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When It Comes To Fashion, Shouldn't There Be An App For That?

Feb 14, 2013
Originally published on February 15, 2013 3:05 am

Thursday is the last day of New York Fashion Week, and some cutting-edge design will be presented in the tents at Lincoln Center — literally. Standing on the runway will be computer programmer types rather than models. This follows an event that kicked off Fashion Week — something called a "hackathon."

A hackathon, explains Liz Bacelar, is a "fast-paced competition in which graphic designers, software developers and people with ideas, they come together to build an app in 24 hours. "

Bacelar is the founder of Decoded Fashion, a company that brings together people working in the tech industry with people working in the fashion industry.

"We brought together 550 registered people, and 78 apps were created in the matter of a day," Bacelar tells NPR's Renee Montagne.

Winners and runners-up win prize money. But what does this have to do with big companies strutting their stuff at Fashion Week? According to Bacelar, the industry is less tech-savvy than it could be.

"The interesting thing about fashion is they [the companies] are trendsetters, right?" says Bacelar. "But right now the industry could really use some innovation. They have kind of lagged behind in technology and how to run a business in a lean way using the power of tech. So we came up with the idea of leveraging technology in a very quick way, to pitch them ideas for them to consider trying."

And, Bacelar says, the biggest and oldest companies have a lot to learn from new fashion startups.

"What happens with the fashion industry is you have the designers showing their collections, you have the buyers placing their orders, and you'd be surprised that a lot of top, top brands, they use very little to no technology. And you have startups, like small companies, they are launching brands online and reaching revenue much faster."

Bacelar says that she sees two trends emerging from the tech industry that could prove very useful in the world of fashion: 3-D printing and visual search.

"We know that in the past 10 years, [3-D printing] has been used for machine parts, for airplanes, and now in the past couple years ... jewelry and metal. We see keys, we see rings being printed."

And something else is being printed, now, too: fabric. Bacelar has seen designers begin to incorporate 3-D printing into their designs — something that she says bodes well for U.S. manufacturing.

"I think [designers] are going to go to hardware — the buttons, the zippers, and consequently, more and more of this manufacturing comes back to the U.S., because it's very complex manufacturing."

With 3-D printing, printers will essentially become tiny factories. "You can have a dress with no seams," says Bacelar. "You design the dress in your computer, you hook it up to the printer, you put [material] that you want the dress to be made of, if it's silk or whatever it is. It's so crazy to talk about it this way, but when you see it, the visuals are just incredible."

Another trend that Bacelar is excited about is visual search.

"Right now, the search is word-based, and more and more, search is becoming image-based," she says. "So, we're going to see browsers, we're going to see websites that we can go to and add an image, and be presented all the images that look just like it."

Bacelar says this year's Fashion Week, and the hackathon, finally bring fashion and technology together. "There's a lot of misunderstanding on both sides," she says. "On the tech side, we keep building solutions that we think the industry needs, but we don't quite know exactly how the fashion industry works. So from the fashion side, they have these problems, and they just don't know how to solve them, and the conversation never happens. So it's happening for the first time, and it's quite exciting."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's the last day of New York Fashion Week, and some cutting-edge design will be presented in the tents at Lincoln Center. Literally in a way. Standing on the runway will be computer programmer types rather than models. This follows an event that kicked off Fashion Week - something called a hackathon.

Here to explain it all is Liz Bacelar. She's the founder of Decoded Fashion, a company that brings together people working in the tech industry with people working in the fashion industry. Good morning.

LIZ BACELAR: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Why don't we start by you telling us what a hackathon is.

BACELAR: A hackathon, it's a fast-paced competition in which graphic designers, software developers and people with ideas, they come together to build an app in 24 hours.

MONTAGNE: Twenty-hours. And in the case of Fashion Week, the fashion hackathon involved what? How many teams? How many apps came out of it?

BACELAR: We brought together 550 registered people, and 78 apps were created in the matter of a day.

MONTAGNE: Well, now, the other part of it is many of the designers at Fashion Week are part of really big companies. So why a contest to build an app?

BACELAR: The interesting thing about fashion is that they're trendsetters, right. But right now the industry could really use some innovation. They have kind of lagged behind in technology and how to run a business in a lean way using the power of tech. So we came up with the idea of leveraging technology in a very quick way, to pitch them ideas for them to consider trying.

MONTAGNE: Well, yeah, I gather Fashion Week is a trade show that people go into almost just with pen and paper.

BACELAR: Yes. That's true. And what happens with the fashion industry, you have the designers showing their collections, you have the buyers placing their orders, and you'd be surprised that a lot of top, top brands, they use very little to no technology. And you have startups, like small companies, they are launching brands online and reaching revenue much faster.

MONTAGNE: I gather just as fashion editors travel to New York and Milan and Paris to see all the latest fashion, you, with Decoded Fashion, you travel around the world and see all the latest technology. So just talk to us about a couple of trends you're seeing.

BACELAR: So two trends I'm seeing that are quite interesting and growing very rapidly, it's 3-D printing and visual searches. 3-D printing, we know that in the past 10 years it's been used for machine parts, for airplanes, and now in the past couple years it became jewelry, metal. We see keys, we see rings being printed.

In fashion, what's happening now, it's fabrics. And I think they're going to go to hardware - the buttons, the zippers, and consequently more and more of this manufacturing comes back to the U.S., because it's very complex manufacturing.

MONTAGNE: Because it needs hi-tech workers who can do this. But also, you were just saying is a dress one would put it into a printer, which is really your own little factory. You put in material and it comes out as...

BACELAR: You can have a dress with no seams. You design the dress in your computer, you hook it up to the printer, you put the kind of ingredient, right, that you want the dress to be made of, if it's silk or whatever it is. It's so crazy to talk about it this way, but when you see it, the visuals are just incredible.

MONTAGNE: So the second one you spoke of, visual search. What is that exactly?

BACELAR: Right now the search is word-based, and more and more search is becoming image-based. So we're going to see browsers, we're going to see websites that we can go to and add an image and be presented all the images that look just like it.

MONTAGNE: That's pretty amazing. I mean considering you look at somebody on the street or in the store and you think I'd love that outfit and you can pretty much, as long as they don't mind you taking their picture, go find it.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: What about today? Thursday, last day of Fashion Week. What can we expect to see?

BACELAR: So today, finalists of the hackathon, they're going to be pitching to top fashion judges, so it will be a visualization of this intersection of fashion and technology. There's a lot of misunderstanding on both sides. Like on the tech side we keep building solutions that we think the industry needs, but we don't quite know exactly how the fashion industry works. And from the fashion side, they have these problems, and they just don't know how to solve them, the conversation never happens. So it's happening for the first time, and it's quite exciting.

MONTAGNE: Liz Bacelar is the founder of Decoded Fashion. Thank you very much.

BACELAR: Thanks so much, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.