In a moment defined by uncertainty, the search for innovative, efficient solutions seems to become more urgent than ever for fashion and luxury brands that want to safeguard and even grow their businesses during the global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus.
When it comes to finding practical solutions to problems, digital start-ups are increasingly appearing to be the right partners to help established, in many cases very traditional, companies navigate the future.
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“In this period, I’ve really seen that brands are actively looking for digital solutions, which a few months ago would have found many difficulties to be considered by the market,” said Giusy Cannone, chief executive officer of Fashion Technology Accelerator. “Companies have finally understood the potential of digital solutions, which have become a priority. Before the crisis, the problem was not technological, but cultural.”
“The digital transformation of Italian companies has always been a weakness in the economic development of our country. In light of the expected and upcoming economic crisis, the current emergency has shown two main things: first of all, the digitalization of companies’ processes and operations is fundamental to face the fast global market, which is also richer than our domestic one; second, the start-ups leading the world economy were all born in countries which significantly invested in innovation and technology,” noted Alessandro Sordi, cofounder of digital start-ups accelerator Nana Bianca. “For this reason, we hope that, compatibly with the end of the health emergency, an important part of the investments will be destined to the sector of innovation, where start-ups are our bastions of hope.”
Matching heritage and innovation to become more contemporary is the goal that Stefania Lazzaroni, general manager of Italian luxury association Altagamma, believes should be a top priority for the country’s high-end companies. “Because of the COVID-19 emergency, luxury brands will take three years to recover from the crisis,” said Lazzaroni, during Startupbootcamp’s recent “FashionTech Global Summit,” held digitally in collaboration with several brands, including Prada and Stone Island. “To face the crisis, they will have to focus on three main elements: investing in digitalization; learning more about consumers, which will be mostly come from China, and focus on environmental sustainability.”
In keeping with this, for example, the Salvatore Ferragamo company teamed up with Fashion Technology Accelerator on the “Circularity Ideathon 2020,” which gave 25 groups of students and young entrepreneurs the chance to attend workshops and develop projects offering solutions based on the circular economy. The five projects that made it to the finals were presented late last month during a virtual event. A jury that included Salvatore Ferragamo chief executive officer Micaela Le Divelec Lemmi, fashion designer Paula Cademartori and Matteo Ward, cofounder of sustainable fashion startup Wråd, named the Animo project, which focused on an innovative way to communicate sustainability with a focus on Gen Z, the winner of the program. The winning group’s team leader, Giovanni Bertolini, will have the opportunity to do an internship at Salvatore Ferragamo.
Because of the likely global recession, which will see reductions in budgets and travel, Luca Solca, senior research analyst, global luxury goods at Bernstein, highlighted the importance for brands to use technology not only to boost their online business but also to harness the power of data to find “new ways to attack strategies.”
According to Cannone, currently the fashion world isn’t that attractive for funds that want to invest in start-ups. “Investors are now more attracted by innovative solutions in the fields of e-learning, smart working, health and wellness, as well as food delivery,” she said.
However, as a survey released by Deloitte highlighted, the world of luxury actually seems to be still highly appealing for investors, especially when it comes to digital luxury. In particular, the “Global Fashion & Luxury Private Equity and Investors Survey 2020” showed that 57 percent of strategic and financial investors plan to make investments in disruptive technologies this year with a focus on IoT services, big data and analytics, as well as artificial intelligence.
These financial injections would be crucial for the future of digital startups which, as Cannone highlighted, due to their small size in most cases suffer from a scarcity of liquidity.
“The world of start-ups is made of small companies, which are very flexible, and in several cases, during the emergency, managed to convert their business to meet the current needs of the market,” said Cannone, pointing out that it’s not all fun and games in the world of tech innovation. “But, not all that glitters is gold, and most of these digital start-ups have a problem of liquidity. During the first two or three years, they make no revenues and if in a moment like this they don’t succeed at adjusting their business to the market, they go bankrupt.”
But what are the most imminent challenges that the fashion and luxury industry needs to face? Now more than ever, converting traffic on web sites and social media into actual sales seems a priority, as well as effectively engaging buyers and customers in the new virtual showroom and retail environments. In addition, companies are trying to rationalize production, costs and sourcing to decrease waste, be more efficient and promote more sustainable business models.
Here, WWD offers a roundup of the most promising global startups offering concrete solutions to these priority issues.
Launched in 2018 by Aileen Carville, who cut her teeth in the sales and PR departments of global luxury brands, Skmmp offers a interactive wholesale ordering management system by building customized virtual showrooms for both fashion houses and multi-brand showrooms. Offering multiple currency interfaces and discounting functionality, Skmmp, in 2019, also introduced SMARTShowroom, guaranteeing a voice artificial intelligence order experience within the virtual showrooms. In order to offer buyers a more immersive, accurate experience, Skmmp employs holograms of models to show the fit and sizing of the collections.
With a career background that includes stints in the engineering and product departments of Google and Vogue, Neha Singh launched Obsess with the goal of bringing the engaging experience of the physical world into the digital one. Using augmented and virtual reality technologies, Obsess is a software platform that enables brands and retailers to offer 3-D shopping experiences on the web sites, mobile apps and social media channels. With most buying appointments canceled due to the coronavirus emergency and the revisited structure of fashion weeks, Obsess now offers 360-degree immersive showrooms, which can be easily access through a phone or a computer with no extra tools.
With the majority of trade shows canceled or postponed and travel significantly limited, Italian startup BSamply, founded by Andrea Fiume, becomes a useful tool for textile companies to showcase their collections to brands. An easy to approach, intuitive digital platform, BSamply enables weavers to upload up to 1,000 produces, which clients can analyze, order and buy.
Founded in Barcelona by Silvia Bardani, Viume uses artificial intelligence technologies to offer software for commerce platforms enabling them to offer customers a selection of products based on individualized recommendations. Using image recognition and self-adaptive algorithms, Viume mainly offers a recommender system, automatic tagging and digital stylist services.
Aiming at keeping return costs low and customer satisfaction high, EasySize is a Danish start-up founded by Gulnaz Khusainova. Helping brands and multibrand stores reduce overconsumption and overstocking items which won’t sell or are destined to be returned, through sophisticated algorithms, EasySize — which has already been adopted by a range of brands, including Am Paris and Freshcotton — offers final customers accurate size and fit recommendations and gives online stores customer feedback metrics in real-time.
Believing that less is more, Penguinpass offers an easy to approach service for event management, enabling users to quickly create save the dates, collect confirmations and digitally execute the check-in phase. The service has been used by a range of leading institutions and companies, including trade shows Micam and Cosmoprof and luxury labels, such as Fendi and Moschino. During the COVID-19 emergency, Penguinpass launched the service for digital events, targeting those companies that need to organize virtual events. In addition, the Penguinpass app also traces the presence of guests at distance, enabling organizers to assure that the limits imposed by the authorities at events will be respected.
Especially after the COVID-19 emergency, manufacturers will try to work more and more with established brands offering financial stability and guaranteeing big orders. In order to support small, independent labels and promoting the artisanal Made in Italy production, entrepreneur David Clementoni launched Italian Artisan, a start-up that connects skilled artisans with international brands. Through the digital platform, designers can easily upload their design, receive quotes for samples or production and connect directly with an Italian artisan and get the style produced.
Digital clothing is becoming one of the hottest topics in the industry, especially because it seems to offer a fun, appealing option to fight overconsumption. Especially addressing those members of Gen Z who are particularly concerned about the fashion industry’s environmental footprint, Erika Lamperti founded IL3X, a start-up which, through the use of augmented reality technologies, enables the creation of digital clothes which can be used on social media, also for viral marketing campaigns.
Founded in India in 2015 by Shivang Desai and Chandralika Hazarika, start-up Bigthinx uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to create a wide range of products, including digital clothing and virtual avatars. Digitizing the human body with data on measurements, size and fit, Bighthinx applies to a wide range of business, from the creation of digital clothes for fashion brands’ games to the delivery of a customized shopping experience for e-commerce and the development of virtual runway shows, where holograms wear digital versions of the styles designed by brands.
Logistics costs account for a high percentage of the budgets of Western fashion companies. Through a proprietary system, start-up EBBI, which was established in Istanbul in 2018, enables companies to significantly reduce their logistics costs by increasing the shipping quantities, which are loaded into a single container.
Fashion sample trafficking suffered a stall during the coronavirus emergency. With the business slowly restarting, start-up Bookalook enables brands to digitally manage sample trafficking, scheduling of send-out and returns and the creation of a performance report. The platform also allows brands to digitally interact with stylists and influencers who can make selections online instead of physically going to the showroom.
With the whole fashion industry moving toward digitalization of the different processes, ICAST, which was founded by Giulio Aiello and Marco Pino, offers the chance to organize and execute castings with just a few clicks. Giving visibility to 60 bookers and 5,000 talents, ICAST offers brands and designers the chance to have access to a rich database of digitalized books and to make customized researches, significantly cutting times and costs.
Founded by Andrei Makarov and Maria Makarova, GFaive is meant to enable brands to stay ahead of the competition. Adopting artificial intelligence technologies, GFaives offers fashion collection forecasts that are not only based on historical data but employ predictive analytic tools that give a clear picture of what to produce and support assortment optimization and demand forecasting.
Based on the principles of sustainability and the circular economy, Milan-based start-up Swapush, founded by Serena Luglio, created a digital platform and an app where users can get hold of new products and get rid of things they don’t want any longer with a barter system. Swapush organizes swipe parties for both individuals and companies and through the app give the chance to exchange items without using money.
Based on three pillars — style, sustainability and artificial intelligence — Staiy was founded last November in Berlin by Adrian Leue, Alessandro Nora, Ludovico Durante and Chiara Latini. Staiy is a marketplace for sustainable fashion, gathering together eco-friendly brands and products. Using artificial intelligence technologies, Staiy is able to offer each user customized recommendations, making the experience highly personalized.
Established by Iris Skrami and Gabriele Trapani, Renoon is a search platform for sustainable fashion. Renoon gathers together products and brands that meet a series of eco-friendly standards. No shopping transaction is finalized on the platform, in fact after selecting a product, shoppers are redirected to the wholesalers.
With international multibrand stores reducing their budgets allocated to emerging labels, it became crucial for new brands to embrace a direct-to-consumer approach in order to meet potential final customers. Founded in London in May 2018, Lone Design Club was established to give emerging labels the chance to show their collections with traveling pop-up shops. The temporary retail project kicked off in London and was then expanded globally. The company later invested in the development of experiences and events and shortly after launched its online store, carrying a selection of emerging labels sharing business practices focused on traceability and eco and social consciousness. During the lockdown, the start-up implemented its online activities, offering live streaming, workshops to teach how to make face masks at home and other content to entertain people at home.