Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Yael Kochman is the founder and CEO of Fash&Tech, a fashion and retail Innovation Centre. Based in Israel, Yael is a key figure in the local and global fashion tech industry and has worked with dozens of startups to help them grow, raise funds and scale. Yael is a public speaker and published author, with articles published in Fast Company, Forbes, and other magazines. She is a marketing strategist with over 10 years of experience in marketing, business development, and operations. Yael holds an MBA from the Sofaer International Program at Tel-Aviv University.
What is the idea behind Fash&Tech and how did you come up with it?
In 2011 I started a marketplace for young independent designers with my partner Netta Stavinsky. While working on this venture, I learned that it was very hard for people to connect fashion and technology. After speaking to other fashion-tech entrepreneurs, we learned that they share similar experiences: it is harder for fashion startups to raise funds, it is harder to get media attention and even harder to recruit developers. Since we all shared similar challenges, I decided to open a meetup group so that we will have a forum to meet, discuss and share our experiences. This is how Fash&Tech was born.
What started as a small meetup group is now a vibrant community with over 130 startups and 1600 members worldwide. Currently, we are building an innovation centre for fashion and retail technologies that is based in Tel-Aviv, with partnerships throughout the world, such as FashInvest in New York, Luxury Tech Fund in Paris and Fashion Technology Accelerator in Milan. Our goal is to help fashion technology startups at all stages to grow and scale, and we do this through a series of acceleration programs, mentorship, workshops and events.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team? How long did it take you to be where you are now?
I ran Fash&Tech as a side project for almost 4 years and did not hire any employees. I worked with my partner Netta as well as Liraz Cohen who is leading our NYC branch. Recently, Alla Foht has joined us as a 4th partner and the Head of Business Development.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The biggest challenge we face today is securing funding. We are raising a small sponsorship to support the operations of the Innovation Centre, and since this is a new model it is challenging to bring on board the right partners and sponsors. However, we are currently discussing with several sponsors from Israel and abroad and are optimistic about the future.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Our biggest achievement is opening the first batch of our mini-acceleration program dedicated to early stage fashion technology companies, which will start in May. This is a 5-day program which provides access to top mentors and companies such as ASOS, Deloitte, Browzwear and Azrieli E-commerce. The next batch will open in October in France.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Fashion is considered a very soft niche in the entrepreneurship world. The fashion tech space attracts many female founders as they feel more comfortable in this space, and in fact, in 60% of our startups there is at least one female founder on the team. Yet, the investment world is mostly dominated by men, who are less attracted to fashion, and therefore founders in this space are having even higher difficulties in raising funds than other industries.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
While we do not actively support women in tech and we do welcome men founders just as we welcome the women, we are happy to be in a position to help so many women founders. We do our best to make sure that each of our events and programs have at least a 50:50 ratio when it comes to female founders or speakers.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fashion tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
The key trends I currently see in fashion technology are:
1. Omnichannel - many starts are working in different ways to bridge the gap between the online and offline and find ways to leverage the digital world to create a better in-sore experience. In an era where more and more shoppers are shopping online and using mobile devices to compare prices even when in-store and find the best prices for them, technology can help to offer a more engaging and significant customer experience that helps fashion brands compete for audience attention. Companies such as Memomi, Checkout Apps and Screemo are already successfully working with fashion brands to help them improve the shopping experience and attract more foot traffic.
2. Bots and AI - this is not only in the fashion industry. Bots are a hot topic these days, yet the technology is still very premature. In the next couple of years, we will see massive improvements and smart fashion tech startups that will be able to leverage this technology to offer a better online shopping experience for e-commerce brands. Some of the interesting startups in this space are Syte, Proonto and mmuze.
3. Personalisation - we all want to be unique, and fashion is one way for us to express our uniqueness. Thanks to technology, people are now able to design their own clothes and accessories and have a unique say. Julbox, the winner of the Fash & Tech promising startup award for 2016, have developed an app that enables any person to design their own jewellery and sell the design in Julbox's marketplace. Shufff is a B2B platform that enables brands to offer customised designs, and Say Wearables is enabling people to wear social media as part of jewellery and other accessories.
4. Fashion for good - in a world where most brands produce in large quantities and people shop endlessly thanks to low prices and high range of options, some startups are working to eliminate waste and reduce production. Cercle is a crowdfunding platform for fashion brands, enabling designers to pre-sell their collection in order to avoid unnecessary production. REMEANT is a revolutionary product line which provides a unique, sustainable and innovative solution for non-degradable surplus packaging waste. REMEANT's production is based on collecting industrial surplus and damaged bubble wrap and other packaging material waste and transforming it into a new material aimed at different addressable markets, such as fashion manufacturers and chain stores, garden furniture, camping supplies, and water resistant coverings.
Another interesting startup is Miz.NK who is developing smart 3D printed jewelry and clothing for self-defense.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and fashion tech?
Daria Shuali, who started Sense of Fashion in 2009, Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal and Adi Ronen of Adika. Adika is a successful online fashion brand in Israel who based its entire business model on social media back when social media only started and was sold to a large fashion brand about 2 years ago.
Linkedin: Yael Kochman
Twitter: Yael Kochman