Fashion Futurum: Sustainability, Herd Mentality And The Death Of Fashion Tech Startups

From Ethical Fashion Rules The World To Most Startups Do Not Die, They Commit Suicide, the conversation got interesting on Day 2 of Fashion Futurum

Muchaneta Kapfunde
Founding Editor in Chief at | editor@fashnerd.com

Founding editor & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com. Over 10 years’ experience in Journalism & Fashion PR. Currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about Fashion & Lifestyle Technology.

Day 2 of Fashion Futurum delved that little bit deeper into the fashion tech space. With the likes of Amanda Parkes Chief of Technology and Research from Manufacture NY, Piia Lehtunen, President of the Board of Design and District in Helinski, Finland and Marvin Liao, partner in 500 Startups, the day promised to be full of different opinions, schools of thoughts and general conversation.

With so many keynotes and panel discussions going on, there were a few stage conversations that stood out for me. The first one was about sustainability. Titled ‘Ethical Fashion Rules The World’, the on stage panel was made up of Guisy Bettoni of CLASS, Piia Lehtinnen of Design District Helinski, Marina Kokorina of RusEcoModa and moderating was a best selling author Covadonga O’Shea.

Beautiful, Innovative, Responsible and Conscious

“When it comes to sustainability, no one is going to buy something just because it is sustainable”. With these words, uttered by Guisy, the conversation begun. Elaborating on her statement, Guisy led the discussion by adding that when it comes to creating a sustainable product, there needs to be more to it in order to appeal to the mainstream consumer. Her solution to this common problem was simple, brands need to adopt the new way to do business. In her opinion, the old way cannot be applied to creating a viable, sustainable product with mass market appeal. The new model has been designed to make it easier for brands to bring a “beautiful, innovative, responsible and conscious” product to market. My understanding is that the word sustainable should not be the noose around the neck of a product with the potential to appeal to the mass market.

‘Ethical Fashion Rules The World’, panel made up of Guisy Bettoni of CLASS, Piia Lehtinnen of Design District Helinski, Marina Kokorina of RusEcoModa and moderating was a best selling author Covadonga O’Shea.

As the panel bantered back and forth, there was one point in the first half of the conversation that stood out for me. Made by Piia, she shared that in Finland the designers showing at Finnish fashion week, only showed purely sustainable collections. On hearing this I do not think that I was the only person taken aback by her statement. I mean is such a thing possible yet? I guess so. She continued by adding that it all comes down to the fact that in Finland they believe that selling “less bad” (a point made earlier by Guisy) products is simply not enough. On the achievements of Finnish designers, she concluded by educating us on the difference between Ethical Fashion, Ecological Fashion and Sustainable Fashion. Defining them eloquently, I think quite a lot of the audience blushed with guilt, because the majority of us simply saw them as one of the same.

“Brands need to adopt the new way to do business. The old way, unfortunately, doesn’t support the sustainable product the way it should.”

What I enjoyed most about this panel was their frankness. They were open enough to admit that although they championed sustainability they are not perfect. On this Guisy admitted that she is nowhere near 100% perfect, but the good thing is that “we are 30% better than we were a few years ago”. Continuing on, she confessed that to be completely sustainable is hard, especially with the technology currently available. Her honesty contradicted Piia’s argument that Finnish designers in Finland are able to show purely sustainable collections. I think that I might need to put on my investigative hat and dig a little deeper into whether, with the technology tools we currently have available, it is possible to bring to market a purely sustainable range. I will reveal my findings in a later article.

Piia Lehtinnen of Design District Helinski
Piia Lehtinnen of Design District Helinski

Still on the topic of sustainable brands, Guisy shared that for brands to produce a sustainable product they need to think beyond just being sustainable. Not all consumers are looking for, just conscious fashion, they want other ingredients, like beauty. She also added that the product needs to meet a customer’s everyday needs, whether that be performance or being aesthetically pleasing. With those wise words the moderator wound down the chat, and the next talk begun.

On the panel for the next discussion was Marvin Liao of 500 Startups, Amanda Parkes of Manufacture NY, Eddie Mullon CEO of Launchmetrics and moderator Konstantine Karczmarski of IMTO University, Russia. Their discussion was centered around ‘Technology as the Driver for Fashion Start-up Success’. Starting off the session, Marvin shared with the audience his thoughts on the progression of the fashion tech space. First focusing on 3D printing, he revealed that it is not only a great invention from an environmental perspective, but that it also has the potential to dramatically change network and logistics, especially when it comes to the fashion industry. He also touched on smart materials, and shared with us a project that he is currently involved in. The company, heading the project, have successfully embedded sensors into fabric and created a sock for people with diabetes. For Marvin, this kind of technology is fascinating. Besides that, he foresees a future where things like mushroom and graphene will play a significant role in future materials.

Marvin Liao of 500 Startups, Amanda Parkes of Manufacture NY, Eddie Mullon CEO of Launchmetrics and moderator Konstantine Karczmarski of IMTO University, Russia.
Marvin Liao of 500 Startups, Amanda Parkes of Manufacture NY, Eddie Mullon CEO of Launchmetrics and moderator Konstantine Karczmarski of IMTO University, Russia.

Made by Silicon Valley for Silicon Valley

Bringing the conversation back to wearables, Amanda Parkes talked about wrist mounted wearables. She explained that to her the current devices brag a look that gives them the “made by Silicon Valley for Silicon Valley “ branding. And as functional as the current wearables are, when they were designed they unfortunately did not take into account how the fashion industry views products. For fashion, “emotion is the killer app”. Basically, when a consumer sees something they really like, she gave an Alexander McQueen dress as an example, the product essentially becomes a personal expression of the buyer. It somehow confirms their identity, image, whilst appealing to their taste and desire. On this Amanda, who has 13 years experience in the wearable tech market, strongly pointed out that we cannot quantify that.

“The iPhone is the kind of product that you can give to a 7 year old girl and a 70 year old man and they will both find it useful in their everyday life.”

Continuing on, Amanda supported her argument with what I thought was a great point. Using the iPhone as an example, she stated that the Apple device is the kind of product that you can give to a 7 year old girl and a 70 year old man and they will both find it useful in their everyday life. Her point was that, it all comes down to diversifying wearables. Although easier said than done, I must agree with Amanda, this is something that is key when it comes to trying to bridge the tech and fashion worlds.

Amanda Parkes of Manufacture NY,

The Important Role of Consumer Facing Brands

During her talk, Amanda also boldly names dropped a few consumer facing brands that she is working with. She mentioned Ringly, Thesis Couture and Dropel Fabrics. Not only have we written about these brands previously, but we also respect how they are currently changing the dynamics of what a smart fashion product is. Another thing that Amanda shared was her excitement over biology’s role in fashion. She believes that biology will be the next hardware evolution. Using brands like mycelium as prime examples, she predicts that the factory of the future will most likely be “half bio lab, half farm”.

The Ringly bracelet that Amanda talked about and wore

With that interesting point, the moderator changed topic to start up failure. He asked, “Why do fashion tech startups have one of the highest failure rates?” On this, the panel agreed on a popular Silicon Valley saying shared by Marvin, “Most startups do not die, they commit suicide”. Elaborating further Marvin explained that quite a few startups do not think about team dynamics. The team needs to be balanced, and that means that everyone should be able to bring to the table a valuable skill set that would benefit the business overall. On the death of startups, Amanda admitted that she puts their failure on venture capitalists. She thinks that because venture capitalists seem to have a habit of following the herd mentality, is why we have ended up with so many copy cat products, which in the long run fail. She stressed that what startups and venture capitalists need to realize is that crossover products have a longer development cycle. It is imperative that this is understood or else the product will not make it. Referring to Thesis Couture, the brand she is working on with Elon Musk, she admitted that it has taken them three years to produce a viable product. It is only now that they feel that their product, a smart shoe, is finally ready to be launched.

Marvin Liao of 500 Startups
Marvin Liao of 500 Startups

As the panel conversation wound down, I was left buzzing with information. The panelists had been on stage for over an hour sharing their stories, ideas and thoughts. Standing up from my seat I felt the urge to shake their hand. As I met them all one by one, I must admit that the icing on the cake was when I approached Amanda and as I held out my hand to introduce myself, she smiled and said “I know who you are”.

If you missed Day 1 coverage of Fashion Futurum, check it out here.

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