Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Isabelle's career started in investment banking. She worked for more than ten years in a well-known global investment bank, as a broker in stocks and derivatives. As fashion was always part of her life, she decided to turn this passion into something more concrete. She started organising private sales at her home for her busy girlfriends who wanted to access the world of fashion in an easy way. The sales included items from new and groundbreaking designers from Italy, Denmark and France who had no physical stores in Zurich. Isabelle's own place became their exclusive store and in this trendy and alternative environment she realised the inconsistency in sizing. Four years ago she founder EyeFitU, the platform and app that provides sizing recommendations to consumers for all major brands around the world. EyeFitU uses 'smart' learning technology which continues to 'learn' from billions of data points, matching clothes not only to measurements but ultimately to typical body shapes and style preferences globally.
Isabelle, how did you get into fashion tech?
Fashion has always be a huge passion of mine and I have loved technology since developing my programming skills whilst studying Economics at university. My background in finance - I was a broker for a global investment bank in stocks and derivatives for over a decade - gave me the solid foundation to refocus my career and start my own business. Fashion Technology was the natural choice.
What is the idea behind EyeFitU and how did you come up with it? When did you start with that business, how did you start a and do you have other members in your team?
The idea behind EyeFitU was to create an innovative, on-the-go solution to the issues brought about by the global differences in sizing in the fashion industry, and the consequential waste and pollution created by the rising number of returns.
The concept began to take shape when I had already decided to turn my passion into something more concrete. Back in 2003 I started to organise private sales at my home for friends and family who wanted to access European designers that had no physical stores in Zurich. Personally, I have already struggled with finding the correct fit in fashion but it was only then that I realised the full extent of the issue with inconsistencies in sizing across not only brands but countries too. Not to mention the repercussions that came with it: crazy returns rates, loss of customer / brand trust and huge, unnecessary costs associated with that. From this point, I knew I wanted to create a solution to tackle this; a unique solution that would encourage a more sustainable approach to fashion shopping, benefitting both consumers and retailers alike.
In 2012 I reached out to some business contacts, whom I knew and trusted, and we started putting the concept into action, including; investment generation and constituting the Executive and Advisory Board.
I am the founder and CEO of EyeFitU and we are a growing team of 14. Our headquarters are in Zurich, we have an office in the USA and my team spans across Europe and America. These include: Henrik Steffensen - COO and Erik Troelsen - CTO in Switzerland and Louisa Schibli - Business Development in the USA.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
EyeFitU was officially founded at the end of 2012, but we have been fully-operative since mid-2013 - so, five years.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The biggest obstacle came from being a ground-breaking platform, which in itself poses a number of challenges. Our solution was brand new, everything we have done did previously not exist and so bumps along the road were to be expected. From integration to testing, to automation to re-testing - we are constantly learning and developing.
Another obstacle we continue to face is being a startup. For any new business, the early stages brings a whole host of challenges! Speed and time to market to test if the value proposition works is hugely important. It is really important to balance this with retailers who are often, due to legacy systems, not able to embrace new and advanced technologies very quickly. Luckily, and not surprisingly, for us many are keen to improve conversion and retention rates and are therefore eager to test technologies that can help with this. Remaining agile is inherent to our culture.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
I believe that being an entrepreneur, regardless of gender, has to be inherent to one’s character and willingness to be constantly challenged and somehow risk averse! Being a female is unfortunately still an exception; but on the other hand, I continue to see a lot of support among women in the industry.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
The official launch of our B2C offering in 2016 was a huge achievement, and now we have the B2B side too - it is a very exciting time for EyeFitU!
Any recognition we have achieved means so much to us, for instance; in May 2017 we were finalists in two categories (Best App and Best Use of Innovation) at the Drapers Digital Festival, London as well as the NOAH Tech conference, Berlin. We were also a winner at the Red Herring Top 100 companies and in March this year we were selected as one of four winners at the Loomish Fashion Innovation Award, Switzerland.
What are your projects you are currently working on?
We are currently rolling out our B2B offering to retailers, which will allow them to integrate a sizing solution for their consumers on their online stores. What’s more, in the last year EyeFitU obtained its patent for uniformity in sizing in e-commerce and in-store QR code-bar scanning code. We were also recently accepted as an Alexa skill, meaning users can now ask Alexa what his / her size is across many brands and garment types and she will answer!
EyeFitU is constantly developing to meet the needs of its users and retailers.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Of course! Tech should not be gender exclusive; this movement should inspire and drive women to feel just as confident as their male peers in the industry. I have had the pleasure of meeting many talented and passionate women - and men - in tech and it’s amazing to see us striving towards greater equality.
What will be the key trends in the fashion tech and wearable tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
The keys trends undoubtedly include; the omni channel becoming a reality; hyper-personalisation; in-store experiences (perhaps AR will really take off!) , and most significantly, sustainability in fashion.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
To any other female founders and entrepreneurs out there, my key piece of advice is to maintain a certain degree of curiosity! To stay ahead in your industry, it is essential to always be abreast of industry news and attend events with like-minded peers for support and networking opportunities.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in fashion tech and / or tech?
Carmen Busquets, Aslaug Magnusdottir and Marissa Mayer.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.