When entrepreneur Shemeka Neville-Watson experienced her business “aha moment,” her jaw didn’t drop, but her pants almost did.
She was on a job interview when the safety pin that was holding her trousers together came undone, and her pants almost came down. Crisis was averted, but Neville Watson couldn’t help wondering why men’s clothes were sized precisely with waist and leg-length measurements in inches, while women’s fitting guides lacked anything beyond standard parameters. “Women’s bodies are so much more complex,” she recalled. “You can’t really standardize how to get the fit right on a woman’s body.”
That was the moment Neville Watson, who has a background in computer engineering, dreamed up Fervor, a custom-fit fashion-tech brand that relies on full-body scans to help customers navigate the murky waters of apparel sizes. Her story is only one example of how tech is playing a big role in the way fashion is changing: There are apps that allow you to rent designer accessories, brands that owe their success entirely to Instagram, and an increasing attention to industry transparency and sustainability.
On a recent evening, Neville-Watson was joined at WeWork 81 Prospect St in New York by Leanne Luce, a product manager at Google and the author of Artificial Intelligence for Fashion; Tara Robinson, the founder of TracksRacks, a product-sample tracking app; Tara St. James, a sustainability consultant and the production coordinator for Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator; and Joseph Whaley, CTO of Aston D’Vor Enterprises Holdings, for “Fashionably Tech,” a panel hosted by Flatiron School that highlighted the way technology is driving fashion forward.
AI is here to help
Algorithms can make shopping easier: Consider the genius of Stitchfix’s “handpicked” clothing selections that fit customers’ tastes. Then again, with news of Amazon’s first-ever AI clothing designer, one might wonder whether sophisticated algorithms may one day replace stylists and designers. Not to worry, says Luce. “AI is a tool. It has been personified but it does not have intent. Nothing can replace human creativity.”
Sustainability and transparency are getting easier
Tech has made relevant information and resources more readily available to consumers. The Open Apparel Registry allows brands to upload a list of the factories they work with so that customers can choose responsible fashion brands at a glance. ALTRD connects customers in need of alterations to SewExperts—immigrant women skilled in tailoring who work out of their homes. Sustainable women’s fashion brand Reformation partnered with Thredup, so that any items you donate or sell through thredUp can be converted to shopping credits with Reformation.
St. James is already excited for the next big thing. “How will blockchain technology affect transparency in fashion, especially manufacturing?” Her vision is technology that could track a garment from the farm where the cotton was grown all the way to the person wearing it.
Tech might be the key to brick-and-mortar survival
As the success of digital brand pop-ups and permanent stores demonstrate, consumers still love a brick-and-mortar experience. The challenge for tech-mindful brands, Robinson explains, is: How do I Improve the in-store experience? How do I make it connect to the e-commerce experience? Issues related to fit or payment can be a potential area of focus, says Robinson. She suggests a world where having the brand’s app would allow a customer to avoid waiting in line to pay at the cash register. “A brick-and-mortar store can no longer just be a store that sells you stuff,” she says. “It has to give you a customized experience.”