Irish startups stake their space in the fashion tech industry

To the uninitiated, the phrase ‘fashion tech’ may conjure up images of futuristic headgear or outfits straight from a sci-fi movie. However, this new industry is turning mainstream.

Irish startups stake their space in the fashion tech industry

German online fashion platform, Zalando, achieved revenue of €3.6bn last year, while in Ireland, start-ups, including TV fashion stylist, Sonya Lennon’s FrockAdvisor, have been joined by newcomers, Outfitable and Hello Bezlo, in the fashion tech arena.

But what is fashion tech? The term seems to fit any online fashion business, from e-commerce to v-commerce, to smart wearables and clothes and accessories with built-in functionality.

On the e-commerce side, there are platforms to connect boutiques with customers like Farfetch and Frock Advisor, while v-commerce company, Trillenium, creates virtual stores for brands.

Smart wearables range from FitBit to Knomo and high-end jewellery brand, Vinaya, which has Bluetooth functionality.

Fashion and tech are being combined on the catwalk using innovative fabrics, LED lights, and conductive thread.

On the perimeters are inventions that combine medical and environmental functionality with clothing.

For example, there is the Foxleaf drug-dispensing bra and Dahea Sun’s Rain Palette line, which can detect air quality. Lennon co-founded FrockAdvisor with fellow fashion designer, Brendan Courtney. It’s a platform that connects independent fashion retailers with fashion-conscious customers.

She is sceptical about the term being used to describe every online fashion business.

“For me, it’s just a little bit gimmicky,” she says, adding that “there’s hard tech and soft tech. Any fashion business is going to have to harness technology to survive and thrive”.

FrockAdvisor is not a virtual customer service. It’s real customer service through a digital medium, she says. “Every business has to be led by a digital strategy. In a way, technology is a medium by which we do business, rather than a solution in itself.” Dima Kfouri recently pitched her start-up, Outfitable, at NDRC, as a response to her frustration at online clothing retailers’ lack of uniformity of sizes.

She plans to harness technology to develop her brand. “What we hope to do is apply machine-learning technology to create a personalised feed, the equivalent of a Netflix experience.”

Clodagh Connell, of Irish childrenswear brand, Hello Bezlo, views fashion tech as “fashion being enhanced by technology”, how fabrics are produced to match the function and experience of wearing clothes and accessories. While researching her idea for a fashion brand that encourages young girls to get involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Ms Connell became fascinated with fashion tech. Hello Bezlo recently co-hosted Code Couture — a workshop that combined fashion and technology — with coding club network, CoderDojo and Zalando.

Ms Kfouri attended the Dublin Tech Summit earlier this year and was happy to see a full stage devoted to fashion. She says fashion tech is much more than smartwatches.

“You’ve got things like AI and Chatbox and user-messaging, for a more customised and tailored service. You’ve got virtually augmented reality, virtual changing rooms with interactive mirrors.” She says that the two industries have a lot in common. “The fashion space is creative, but every fashion line’s bottom line is going to be based on profit, which is ultimately based on transactions.”

Ms Connell says she’s been “blown away” by how the industry has evolved in the last year. “Designers like Iris van Herpen have really paved the way forward. And because this space is so new, there is so much room for innovation and new start-ups.” So what’s next for the industry?

Fashion tech and advancements in technology are going to make the industry more sustainable, Ms Kfouri believes. “Stella McCartney is one of the leaders in this area. She’s using tech in amazing ways and she’s a big believer in sustainable fashion.”

Ms Kfouri foresees the 3D printer being front and centre. She says that using the printer, “along with open-source platforms, you’ll be able to create fashion right then and there. It’s already been done with jewellery and accessories.”

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