Fashion Tech Panel at the Exceed@Work Networking Event


In an era when technology is king, three fashion tech startups explore the impact of technology on the fashion industry.

Exceed@Work, hosted a dynamic panel of fashion tech entrepreneurs, Carl Cunow, Co-Founder of Onia, Ovadia Labaton, VP of Kidbox and Michelle Goad, CEO and Founder of PSDept, to discuss their experiences and insights as startups in a rapidly changing industry.

The evening began with an introduction by Executive Director of Exceed Network, Irwin Dayan, emboldening the packed audience to build and evolve their startups by using the extensive resources and experienced mentors of Exceed Network. Guests and members of the Exceed@Work community had the opportunity to network with fellow entrepreneurs before and after the panel, enjoying local beer and sushi against the backdrop of the Manhattan Bridge in the chic and airy DUMBO WeWork space, the Exceed@Work community headquarters.

Moderated by Glamour Magazine’s Senior Online Fashion Editor, Sophia Chabbott, the panelists shared their approach to issues that face their businesses today, including the future of brick-and-mortar retail, the changing face of marketing and advertising, social media strategy, celebrity endorsement, entrepreneurship and e-commerce.


Consumers are not coming into stores as they once did, the panelists explained, and fashion tech companies are learning how to replicate the human-touch of the shopping experience online. “Our personality as a brand is that we are people, and we make the shopping experience fun and funny,” says Michelle Goad, CEO and Founder of PSDept, a pioneering mobile app in the conversational commerce space. The user experience on the app is currently 50% automated. The bigger and broader the brand grows the more essential it is to continue to keep the site automated wherever possible. Goad continues to explain the importance of a perfect balance, “We have been very obsessive about those moments that are automated to not turn off our consumer. The second people think they are talking to a robot they shut down.” In addition to bringing the shopping experience mobile, virtual shopping platforms are bringing the brick-and-mortar experience into the home, explains Ovadia Labaton, Strategy and Development VP of Kidbox. Kidbox offers a multi-level experience to its savvy, parent consumer – a customized clothing selection for children, a timesaving, at-home delivery and a donation-based model that encourages childhood education on generosity. When the box arrives, children and parents can explore and make their selections together in the comfort of home, returning the items they want to exchange for a different article of clothing. According to Carl Cunow, Co-Founder of Onia, a luxury swimwear and lifestyle brand, high consumer engagement from seeing an outfit online in a merchandized setting is pervading the fashion industry. People want to shop quickly, to see product in different settings, not just on a mannequin, and consumers want to identify with brands of quality they can trust.


Tech is enabling the success of fashion tech companies in a big way. For example, Kidbox’s advanced artificial intelligence and complex self-teaching algorithm allows the brand to create a customized clothing box for a specific child. The self-improving computer benefits from the influence of the human stylist when interpreting more complicated inputs such as ‘my child is four and is a bit big for his age and enjoys denim but only denim shorts above the knee.’ Similarly, the ethos behind PSDept is to disband the pervading stereotype that the app is simply personal shopping. With over 30K users worldwide, it is actually a complex software language in a scalable model that is able to connect women directly to an in-store sales associate with the send of a text message and enables an e-commerce purchase in less than 3 clicks. Whether it’s a limited edition Gucci bag or a home decor set they saw online, a perfect blend of human and computer are able to quickly respond to consumers with accuracy. Similarly, it is technology that has allowed Onia to build a client base without advertising. According to Cunow, the brand is completely word-of-mouth and partnership-based, and most importantly, quality based. The consumer of today will keep coming back for quality. The brand is currently building new software to streamline the production process and eliminate human error. They also maintain all interoffice communication on the messaging app Slack, removing paper trails, chain emails and countless other time-wasting operatives that dominate traditional office structure.

The consumer that PSDept serves, as a mobile platform, is connected to online media. She is using her phone as an alarm and then immediately after, checking her social feeds, which in turn is influencing her purchasing decisions. “We find the more human the emails, the more successful the email will be,” says Goad. “Extraordinarily high opening rates are emails that look like I wrote them – people just love that. It does not have to be high gloss, we want people to know humans are behind the our (the our?) experience.” Labaton, whose product Kidbox relies heavily on brand-produced online content, SEM and e-marketing advises, “make sure your brand’s marketing is directed to the right customer, with the right message and especially, delivered at the right time.” For Onia, Having a strong identity as a brand and recognizing that a brand does not need to be everything to everyone, serves the brand well. Their community identifies with the refined aesthetic the brand has built, developing clean silhouettes crafted from high-quality materials and technical fabrics in innovative fits and styles. “Business is grown organically,” Cunow explains. “We are not in the customer acquisition game. It is about brand recognition and knowing our consumer.”

Knowing the consumer also means understanding what influences them. “Anyone that has a massive social following can influence your purchasing decision,” Goad adds. “Ten years ago the TV celebrity could sell out a style, today it’s the celebrity looking to the blogger for inspiration on new trends.” Onia also recognizes that influencers have extremely high purchase-power in the fashion tech industry. No longer the celebrity from the movies, this new “it-girl” is the girl (or guy) next-door with thousands of followers on their blog and social media channels. There is pretty big effect when a celebrity or a social media influencer mentions and wears your brand, according to Onia. How quickly can a style sell out? “A matter of minutes,” says Cunow when speaking about the numbers of conversions seen directly after an influencer posts on a certain style from the collection.

As entrepreneurs, the panelists shared some of their biggest challenges growing their businesses:

Streamlining a Purchase – The number one focus in creating the PSDept platform was making the purchase flow less than 3 clicks. Particularly in the mobile space, there are a lot of online marketplaces that pop the customer off to another site to make the final purchase and more often than not, they lose the client.

Operations – For Kidbox, newly launched in Spring 2016, operations and logistics has prepared them to expect the unexpected. “People are returning products that we never sent them,” Labatan shares. “In the office we joke that we are still mildly expecting people to return a box with their actual child inside.”

Human Resources – Leaning how to create a desirable workplace is a priority for Onia as an expanding business. They want to keep the workplace enjoyable to work in and attract great talent. As the business grows and the team grows, the most dynamic challenge is the people – having diverse employees and learning how to maximize their potential.

The panelists and attendees alike benefited from the open forum of the evening and the welcoming community of aspiring entrepreneurs. The Exceed@Work business incubator program will continue to host exciting networking events and educational opportunities for the community.

About Exceed@Work Business Incubator:
Created for the community at-large, Exceed@Work business incubator provides work space, individualized mentorship, support services, education and loan opportunities for small businesses. Strategically operating within WeWork’s DUMBO co-working space, Exceed@Work members have access to health insurance, payment processing, IT support, payroll, legal and other services through the WeWork partnership. Unique opportunities for networking events include enriching seminars and speaker panels across many tech industries, offering aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups insider access to best practices from successful business-minded individuals and companies.


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