New York Fashion Tech Lab has spent a decade working two ends of the fashion innovation spectrum: To women-led fashion start-ups, the annual selection of cohorts represents an opportunity to learn from and connect with the major players. For brands and retailers, it’s an exploration of fresh approaches — and because they select the participants, the choices shed light on what some of the world’s most influential fashion companies want to see.

The latest cohort, which is due to be announced sometime on Wednesday, is no exception.

“It’s not me or the lab choosing the companies. It’s the retailers and brands identifying that user need, pain point or interesting topic,” Jackie Treblicock, NYFTLab’s managing director, told WWD. “So what I have found is that the industry takes notes and extracts the themes, and it usually is a light into what’s happening across the industry.”

This year, the nonprofit group added partners Saks Inc., Selfridges, The TJX Cos. Inc. and Wolverine World Wide Inc. to the roster. They join returning companies Burberry, Levi Strauss & Co., LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Macy’s Inc., Richemont and Vera Bradley Inc., with additional support from Accenture and Fenwick & West LLP.

The panel convened for a half-day session and evaluated the applications together, before ultimately settling on the final class of start-ups. The lineup reads like a list of fashion technology’s greatest hits of the moment.

For instance, advances in artificial intelligence are leading to chatbots that are uncanny in their natural language processing and understanding. While tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT fascinates the tech sector and public at large, start-ups like Sociate focus on what natural interactions can bring to the fashion retail business.

“Sociate is a personal stylist that sees and speaks, powered by proprietary curious AI,” explained Yasmin Topia, chief executive officer and cofounder. “Imagine never having to click, scroll or guess key words to find exactly what you want ever again. [You can] just talk to websites like they are people and get what you want.

“Customers are able to have two-way styling conversations with our AI personal stylist — show what they love, explain what they need — and she finds it for you, just like a real sales assistant.”

The business grabbed the attention of NYFTLab’s fashion and retail partners, along with five others, allowing these female founders to soon dive into 12 weeks of classes, mentorship sessions and networking opportunities.

The full list is as follows:

  • Altr: A digital fashion platform dedicated to unlocking the value of archival fashion.
  • Hue: A technology platform that allows brands and retailers to embed shoppable short-form UGC [user-generated content] video reviews on their websites.
  • Psykhe: Specializes in AI and psychology-powered merchandising and personalization.
  • Sociate: Developer of intelligence-driven chat tools, specifically an AI personal stylist that can see and speak with customers.
  • Sparkbox: Platform for data-driven pricing and inventory planning to improve profit and reduce waste.
  • Try Your Best: End-to-end community management solution that allows brands to connect, engage and reward fans.

For Trebilcock, the themes are rather apparent. The areas traverse retail nuts and bolts, such as price and inventory, to areas such as chat AI, personalization and Web 3.0 — including one that centers on “archival fashion and what legacy brands can do to turn that into digital assets.

“Another focuses on loyalty, which I think is one of the most interesting and relevant aspects of what you can do in Web 3.0. There’s also loyalty and brand engagement, video and UGC e-commerce reviews, price optimization and inventory planning.”

This year’s participants will follow in the footsteps of alumni such as DressX and Obsess, and fittingly for a project focused on female founders, the official announcement will arrive on International Women’s Day. In that way, NYFTLab’s mission is to fill certain needs in the fashion sector — whether that’s to bring more women-led businesses into the fold or shine a light on technical excellence and innovations that can guide fashion into the future.

The effort itself has changed over the past decade, as has the sector’s perspective, noted Trebilcock.

“When this first started, it was initially with the chief technology officers and chief information officers. That’s where tech went — they were getting pinged on LinkedIn, and [asking,] ‘Should we work with start-ups or not? Is that going to be a thing?’ — and cut to today — absolutely, it’s everyone’s responsibility. It doesn’t sit with the CTO or CIO anymore.

“Everyone, everything is infused with tech. So it’s everyone’s job to know what’s out there.”

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