In Conversation with Jenny Griffiths of Snap Fashion

Across the digital pages of Brand + Commercial, we aim to provide commercial decision makers with a practical resource that, though first-hand insight and practical expertise, can meaningfully impact strategy within fashion businesses. So we thought, what better way to do so than by grabbing a coffee with those behind-the-scenes innovators and picking their brain a little? 

Today, Brand + Commercial contributor Christoph Burgdorfer, Managing Partner of the London arm of digital agency coANDco sits down with Jenny Griffiths, Founder of Snap Fashion, the innovative visual fashion search engine and winner of the last years’ CISCO Big Award as well as the Decoded Fashion Award. Disclosure: coANDco was the software development partner of Snap Fashion for the initial launch where coANDco supported Snap Fashion with the design and development of the Web and Mobile App.

Christoph Burgdorfer: Snap Fashion revolutionized visual search and of course, I cannot but feel proud of the role we played at Co&Co in helping you bring your vision to life. Tell me, when did you have the idea to start Snap Fashion and why?

Jenny Griffiths: I’ve always been the kind of person that loves clothes and fashion but quite manages to find what I have in mind when I go shopping.  I had the idea for Snap Fashion nearly a decade ago when I wondered “if we gauge what we like by looking at things, then why can’t we search for what we want using pictures?” I studied Computer Science at Bristol University and for my thesis I decided to try and create a visual search system focusing on clothing.  I ended up winning three awards for Snap Fashion while I was at university, and it made me realise that it could turn into something more than an academic project.

At the outset, what were your biggest challenges when starting the business?

The first major hurdle was deciding to start the business!  I had a job offer, a PhD offer and a potential business to run.  It took me a while to gain the courage to focus in Snap Fashion full time. Since then I’d say that finding the right people to work with is so important to the business.  The cliché that the first 10 people that get you hire shape the way your company is going to be is so true.  I’ve been very lucky with the team that I’ve managed to build around me.

There is no doubt the fashion and retail space has been undergoing somewhat of a digital transformation in recent years – or seasons, to adopt fashions’ preferred time unit! What do you think were the most revolutionary technology progresses related to fashion in the recent years and why?

I think that the ability to shop any time and anywhere has really shaken up online retail.  It’s made the marketplace much more competitive and really raised the standard of service that we expect both online and offline. From a fashion point of view I’ve loved watching fashion houses embrace technology: from the amazing Burberry flagship store cram-packed with technology to Topshop’s Google collaboration this year, and also the use of futuristic fabrics from designers like Christopher Kane.. It’s great to watch fashion meeting tech.

Looking to the future, what do you think will be future technology innovations, that will have an impact on the fashion industry and why?

I know that I’m going to be biased, but I genuinely believe that someone needs to make it easier to shop online.  The process just isn’t as compelling as high-street shopping at the moment – we need to be able to bridge the gap between online and offline shopping to make both experiences work better for both consumers and retailers alike.  To me visual search is a great way to get started on this, but there are loads of other great pieces of innovation in this space, such as making sizing more accurate and faster ways of making payments in store.

Nike CEO Mark Parker was recently quoted saying that “business models are not meant to be static.” Indeed, the need to evolve and innovate will continue well into the maturity phase. Nonetheless, start-ups are notoriously in a state of flux, and offer their founders a huge learning curves. What are the big lessons have you made at Snap Fashion so far?

Keep on refining your product!  It’s so important to listen to user feedback, keep on honing your product, and thinking ahead so that you can deliver new features to your user base that you know they’ll want.

Based on your experience with Snap Fashion, what advice would you give to anyone who has an idea to start a business in the fashion industry?

Go for it.  My biggest regret to date is taking so long to start up Snap Fashion properly.  However, you need to surround yourself with the right people, as it’s important to learn from others and draw off their experiences.  Although you’ll need to turn your hand to nearly everything, you definitely won’t end up being an expert in all fields.  You need to understand your weaknesses and learn when to ask for help.

Looking at the current fashion ecosystem, what do you think is the most progressive fashion business around in terms of tech innovation, and why?

That’s a really tough question as my personal taste normally sways my answer!  I really admire Topshop for continuing to push the boundaries in their fashion shows, linking up with Google this year and Facebook last year.  They’re really trying to bridge the gap between high-end and high-street, as well as offline and online, but they’re doing it in a way that is really easy for consumers to embrace. The same goes for Net-A-Porter – in my opinion they’ve build the epitome of a beautiful online user experience.  ASOS are also incredible due to the sheer size of their success, and how they’ve used technology to continually engage users and push boundaries.

I’ve seen some fantastic innovations from other brands though – like Diane Von Furstenberg’s Google Glass project and Burberry’s digital campaign as a whole.  And of course I’m completely head over heels with design houses that use digital print methods like Christopher Kane, Peter Pilotto and Mary Katrantzkou – they’re making technology beautiful.

Finally, looking to the future - where do you see Snap Fashion in 3 years? And in 10 years?

I’d love Snap Fashion to be the first brand that people think of when they want to start their search for the perfect outfit.  In 3 years time I’d love to see Snap Fashion being used to search any image on the Internet, with people expecting to see a Snap icon alongside the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. 

It’s so hard to predict where we’ll be in 10 years because of how quickly this space moves.  Integrating Snap Fashion with video streams and products like Google Glass would be pretty amazing – imagine walking down a street and finding where something is from just by blink.

You can say hi to Christoph and Jenny on Twitter at @cburgdorfer and @JennySnapTech respectively.