In what may be one of the most revolutionary times in fashion's history, the gap between design and technology is constantly getting smaller. NOWFASHION chats with Giusy Cannone, the chief executive officer of Fashion Technology Accelerator (a company that invests in fashion and tech startups and enterprises), to pinpoint the startups that are on the brink of changing the industry as we know it. Constantly on a global quest for the next game changer, Cannone discusses her discoveries during her recent visits to Qatar, Seoul, Beirut, and Bahrain and how tech startups are paving the way for a more circular economy.
Sofia Celeste: What sort of countries and regions are emerging as contenders in the fashion tech market? Which ones were the most unexpected?
Giusy Cannone: Europe is doing well. France, in particular, has done incredible work to foster fashion tech startups: from the government that has poured billions to support the ecosystem to private initiatives such as the Lafayette Retail Accelerator driven by Galeries Lafayette, with corporations such as Richemont, Kering, and Lacoste accelerating fashion tech startups, but also La Maison des Startups from LVMH doing a similar activity. However, the UK and Italy – and even outside Europe: Israel and the USA – are also very active in this sector. Among the less unexpected areas, definitely India
SC: Of all of your trips this year, which one was the most fruitful? Can you talk more about what you were doing in Bahrain and the rest of the Middle East?
GC: This year we collected a lot of interest from Middle Eastern countries. There were two main reasons: the first is that those kingdoms/governments are looking for opportunities to diversify their economies strictly based on energy production. The second is that those countries are strong consumers of international luxury brands, but so far have not been able to export their local brands. In particular, we are currently running a program in Qatar to help local designers gain competency and awareness to reach out to international markets. In November, eight designers (out of 20) that have attended the program in Doha will come to Milan to meet with buyers, trade fairs organizers, suppliers, etc.
SC: How do these Middle Eastern countries struggle (or not) to promote new talent and fresh emerging players onto the market?
To promote talents, the entire fashion ecosystem should be developed. In the Middle East, there are still very few fashion schools. There aren’t any fashion corporations giving novice designers the chance to learn, and there are no local suppliers for textiles, for instance. Hence, it is very challenging to start a brand with a global mindset and appeal. However, things are changing quickly. For instance, Galeries Lafayette has recently opened a department store in Doha. Its buyers are constantly looking for local designers to be displayed there, keeping up its high-quality standards for selection; this is very important since local designers are learning how to meet international high quality standards to be attractive for buyers.
SC: What does Italy have to offer in 2019 and beyond?
Italy, Milan in particular, has an incredible fashion ecosystem: all the players are there. So, if you are a designer and you want to learn from the best or you want to have international exposure, you can find all of this in Milan. If you are a digital startup looking for business opportunities, most fashion corporations are here. For instance, we are negotiating an investment in a startup based in Hong Kong which has developed a machine learning-based algorithm applicable for fashion brands. They came to us because of their interest in the Italian fashion market.
SC: What areas present the most opportunities in fashion and tech right now?
I still believe that the main area is data: having accurate, real-time information to guide decisions is a real competitive advantage today. If those solutions are based simply on statistics or machine learning or artificial intelligence, smart information can really make a great difference. Applications are very numerous – from GEO price monitoring to merchandising optimization, from customer behavior analysis to preventing returns, to the optimization of internal e-commerce search engines, up to the data supporting creative processes.
SC: What are some of the most interesting startups you are working with right now?
Three names. Vintag is a mobile app for vintage lovers who can sell or buy cool vintage products. I love it because it leverages the trend of vintage that is booming, but also for its sustainability message: don’t buy something new; rather simply look for what is already on the market. Lone Design Club creates pop-up stores in London, Milan, and Shanghai, inviting selected emerging designers who can access the market without the burden of going through all the trade fairs and the process of dealing with buyers. Customers are so interested in meeting new designers directly in the store and learning about their products in person. Cloudrobe is an app that allows customers to store their clothes temporarily in an outsourced wardrobe, providing them with the sort of care a grandmother would give. The app enables users to create wardrobe space without having to use those horrible boxes at home.
SC: We see a lot of shooting stars on the market – fly up, receive funding, only to fade into oblivion shortly thereafter. Why do you think that is? How can we prevent this from happening? What gives a startup staying power?
I think that creating a successful company is just hard. Maybe today it is easier to start one, but this creates much more competition on the market, so only the strongest survive. There are many reasons for startup failures. One of the most common is the team. If the entrepreneurs are not agile enough to be able to pivot their business according to market reactions, this can lead to failure. Or if they are not strongly committed, some of them just leave the venture to look for easier opportunities. But sometimes it is also a matter of market entry. Some innovations come to market too early and the market is not necessarily ready to accept them yet. Look at the rental market for instance: in the US, Rent the Runaway has become a unicorn, in Europe the rental market is still very very small with no dominant players yet.