Dispatches from the Fashion and Retail Seedhack

Without a doubt, so-called “fashion hackathons” - focused on bridging fashion and technology with the expectation of creating workable, sector-specific solutions - flourished on both sides of the Pond this past month. First up, was Decoded Fashion in New York, in partnership with Condé Nast and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Next up, was London’s Seedcamp with its bi-annual “Seedhack” event, which focused its latest edition around the theme of fashion and online retail. Meanwhile, in New York the Hearst Hackathon took place, in partnership with AngelHack, with the stated aim of developing apps to inventively connect readers and editors in real-time.

Attending the Seedhack at London’s Google Campus, it was clear from the outset that attendance was evenly split between industries, with more than one hundred participants, roughly half from fashion and half from technology, gathered to learn, have fun, and most importantly solve the big problems of fashion and online retail. While Seedcamp, which was founded as and remains Europe's leading micro-seed investment fund and mentoring program, traditionally deals with cross-industry applications of technology, the focus of this particular hackathon reflected the recent spate of activity in the fashion and retail sector – and the high fashion component of the event highlighted a real industry interest in leveraging technology to create efficiencies.

Keynote speakers kicked off the first evening by offering insight to the industry, covering the challenges and – therefore – opportunities that the participants could wish to pursue. For instance, Nick Cust, E-Commerce Director at Net-A-Porter, emphasized high return rates (the industry standard sits at 30-50%) and poor fit (cited as the number one reason for returns) as the two major challenges in online retail. Indeed, as end-customers become increasingly accustomed to free returns and free shipping, these two challenges are quickly developing into a big drain for e-commerce businesses.

Meanwhile, Devin Hunt, Co-Founder at Lyst.com, suggested that in order to develop something that people would want, participants should start off by questioning how they could improve on the key cornerstones of online retail: product search, conversions, payments processing and logistics. However, he also underlined the importance of good design in packaging an end-product – making sure applications not only look pretty but feel good to use.

As is traditional with hacks, the events’ API partners - Imagga, ASOS, Google, Net-A-Porter and Paypal – supplied the technology although, after a tweet from the audience suggested not everyone was that equally tech-savvy (“Help, what does API mean?”), a Google representative came to the rescue with a down-to-earth explanation, making it clear to everyone present what an API was: a tool provided by another company that you could use to make your product even greater.

Throughout, there were a few overarching themes or problems many teams tried to solve, the most popular one being the issue of inventory and excess stock, tightly followed by the issue of returns and the challenge of fit. Most teams proposed relatively complex technical solutions and meaningful integrations with the API partners, and despite the short timeframe, the level and quality was surprisingly high. 

Of the twenty-one teams formed, five winning teams were picked:

Relist (Seedhack Winner) - Relist is a global marketplace of excess stock from luxury boutiques and designers, targeting professional buyers who can either buy directly or bid for items. This team exhibited the highest potential, and therefore received an invitation to attend Seedcamp Berlin in May.

Chip-in.me (Orthogonal Award) Chip-in.me lets friends easily coordinate any group purchase, from gifts, to gigs, to an epic ski-trip with mates. Set the budget, invite your friends, and get your purchase going. This team attacked a unique problem, which was not addressed by any other team. Peer pressure can indeed increase people’s expenditure.

ColourTag.me (Fit and Finished Award) - ColourTag.me uses automatic colour analysis of your skin, hair and eyes, to present clothes to you that match your style. According to the judges, this team proved they have the customer journey figured out, and now they just have to build the product.

The Fashion Intern (Best Gamified Fashion Award) - The Fashion Intern is a Facebook game where the intern’s job is to sort items into various categories according to occasion, shape and colour. This team believes consumers primarily shop for occasions, and the judges think they nicely gamified a problem in big data collection.

CheckoutAnywhere (Fast-to-Market Award) - CheckoutAnywhere is an affiliate platform for publishers to sell products featured within editorial content. This is all done without the user leaving the publisher’s page.

Overall, despite the short time component - typical of the hack concept - participants captured the complexity of the industry quite quickly and delivered solutions that immediately tackled the root of the issue although of course, further refinements and market benchmarking would be ideal. Nonetheles, one cannot but be excited by the results that this on-going cross-pollination between fashion and technology can achieve going forward.  

Navid Ostadian-Binai is a technology leader and philanthropist with a background from Scandinavia and Silicon Valley. Currently based in London, he is working to bridge the worlds of fashion, technology and venture capital. You can say hi to Navid on Twitter at @navidob.