When fashion met technology

What do an Israeli celebrity stylist and a tech entrepreneur have in common?

Orly Shay (photo credit: Moti Ben Tzur)
Orly Shay
(photo credit: Moti Ben Tzur)
Despite being a $1.3 trillion global industry, only 14 percent of fashion commerce happens online. But recent developments in the world of high fashion point to new trends on the horizon. There’s been a significant rise in the number of fashion tech companies being founded and receiving venture capital investment, and this trend has found its way to the Startup Nation, where Israeli entrepreneurs are taking their signature tech savvy and applying it to the world of fashion.
Started in 2011, Mipso is the brainchild of celebrated Israeli stylist Orly Shay and serial entrepreneur Menny Shalom. After a long career in fashion, retailing and styling, Orly had created a rigorous system for deciding what styles worked best for which body shapes, a matching system she had got down to a science. During a course she was giving at elite Israeli design institute Shenkar, her ideas caught the attention of Menny Shalom, a serial entrepreneur seeking the inspiration for his next endeavor.
But bridging the gap between the fashion beauty and the tech geek isn’t easy, and the two worlds often seem – well, worlds apart. It’s difficult to think of data, analytics and algorithms as anything connected to the thrill of a new purchase, or the visceral enjoyment of trying on a must-have outfit. Fashion is about more than selling products, it’s as much about buying an image or idea of oneself as it is about purchasing a piece of fabric cut into a specific pattern. Technology has struggled to mimic the highly personal, subjective experience of entering a store, picking out a piece of clothing and trying it on to get an immediate sense of how it looks and feels – through a mobile, tablet or computer screen.
That’s why so many of the successful fashion-tech startups have brought insiders from the fashion world in at management level, since their perspective on what makes fashion consumers tick is indispensable to developing technologies that will speak to those consumers effectively.
At Mipso, Orly’s years in the fashion industry gave her an invaluable insight on the psychology underlying how people shop and why they choose certain styles, a fashion acumen which could be leveraged to develop a technology that would address the pain points in apparel sales.
"It clicked for me immediately," says Shalom. "Orly possessed the rare ability to help any person find the perfect outfit. If we could find a way to automate her expertise, the benefits to customers around the world could be immense. Mipso is our attempt to give any shopper their own personal styling advisor."
After several meetings, Shay and Shalom were convinced that they had landed on an amazing concept, blending the creativity of a fashionista with the technological prowess Israeli entrepreneurs are celebrated for. Beginning with just two measurements, or even a webcam photo, Mipso’s cutting-edge technology matches each individual shopper’s body with the digital specs of any given garment to generate an accurate prediction for size and fit. Once they have implemented the technology, the retailers Mipso partners with – who range from designer brands to boutiques and department stores – are able to graphically show their shoppers how clothing will fit them.
“Everybody and every body is different,” says Shay. “In a store, brands can ensure they cater to each shopper’s individual body shape, size and style, but a brand can’t provide the same service online.”
An even bigger problem is the fact that sizing systems and fit differ from brand to brand and retailer to retailer, making industry-wide standardization impossible.
“We are all familiar with needing to buy different sizes in different stores, even though we’re dressing the exact same body,” continues Shay. “What Mipso does is make your unique body shape the standard for size, so that no matter where you shop – online or even off – you will be able to buy effectively, confident of getting the perfect fit.”
In fact, it’s primarily this sizing issue that has held back fashion e-commerce, with 70% of people claiming they don’t buy clothes online because of uncertainties about size. Those that do often buy in multiple sizes, relying on free returns to make this work. But these returns cost the retailer an average of $30-35 per item, making a serious dent in their profits and leaving fashion lagging behind in global e-commerce.
With such a small proportion of apparel sales made over the Internet, fashion e-commerce represents a lucrative market ripe for the picking, and Mipso is not alone in combining the best in Israeli high-tech talent with the fashion world. Israeli startup WiShi crowdsources your style, bringing social media and fashion together so that your community accesses your closet to help you dress with style. Fashion gaming company Fashioholic takes a different approach, using a die-hard tech background at IBM to develop games that keep consumers engaged while simultaneously viewing the fashion merchandise of companies they partner with.
Whether it’s fashion gaming, crowdsourced closets or a miracle solution to virtually try on clothes from the comfort of your own home, the convergence of fashion and technology promises a more effective and enjoyable shopping experience for the consumer and a highly-profitable market for innovative companies.