by David Knight
The stereotypical image of a techie has changed dramatically over the past decade or so: from the belt calculator, pocket protector and horn-rimmed glasses donned by geeks in an early 1990s vintage Simpsons episode — they spend their time arguing about Star Trek captains over the nascent Internet — to the long beard, skinny jeans and self-awareness of the modern day hipster. But one thing is clear — how you look is far more important in the world of startups now than it ever has been before.
And nowhere is that more true than in Berlin, a city that revels in its sense of style without ever resorting to flaunting it in the face of others (looking at you, Paris, London and New York). Indeed, the sense of 21st century Berlin-ness was founded on the lifestyle of the counter culture which was booming in the newly reunited city when that classic Simpsons episode first aired.
While the Simpsons has since collapsed upon itself into a self-reverential, over-stereotyped shell, however, Berlin continues to move onwards and upwards. Two of the industries which are booming in the city are technology and fashion, so it’s no surprise that there is plenty of crossover.
But given the existence of numerous independent boutique stores, mainly centred on the posher areas of the Mitte district but increasingly popping up elsewhere across the city, has technology really had an effect on how the fashion world does business?
A partial answer could be found at this January’s Berlin Fashion Week, which included a series of events looking at the juncture between tech and fashion. One of those was organised by Decoded Fashion, an event series based in New York which visits fashion hotspots around the world including Paris, Milan, Hong Kong and Moscow. The latest Berlin event saw four very different tech startups pitch to what was a packed room, explaining how they are helping and enabling the fashion industry.
The event was part of a larger event called SEEK, which describes itself as a progressive contemporary fashion show and a focal point for young and modern brands that are inspired by subcultures, music, art and film. The Glashaus venue, part of the Arena complex which also includes the famous Badeschiff, is about as Berlin as you can get — a big, empty former industrial space of the type which are regularly dotted around the former East Berlin, left largely as it was found to increase that realistic feel.
But this was no fashion show — the vast majority of people in attendance were there for the tech. The event helped to shed light on some of the more interesting ways tech is changing fashion, through the four startups which took turns on stage.
First up was Curashion, as presented by founder Dr. Judith Wiesinger. Her story itself was revealing — since childhood, she has been using her scientific prowess to try and predict what people will do, and first put it to use as an adult in the world of finance. Interesting, then, that she subsequently moved on to fashion — because, as she put it, the majority of customers are neglected by current online fashion solutions.
Curashion is a recommendation engine aimed squarely at the majority of online shoppers who fit somewhere between two extremes: Those who are in a rush and go to platforms like Zalando or Stylefruits where they spend no time at all, and those who expend a lot of time and effort with personalised services like Outfittery and Kisura.
In the middle lies what Dr. Wiseinger described as the “average shopper” who is after outfits instead of individual items but doesn’t want to spend all day searching. A user is given a computer-generated outfit and provides feedback through voting buttons, enabling the platform to pick more appropriate products as it goes on. They can purchase the ones they like.
The Curashion platform can also be integrated onto the websites of other e-tailers — and it’s coming soon.
Next up was Simon Staib from blogfoster, a company which previously went through the Axel Springer Plug and Play accelerator program. The startup is trying to build an ecosystem for blog advertising, acting as a middle step between individual blogs and the various payment platforms, such as Skimlinks.
Most importantly, however, it’s an incredibly simple process for the kind of people who have become extremely important in the world of fashion in the past few years. Trend setters can now make a little money off their blogs — as can those who have gained a following in the worlds of food and tech.
The blogfoster platform is currently in beta, but Staib promised that advertisers would see conversion rates 80 times that of standard banners.
Elite, trend-setting bloggers are also the target of rewardStyle and its Instagram offering, Liketoknow.it. RewardStyle is an invitation-only monetisation platform for top tier digital style publishers around the world. Founder Amber Venz Box came up with the idea after the success of her own blog saw all her offline customers disappear as she focused online. The platform allows these elite style publishers to monetise not only their blogs, but their entire digital brand — including Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
The solution is all about giving users better access to the clothes they see on the blogs (and other platforms) they read — a blogger with 4 million followers Instagramming from the front row of a fashion show, for example, can include links to buy the clothes to their posts.
As Venz Box said at Decoded Fashion, “it’s no longer about the buyer and editor but about the consumer.”
Last we have Virtusize, a Swedish company tackling a problem that offers up significant possibilities. The issue is with finding the right size when you buy clothes online — hence the reason why, in a trillion dollar market, only ten percent of purchases are made online. Then there is the expense of all those returns from people who bought something only to find it didn’t fit properly.
Virtusize’s solution is use clothes already in yor wardrobe to find things that fit perfectly from inline retailers. After all, as speaker Peder Stubert said, it’s easier to give a tailor a shirt to measure than for them to measure you.
The platform currently covers more than 20 types of products, including shoes and handbags, and Stubert claimed it not only cut size-related returns by half, but also resulted in a 20 percent increase in average order value.
Virtusize isn’t the only player trying to figure out online sizing — Berlin’s own Fit Analytics (ex UPcload), for example, has also made plenty of waves — but it has met with a lot of success already, with offices in Tokyo and New York alongside its Stockholm base.
Solving Real World Problems
These four startups, at different stages of development, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how technology is revolutionising the world of fashion, both at its elite end and at its more populist levels. As rewardStyle’s Venz said: “It’s not tech for tech’s sake; it’s tech for solving real world problems.”
And even the nerdiest of tech geeks can’t help but be stylish in Berlin — unlike the Simpsons, Germany’s capital city is very much in fashion.