Transforming Fashion and Tech: Q&A with NYFTLab

Ally Feiam By Ally Feiam | 30 Oct 2019

NYFTLab (New York Fashion Tech Lab) is an innovative and community-driven business development program. We sat down with Jackie Trebilcock, the Managing Director of NYFTLab to discuss customer behaviour and the future of retail.

NYFTLab is a non-profit organisation with a focus on catapulting the leaders of innovative fashion, retail and tech and provide them with mentoring and workshops. Taking place every March-June, NYFTLab takes part in a competitive process to select six to ten entrants in the final program. Founded in 2014 by Springboard Enterprises and key retail leaders, it holds a focus on women-led companies. NYFTLab acts as a launching pad for emerging tech companies who have developed ‘innovations at the intersection of fashion, retail, and technology’.

Since the inception of NYFTLab in 2014, many things have transformed throughout retail. What have been some major changes in the program since its launch? 

“New York Fashion Tech Lab launched in 2014 as one of Springboard Enterprises’ industry sector programs, with the mission of engaging fashion and retail leaders in what is known as the Fashion Capital. As NYC’s premier business catalyst program for emerging tech innovators, we began to receive an influx of requests from interested applicants and new partners spanning from Russia, Singapore, China, Paris, London, Switzerland, Tel Aviv, as well as other major cities in the U.S., allowing us to expand our recruitment and selection of entrepreneurs and brand partners globally,” Jackie Trebilcock said.

To be a part of the NYFTLab, six to ten women-led companies are selected by your participating partners and receive the opportunity for mentorship among other benefits. What does NYFTLab look for in applicants?

“One piece of criteria for applicants is that the company has either a female founder, co-founder or senior team member who has decision-making responsibilities and an equity stake in the company, comparable to the rest of the management team,” she explained. “Once the applicants are identified, the selection process begins for companies that are considered ‘market-ready’, meaning their product or service is already in use with customers in beta and is ready to deploy. Our fashion and retail partners look for companies they can work with to innovate and complement their impact, with the intention of hopefully integrating into existing systems and processes.”

What does the NYFTLab process look like?

“The Lab runs for 12 weeks annually from March until early June each year. Recruitment for the program takes place the prior year in October, after which the reviewing process of applicants begins in November,” she said. “This year’s application opened Oct. 7, 2019, with a deadline of Nov. 15. A number of selected finalists are invited to interview with our partners each February, in order to decide which companies will be selected for the program. NYFTLab will then announce the selected lab companies along with their 2020 fashion and retail partners to the general public in early March.”

The next NYFTLab program takes place in March. What can we expect from the 2020 event?

“Each year The New York Fashion Tech Lab works closely with our partners to target new, innovative solutions to advance and push the industry’s traditional boundaries forward. We focus on recruiting, qualifying and catalysing companies whose innovative approach to creating solutions and services have the potential to address an area of friction experienced by our retail brand partners, and ultimately consumers,” Ms Trebilcock said.  “As the program has evolved, we are seeing a greater influx of companies and their developments that may not have been created for the fashion industry but do have an impactful solution that could be applied. Our search for promising innovations in 2020 has expanded to reach global markets, with the intention being to engage our fashion and retail partners with the most ground-breaking innovators worldwide.”

The Future of Fashion and Tech in Retail

There have been many examples of fusing tech and fashion within the retail categories, and NYFTLab is proof that it’s the future. “Technology is now seen as an intersection for all industries, including retail. Lab companies have created and implemented solutions in the areas of visual search, AI, Fit technology, AR/VR for shopping, and consumer insights to name a few. The goal is to bring together technology solutions that are innovating at the intersection of fashion, retail and technology and help the end consumer be more efficient and direct in their shopping experience and process,” she explained.

Consumer behaviour has changed dramatically over the past few years. How has consumer behaviour changed with the development of technology in retail? 

“The change in customer behaviour is driven by the embrace of technology on a grand scale. As new technologies are introduced into the market, consumers are dictating how they wish to engage with brands and retailers. Consumers are in the driver’s seat,” she said. “Staying abreast of tech trends and managing consumer expectations are imperative for retailers and brands because the industry is ever-changing. In the past, brands and retailers were in the position of dictating what consumers wanted. Consumers are now leading the charge in how they interact with the brand and retail experience.”

For those interested in applying, the six to ten selected in the program will receive ‘mentorship and collaboration with participating fashion retailers, venture capitalists, and the Lab’s Expert Network’. They will also obtain ‘access to senior leaders at fashion retailers for product feedback and potential deployment of proofs of concept’. For the selected participants, they will take part in meetings with senior business executives, investors, and experienced entrepreneurs. Moreover, they will develop their concepts in workshops and panel discussions on issues relevant to fashion technology companies. Some of these include ‘data optimisation, proofs of concept, technology architecture and scalability, privacy, security, and broader industry trends’. At the end of the program, those involved will present their concepts to fashion and retail executives, investors, and media representatives at the NYFTLab ‘Tech Runway Demo Day’. Applications close November 15th.

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