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Brief Published: 12 Mar 2014

SXSWi 2014: Decoded Fashion


How can fashion brands keep up with tomorrow's connected consumers? Is there a place for wearables in the brand stories luxury labels are striving to craft? Those were just two of the questions raised at Decoded Fashion, a thought-provoking event at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) on Tuesday (March 11).

"In the next three years, we will see major retail players get involved in the [wearables] space," said Rachel Tipograph, director of global digital and social media at US fashion retailer Gap. But the conversation is moving beyond collecting data to "how that connectivity might influence your washing machine", for example. Tipograph's advice was simple: "Follow the consumer," she urged. "Consumers are changing faster than retailers are."

Luxury brands, in particular, should consider social media and other technologies as a means to change or refine brand image, rather than to sell a certain product. "The majority of ready-to-wear clients of [luxury brands such as Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton] are not engaging with the brand directly on social media," said Katalina Sharkey De Solis, former director of digital at luxury fashion giant Chanel. "And to follow a brand on Facebook is like displaying a bumper sticker: you want it to embody your aspirations." Experiential tech should aim to reproduce the lifestyle the brand offers.

The event also spotlighted products and services from a number of promising startups at the intersection between fashion and technology. Most popular was Everpurse – a small clutch with a special pocket that charges the owner's smartphone while on the go. To recharge the clutch, the owner simply places it on a wireless charging mat.

"We really believe that we will expect our accessories to do smart things for us in the next few years," said founder Liz Salcedo. She explained how flexible circuit boards could be embedded into accessories and apparel to reveal pocket and handbag contents – so you could be alerted if you leave your wallet or keys behind, for example.

UK tech startup Cortexica presented FindSimilar – a mobile and web-based platform that uses image-recognition technology to let users complete visual searches for fashion products. The service is designed to "empower consumers to match their images to [retailers'] inventories" and, ultimately, get to what they want faster. Meanwhile, Virtusize, "a virtual fitting solution", aims to reduce return rates on clothing – the long-term return rate for apparel is 23%, according to a February 2014 report from IMRG, the UK's industry association for online retail.

Look out for full coverage of the fashion and tech directions that emerged from SXSWi in our upcoming reports.