Silicon Alley is awfully fond of putting “proximity to other industries” in its plus column. As the line goes: We’re down the street from the top media, financial, and fashion companies in the world! Despite being neighbors, however, fashion and tech have had some trouble understanding each other–hence the growing number of fashion startups that have hung up their stilettos for good.
Into all that drama jumped Decoded Fashion with an exceedingly practical idea: a fashion hackathon where industry insiders tell techies what’s actually lacking in the market. In other words, rather than the umpteenth street style photo-sharing apps, how about the next Fashion GPS, a digital tracker for samples and look books used by designers like Lanvin, Dior and many, many more.
The hackathon, which took place at AlleyNYC in Midtown last weekend–Betabeat was one of the judges–began with a panel of designers like Rachel Roy and Uri Minkoff, founder and CEO of Rebecca Minkoff, who stressed the need for innovation in areas like managing manufacturers, analytics tools around a product’s success rate, and getting the right items in front of the right customer when they’re ready to buy.
Decoded Fashion, which was founded in 2011 by Liz Bacelar, acts as a liaison–introducing startups and emerging technology to leaders in fashion and retail through events and discussions. Stephanie Winston Wolfkoff, the ringmaster of Fashion Week, is Decoded Fashion’s co-executive producer. The organization is supported by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the hackathon winners were chosen based on a number of factors, including how well the hacks would further the mission of the CFDA. (Top prize: $10,000 and CFDA will build your app.)
There’s been some grumbling about corporate hackathons of late–and the “fine line between engaging and exploiting.” But in a Series A crunch, Decoded’s set up seemed like a call for rationality, at least to us. There were also plenty of familiar Silicon Alley faces by way of tech bona fides. Mentors included Startup Bus conductor Mike Caprio, Andy Hagerman from The Design Gym, and Status Chart founder Chris Kennedy, whom we named one of the most poachable players in tech in last Spring.
In addition to getting the right balance of fashion vs. tech and startup folks vs. industry big wigs, the crowd of about 300 was also markedly diverse.
“I’ve been to many hackathons before. I’ve never seen a fashion hackathon with that much diversity of thought–this diversity of race, with this diversity of gender,” a 7-months pregnant Ms. Bacelar told the crowd. “We’re 40 percent female here today and I’m so so proud. We didn’t recruit for that, it just happened. It shows how technology is changing and I’m so proud of it so thank you.”
And, seriously, you’ve never seen such a well-dressed bunch of bleery-eyed coders. We spotted knee-high shearling boots, two shimmering gold numbers (one worn by Tumblr fashion evangelist Valentine Uhovski–a fellow judge) and plenty of leathah.
Unlike your traditional hackathon, the five finalists chosen had from Sunday until the grand finale, which will happen on the runway at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week with a keynote from Zach Posen and Dennis Crowley. Yes, like QR codes, apps are about to make their big tent debut.
So despite concerns about vaporware, judges were looking for ideas that would present well in a couple weeks–with advice from mentors like Kevin Ryan along the way. (Notable considering some of the chosen few sounded like future Gilt Groupe acquisitions.)
The finalists included Coveted, a universal checkout platform for brands on Tumblr. That one is already in operation, as one of the hackers demonstrated by buying a $250 pair of sunglasses live during the demo. Fashion Dashboard, which analyzes how consumers are interacting with your brand, was another winner for displaying how Prada store windows are popular on Instagram and Foursquare check-ins on H&M. 42 was chosen for its attempt to measure and personalize in-store experiences, as opposed to offline ones. Then there was Avant-Garde, which wants to help with excess inventory by looking at the social media activity of customers on your mailing list. Lastly, SwatchIt is an app designed to help with inefficiencies of sourcing material from, say, rural parts of India so that designers can send questions and get a yes or no response to a database of artisans.
You can check out more information about the projects via Hacker League.
The five finalists will be whittled down to three before the 14th. Now we just have to figure out if there’s anything in our closet that won’t get us kicked out of the tents.