On October 24, founders of startups, employees of major brands, and faculty and students converged at FIT to learn about the future of retail. The Innovation Across Retail conference was one outcome of a partnership between the FIT/Infor Design and Tech Lab, an innovation think tank on campus, and the Fashion Tech Consortium, a platform that connects tech startups with established fashion brands.
“One of the four core initiatives of the FIT/Infor Design and Tech Lab is to engage industry,” said Michael Ferraro, executive director of the lab. “The lab has partnered with the Fashion Tech Consortium to bring innovative startups together with major brands to engage faculty and students as we look at challenges and opportunities facing fashion and related industries.”
Michael Reidbord, who founded the Fashion Tech Consortium and who has taught Fashion Business Management classes at FIT, kicked off the event by showing promotional videos for eight promising tech startups, including Sizer, which gives online shoppers a tool that chooses the best fitting garment, and Hexa, an imaging technology that shows any garment in three dimensions.
Principals of four tech startups pitched their products and services. For example, Syte can identify the clothes in a photo and find exact or close matches on shopping sites across the web. And KonnecTo collects online and offline data on users, from their Instagram photos to the places they’ve been, to help retail websites provide hyper-personalized service.
Panel discussions explored the customer experience and innovation, addressing:
- the importance of speeding up the product development cycle (“All fashion has to become fast fashion,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School),
- the need for advances in retail (“What was the last truly scalable innovation in textile and apparel? Nylon!” said Ben Cooper, managing director of IoClothes, an apparel tech consulting firm), and
- the importance of startups to retail research and development (“In fashion, failure isn’t OK; in technology, it’s fine,” said Colin Touhey, CEO and co-founder of Pvilion, which produces fabric containing solar cells).
Despite such massive challenges, the panelists maintained hope for the industry. “I think the future is bright,” Cooper concluded. “We might lose folks along the way, but we’ll come out on the other side with a better experience for not only the retail owners but also for the customers.”