A growing number of female-founders and co-founders have adopted technology as an enabler and put fresh thinking on the table. Their vision for fashion is bold, that may or may not find support (at least in the beginning) within the male-dominated tech-investor community.
Whatever might be the theme; empowerment, disruption or community building, the problems that these entrepreneurs are solving is one of many that plague the fashion ecosystem. They are the fashion influencers with a far-reaching impact on the way brands and customers currently relate and operate. That they are challenging the status quo and leading positive change makes success taste much sweeter.
Inspired by that success, more women have launched similar propositions for different target groups or geographies. Here’s celebrating the women in fashion using algorithms for good.
Co-Founder & CEO, Common Objective
London-based, Tamsin Lejeune, is one of the respected voices in the sustainable fashion movement. While her background is in fashion design, she chose to focus on the supply chain. In 2006, she launched the industry body, Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) followed by an online platform, SOURCE, in 2011. Over time, SOURCE became the go-to-resource for ethics and sustainability in the fashion supply chain, and the EFF network reaches over 150,000 businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals in 141 countries.
Given Tamsin’s background and love for networking (Linkedin’s most engaged woman in UK Fashion and Retail, 2015), she was best placed to apply intelligent tech to collaboration and resource sharing in this space. Her new venture, Common Objective (CO) went live in May 2018.
Think of CO as the Linkedin cum Tinder of sustainable fashion. It uses algorithms to match and connect a user with other members on the platform, based on their profile, goals and specific requirements. Additionally, the user receives resource-specific personalised recommendations.
CO partners with leading industry bodies like Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fairtrade and Fashion Revolution. With the new platform, Tamsin will look to build on ten years of work done through EFF. Upcoming offerings include brand sustainability rankings, CO leadership awards and discussion forums.
Co-Founder & CEO, Rent The Runway
She is the poster girl of the fashion disruption story. Post her MBA at Harvard Business School, Jennifer Hyman co-founded the online fashion rental platform, Rent The Runway (RTR) in 2009. It was based on a simple idea that women would be willing to rent designer clothing and accessories than break a bank to buy them. Also, frequent rotation of clothes would keep the fear syndrome of ‘I have been seen in that already’ at bay.
That idea of ‘closet in the cloud’ received traction. Today, RTR clocks a yearly turnover of over 100 million dollars and serves 9 million US customers online as well as offline through five physical stores. It ranked #9 on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list for 2018.
RTR’s rental and subscription model steers clear of fast-fashion brands and reports that 68% of its members buy lesser than before.
Jennifer’s business is pushing the ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’ agenda. RTR’s rental and subscription model steers clear of fast-fashion brands and reports that 68% of its members buy lesser than before. Also, the company uses recyclable packaging and claims to be responsible with its dry-cleaning process that churns out 2000 pieces an hour.
Having raised over $210 million investment so far (possibly the highest for a female entrepreneur in the US), Jennifer is passionate about women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship. She supports Project Entrepreneur, a competition-cum-educational programme for women, in partnership with UBS.
Co-Founder, Vestiaire Collective
Born into a family of entrepreneurs, Fanny Moizant spotted a business opportunity to resell pre-owned fashion, way before e-commerce was a thing. After collecting unworn items from her friend’s wardrobes, she started the business from her living room in Paris, along with five other co-founders.
The startup, Vestiaire Collective(VC), was launched as a French website. However, nine years later, VC has become Europe and America’s leading peer-to-peer online marketplace for buying and selling luxury clothes and accessories. Fanny’s French roots and penchant for fashion played a crucial role in VC’s ability to transform the perception of second-hand fashion from being undesirable to glamorous.
Algorithms for Good Help User Decide on a Resale Price
The brand’s Parisian aesthetic and high-quality user engagement have translated into a community of over seven million buyers and sellers, spread across 47 countries. Over 4000 products are uploaded every day after a quality audit, and the site’s algorithms help the user decide on a resale price.
Looking to expand further, Asia is a priority market for VC. Last year, Fanny moved her base to Hong Kong to build an APAC team and woo the Chinese customers to warm up to pre-loved and vintage fashion.
Co-Founder & Head Of Development, Good On You
Sandra Capponi traded her comfortable banking job for an entrepreneurial venture that helps customers make a more informed choice while shopping for fashion. In 2015, she co-founded Good On You (GOY), an app that rates fashion brands for their impact on people, environment and animals.
Over the last three years, Sandra has driven the growth of brands and users on the platform as well as refined GOY’s proposition. Currently, it is the largest customer-facing database of 2000 fashion brands. The app is easy to use and should a brand have a poor rating, the user is recommended a list of similar brands, but with better sustainability credentials. GOY’s algorithms also allow for discovery of new ethically-driven fashion brands, based on one’s location and style preferences.
After covering Australia and US, GOY was launched in Europe in June 2018. Currently, it is pitching season for Sandra as the startup is raising investments to build an e-commerce marketplace. She also participated in the Fashion For Good-Plug and Play accelerator programme.
Founder & CEO, Epytom
Her entrepreneurial journey in fashion and technology began with the launch of a multi-brand fashion business, both online and offline, in Moscow in 2011.
In the years that followed, Anastasia Sartan developed an interest in exploring ways that steer the fashion consumption story away from impulse buys. In 2016, she launched Epytom, an AI-enabled stylist bot.
Fuss-free and straightforward, it rests on Facebook messenger. Unlike other wardrobe management apps, Epytom users aren’t required to upload photos of their clothes. Instead, the bot learns about the wardrobe through conversational engagement and analysis of public images. By applying computer vision and deep-learning, Epytom shoots out daily outfit inspiration based on weather, occasion and the individual’s style profile. With a base of 550,000 daily users, the bot got a mention in Facebook’s developer conference in 2017.
A millennial herself, Anastasia is rooting for millennials and younger age groups who value authenticity and sustainability. She wants to use data to drive mindful consumption and place customer’s interests at the forefront. Next up is a B2B tool that allows fashion brands to have more meaningful than spammy conversations, i.e. offers to complement what’s in the wardrobe. Epytom might also have a voice-based avatar in the imminent future.