Fashion Tech Gaining Momentum: 5 Takeaways from the Web Summit

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This year’s Web Summit featured a standalone one-day conference dedicated to fashion. What’s fashion got to do with a startup-focused event, where technology is the main driver? Everything!

Waves of wearable startups are seeking validation from the fashion industry, while the fashion industry itself is undergoing digital transformation. From fashion trends dictated by the streets, picked up by search engines and social media, and fed into design, to online and in-store virtual fitting appliances, to revolutionary fabrics serving certain functions, it’s clear that technological advancements are disrupting the fashion industry.

The fashion industry is subject to the same forces that are upending the workplace: social media, hardware, massive computing power in the cloud – all these represent opportunities for fashion retailers and designers to rethink how they do business, says Paddy Cosgrove, Web Summit CEO, in an interview for Forbes, by Rachel Arthur, Founder of Fashion and Mash.

More and more fashion designers and influencers in the space are advocating for tighter collaboration between fashion and tech. So it’s no surprise – if not, about time! – that they received their own dedicated space at a huge industry event gathering more than 42 000 from around the world. And dedicating this space for fashion tech paid off for the Web Summit organizers. Not only was the Fashion Summit at the Web Summit very well received, but there was a full house for each of the 11 presentations and discussion panels, with people queuing up and waiting in line to witness the fashion tech talks and, more interestingly, debates!

May this be a sign for the organizers that next year’s fashion stage should be bigger, greater and allocated the space it truly deserves. And may this be a note to other tech event organizers out there that this ‘digitally glamorous’ fashion&technology couple is gaining momentum, and fashion tech is a conversation worth having.

Don’t get confused by the ‘Machine Summit’ above the entrance. Yes, there was a Machine Summit stage in the same hall as the one for the Fashion Summit, but that queue there was exclusively for the latter.

Now, without further ado, here are my 5 fashiontech takeaways from Web Summit fashion talks:

1. Big data is essential for fashion e-commerce

‘Big data’ as a tech concept is a bit passé, as it’s rapidly being replaced by ‘fast data’ – being able to process large chunks of data in milliseconds. Nonetheless, it is highly relevant for any online business, especially online fashion retailers.

According to Heidi Zak, Founder of Third Love, a luxury lingerie brand, ‘big data analysis is essential to tailor the fashion world to the needs of the customer’ and ‘[online retailers] should use [their] consumers’ data to make more informed and better decisions.’ Using data provided by their customers through their mobile application has helped the brand refine their algorithm for ‘perfect-fitting lingerie,’ and develop 30% more cup sizes than any other brand, so as to cater to unique shapes and sizes. ‘The more data you get, the better the fit gets,’ concluded Zak on the importance of big data for ecommerce.

On the same topic, Olivier Zimmer, Fashion Data Scientist at Google, spoke about using data provided by search engines to identify street fashion trends – i.e. what fashion items are becoming hugely popular on the streets before fashion brands even become aware of them – and feed this information back to fashion brands to incorporate it into their designs. In this context, he gave as example the ‘Emoji trend’ born this way.

2. Authenticity is a must for stratups looking to grow their brands

For tech startups looking to make their way in the fashion industry, or any other type of startup for that matter, authenticity is crucial. As Maria Hatzistefanis, Founder of Rodial, pointed out: ‘The key to everything is authenticity.’ In order to spread awareness about your brand you have to seek the right influencers and build relationships with them, so that when they start to talk about your product, people can see they like it, and perceive the authenticity behind their claims. And one way to reach them, and indirectly address the masses in this day and age, is social media.

Three tips from the Rodial founder:

  • Give a personality to your brand. Create your own story about you and your brand – that’s what people want.
  • Use social media. It takes a lot of time, but you need to drive the engagements for your brand, as a founder.
  • Don’t think outside the box. Think inside your own box.

So all you startups out there, take a look at Rodial’s approach to building the brand, and take note!

3. Sustainable fashion is gaining ground, and so are new innovative technologies supporting it

Dan Widmaier, Bolt Threads CEO and co-founder, left the crowd in awe after presenting a science experiment that’s deemed to spin the future of renewable, high performance fabrics. Bolt Threads are developing a new technology that aims to replicate the spider silk production process, sustainably, on a very large scale. Yes you read it right – spider silk!

Ben Alun Jones also pointed out the sustainability issue in fashion today, and that there’s a waste with regards to fabrics. As an advocate for smart textiles, he talked about digitizing clothing, or “publishing clothing,” as he put it, and about his own startup Unmade that uses a 3D printer for knitwear to make clothes in-house for the same cost as those mass-produced in international factories.

4. Wearables: the fashion industry does not care about tech

During the talks one thing became clear: wearables are not that wearable, and fashion consumers are not ready for them yet. As Rachel Arthur explained, consumers don’t care about technology, but they do care about tech making them look good. They’re interested in functionality, but functionality that helps with aesthetics.

Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Fashion Innovation, London College of Fashion, shared similar thoughts on the topic, noting that one of the biggest challenges in the fashion industry is ‘to create a value chain for wearable tech.’

Which emphasizes the need for better collaboration between fashion designers and tech/wearable startups.

5. “Startups and fashion designers can come together to create meaningful products”

said Drinkwater while presenting some innovative fashiontech runway projects, like the Tinkerbell dress, and the world’s first smart skirt. And his advice for the industry as a whole: ‘collaborate and co-create!,’ leading to an inspiring end of the insightful #fashionsummit at Web Summit.   fashion summit at web summit

Noteworthy, aside from the interest sparked by the Fashion Summit talks, is the wealth of fashion tech startups pitching their ideas in the exhibitors’ area. And the above list of takeaways would not be complete without these additional 3 fashion tech takeaways I drew from the “field”.

If you were there and would like to add more valuable insights to the list above, please, do so in the comments section below.


I’m a professional copywriter, working in IT. In love with fashion and fascinated with all things tech. My name is Emma, but you can call me Fashion Techie

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