The DeFINE project started in 2018. Co-funded by the European Commission’s COSME programme, the network of incubators and accelerators, startups and SMEs, and financiers aimed to support the fusion of cutting-edge technologies and innovation. Concentrating on European fashion and design industries, DeFINE’s programme has managed to deliver, in the past three years, networking events, training and mentoring support.
Supportive of knowledge-sharing and transnational collaboration, the project created a space that encouraged European fashion-technology startups to become a community that shared, nurtured, and grew ideas. This collaborative community made up of a network of incubators, accelerators, startups, SMEs and financiers, made it possible for DeFINE to deliver a Europe-wide programme that opened up opportunities for the fashion and design industries.
The Importance of Supporting The Fashion Tech Ecosystem
DeFINE exploration of the fashion tech ecosystem was led by a team of ten European partners. They included clude Boras Ink, CEEI Burgos, Cyprus Research & Innovation Centre, European Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex), European Business and Innovation Centre Network (EBN), Fondazione Politecnico di Milano, L’Institut Francais de la Mode (IFM), London College of Fashion – University of Arts London (LCF-UAL), Media Deals and Politecnico di Milano.
Appealing to professionals from tech brands, fashion ventures, solution providers, students, and support from organisations across Europe, the collaborative project provided various services. These included a network directory made up of fashion tech professionals and a fashion tech map that helps those interested locate incubators, accelerators and other business support organisations across Europe. Driven to challenge, connect, and create, DeFINE has also curated events, like ‘the DeFINE Forum 2021: Speed Up and Scale Fashion-Tech in Europe‘, which took place on 29 April 2021.
The Rise and Rise of DeFINE’s Mentoring Project
Another service that DeFINE offered was mentoring support. It was a programme focused on helping startups and SMEs develop innovative ideas and improve innovation management practices. Providing 80 hours of mentoring support to selected businesses, the programme successfully guided two rounds through the innovation process to have the participating startups have either a prototype or proof of concept of a new product, process or new business model.
The first round of the bespoke mentoring programme started in 2019. The twenty-five startups that were selected were chosen to boost innovation through knowledge transfer and cross-sectoral collaboration. The mentors, picked from DeFINE’s consortium partners and some from external sources, were from European leading fashion and design academic institutions, Business Support Organisations and industry specialist networks.
Those selected had the opportunity to access relevant facilities and physical spaces (labs and technical resources, equipment, infrastructure, and tools) made available by four leading Fashion, Technology and Design institutions members of the DeFINE Consortium. They included London College of Fashion’s Digital Learning Labs, CyRIC Business Innovation Centre and Gravity Incubator, CEEI-Burgos Business Incubator, Politecnico LAB-Photo and LAB-Moda Polifactory, FashionInk Smart Textile Prototype Factory, Institut Français de la Mode incubators and Paris La Fabrique Fablab.
In addition to one-to-one mentoring, selected businesses will be able to access the online resources (as webinars and toolkits) to facilitate their business development. Further benefits incorporated within the DeFINE Mentoring Programme include startups being able to showcase at industry events and take advantage of investments forums organised for selected Fashion-Tech businesses to pitch their ideas.
Some of the participants of the first round, in 2019, included wearable technology startup Tinker Design. The company addressed health, wellness and comfort by fusing artisan craft with cutting-edge technology. Their objective was to redefine luxury for women’s feet and address a new concept in shoe therapy. Another one was Petit Pli. They introduced the concept of ‘clothes that grow’. Inspired by aerospace engineering, Petit Pli came up with a way to continuously size adjustment garments. It was a design that responded to the high growth rate in children with its ultra-lightweight, reinforced, rainproof and breathable materials.
Also worth mentioning is Senstile. Intending to bring more transparency to the fashion industry through innovative tech, Senstile came up with an intelligent sensor that captures the physical properties of textiles beyond a simple image. The captured dataset is then uploaded to the cloud, allowing designers to understand what a fabric feels without physical touch.
In the second round, which took place in 2020, DeFINE worked with more startups, including an AR enabler for fashion brands, IL3X. The startup created digital garments designed to be worn in digital spaces only, like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. IL3X builds off a new need in younger generations to buy trending and exclusive apparel that is affordable and has zero impact on the environment.
Bringing digital textile innovation to the table is Studio HILO. The Berlin-based studio for digital textile innovation introduced an open-source HILO spinning machine and software for local yarn production. Hoping to empower designers, researchers and small producers, Studio Hilo’s objective is to help redefine processes from the fibre to the textile, creating playgrounds for independent yarn production.
Lastly, round two also introduced a wearable tech knitwear startup called FeelMoreKnitwear. The wearable-tech brand whose functional sweater has knitted sensors that collect and analyse cardiovascular data, such as your heart rate variability. Using a mixture of tech and natural yarns, the collected data is sent to their phone app and informs the user in real-time changes.
Over the past three years, the DeFINE Network has engaged with hundreds of fashion-tech entrepreneurs, startups, SMEs, investors, and business support organisations. As a final hurrah, DeFINE has organised a Fashion-Technology Showcase. Taking place in the last week of May 2021, DeFINE will be celebrating fashion technology throughout Europe with a week-long virtual event made up of panels, round tables and fireside chats.
The event will explore sustainability, retail, wearable-tech, European innovation and investment in fashion-tech. Also, attendees will be able to connect with fashion-technology experts, explore the latest trends, network and discover exciting new fashion-tech ventures at the virtual booths