Fashion Tech Labs Are All The Rage: A Guide To 11 Fashion Tech Labs And … – Forbes

There has been a great deal written about fashion technology, everything from wearables to fit design, customization, manufacturing and social media marketing. The list is endless and incorporates, cloud computing, predictive analytics, 3D printing and much more. There are fashion labs springing up around the country even around the globe, but what are they and what do they offer entrepreneurs?

In general, these labs are designed to iterate either fashion design or technology used in fashion and retail. There is a distinction and if you are contemplating applying to be accepted in one of these labs, you should know the difference. There is also a clear divide between those labs that accelerate the growth of a stand-alone company from those that are meant to be integrated into the operations of the retailer.

Six Fashion Tech Labs Retailers Offer

In general, retail labs are meant to enhance the consumer experience in the retail store or environment. People who enter these labs generally work hand and hand with the digital, e-commerce, in-store merchandising teams to develop their product or service. If these prove out, they get integrated into the retailers operations. Often the retailer is buying technology talent to integrate into their own operations. It is not likely that they will become separate companies, but rather a part of the retailers own development team. If they don’t mature to a usable product or service for the retailer, they are either abandoned or spun out of the program to go at it on their own.

A case in point on this is Stylr, a New York based start- up acquired by WalMart. The company was shut down and taken inside WalMart where the founders will continue development for WalMart. In this case and many others, the retailer is buying technology talent and the founders are getting compensated for early stage development.

Each retailer lab has its unique purpose, but what they have in common is that they are trying to improve the relationship with their customers. Here are the six prominent retail fashion labs run by retailers:

Kohl’s Kohl’s, Milwaukee

Kohl’s Design It! was established through a partnership between Kohl’s Department Stores and Discovery World and is located in Milwaukee, WI. Students and designers can access Design It! in-person or through online classes that provide an educational forum to explore the necessary steps and feedback for a successful design. This is not so much a lab for entrepreneurs as it is for the fundamentals of design.

Macy’s Macy’s, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami 

Macy’s has initiated fashion design labs in different cities starting with Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami. The purpose of these labs is to foster the growth of design experts in different cities and to tap into new talent in design. Having design labs in different cities is one way to increase the sourcing for new design talent.

Nordstrom Nordstrom, Seattle & Silicon Valley 

Nordstrom has reached out into the design and technology communities of Seattle and Silicon Valley to identify new talent that enhance the customer experience. In addition to providing technical mentors to these innovators, they give them opportunities to try their product or service in store to gather intelligence and iterate the product. If successful, the product or service is launched for Nordstrom’s customers, or if applicable to back-end technology, integrated into their platform.

4. Target, Bangalore

To prove that the big box retailers are not only domestic US minded, Target has opened a fashion tech lab in Bangalore, India. The types of innovation projects they undertake relate to all areas of customer engagement as well as back-end technology. Ultimately, they, like other retailers are looking for integration into their store operations and customer engagement.

5. Walmart, Silicon Valley 

Walmart was one of the first retailers to establish a fashion tech lab and they choose Silicon Valley to launch their shop in 2011. Since then, they have acquired 14 companies, all of which have been brought into WalMart to work with specific areas of expertise. These are exemplified by companies like Torbit, which is a cloud-based website accelerator that WalMart believes will make their website run faster. Another acquisition was Social Calendar, a Facebook application to remind users of birthdays and other special occasions. All acquisitions are essentially the onboarding of talent for WalMart.


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