Offering a system not unlike the ReacTable, Perch is an interactive surface that detects when and what the customer has picked up from the surface, and then engages the customer with supplementary graphics and information. Perch asserts that the value proposition is engagement at the precise moment that consumers express explicit curiosity or are ready to purchase.

Cortexica, brings visual search services to the game. With either the findSimilar Fashion or findSimilar Shoes apps, users simply point their mobile device’s camera at a clothing item seen on the stree, in a store, etc., and the app returns image sets of similar items, pulled from a database. Kind of like what Google does, but specifically tuned to fashion products, hence much higher accuracy and performance.

The speakers and panel discussion were as revealing as they were interesting, and echoed the showing in the exhibition. While moderator, Gretchen Harnick, did a great job, and kicked things off with a twist, by focusing the discussion on B2B rather than B2C, the key takeaways had more to do with how technology should reinforce universally true business values:

  1. Success lies in the story around the product
  2. The product needs to be personal
  3. Listen to your customers and let them participate in the product’s design direction.

All good advice, to be sure, but to the end that much of web history has been written around how tech has facilitated and enhanced these ideals, there’s not much new thinking there. To be sure, as technology has always played a significant role in the Fashion Industry, refinements in Search and also-ran business models applied to fashion are not really the big story. The story is now in how Technology is literally being woven into the clothing and accessories themselves, combining both artistic expression, connectivity, and personal enablement/empowerment.

So there was no discussion on how the use of conductive materials might fundamentally shift the nature human-computer interaction, no mention of the Internet of Things. And while the “Maker Movement” was referenced at one point, it was in the context of Etsy, and more traditional processes — sidestepping the fact that many, if not most, of the new designs seeking to integrate circuitry into clothing, are hand-crafted works of art (like Rachel Reichart’s work). And without that discussion, there was subsequently no mention of how these new materials and products might impact mass production processes, and where that expertise might come from. Questions left unasked, at least then and there.

All of that said, the FashTech crew has the right idea, and kudos are due: providing a venue that opens the lines of communication between the fashion world and the tech world is absolutely necessary for progress, and with a launch event as well-attended (and well-catered!) as this one, we’ll definitely get there.

FashTechNYC was held on 10 September, 2014, in WilmerHale’s 45th Floor offices at 7 World Trade Center.

Moderator: Gretchen Harnick – Professor, Fashion Marketing, Parsons


  • David Freschman – CEO, FashInvest
  • Loree Lash-Valencia – VP North America, WGSN
  • Debera Johnson – Founder, Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator
  • Jimmy Lepore Hagan – Director, Digital and Social Media, Nanette Lepore
  • Bryn Newman- Marketing Manager, Le Tote

Photo credit: www.perchinteractive.com