“Ones to Watch” list showcases 50 UK-based projects praised by experts for delivering new products, services and experiences through creative and tech expertise. This report, described as “who’s who guide of the UK companies at the forefront of Createch” was the highlight of the Createch 2019 conference held at London’s Code Node on 11th June, as part of London Technology Week. The list was compiled by innovation research specialists Springwise with support from London & Partners and Digital Catapult.
Tim Davie, CEO of BBC Studios and Co-Chair of the CIC, a joint forum of government and industry said: “The intersection of creativity and technology is one of the most exciting growth areas in today’s economy. Createch 2019 will provide a unique guide for anyone trying to navigate through this fast-changing landscape.”
Createch has identified 4 key sectors that revolutionize user experience: 1) Immersive Entertainment, 2) Transformative Experiences, 3) Seamless Service and 4) Personalised Tools.
Intelistyle, an innovative start-up for AI styling solutions based in London, is one of the 50 companies featured in the “Ones to Watch” list. “Styled by AI” isn’t yet a commonly used term, although that may be about to change, the report mentions.
Intelistyle specifically belongs in the “Personalised Tools VR ⁄ 3D ⁄ Robotics” category both for its B2B services to retailers and for the personalization offered to the end user through its chatbot. Its artificial intelligence software basically offers effective styling results across platforms: from in-store to online, even at home – a truly omnichannel experience.
Intelistyle was also chosen by Createch for its revolutionary tech, ensuring excellent styling quality: It uses machine learning to extract data from thousands of outfits put together by stylists, influencers, designers and retailers and eventually offer styling solutions. It is the same approach that got Intelistyle featured in Forbes, for outperforming human stylists during London Fashion Week.
For Intelistyle’s work with retailers, there is another “secret power”: making customized, on brand recommendations, improving their metrics (conversion, clicks-through-rate etc) and using the available data to make personalized suggestions to the customer, so eventually offering a better user experience.
Intelistyle in Createch: You can read the report here.
The world’s most significant and profitable industries are facing massive changes thanks to advances in technology. More specifically, blockchain, artificial intelligence (A.I.), new types of financial transactions and a few other big leaps in tech are responsible for these ongoing changes to how many industries do business. Looking at the fashion industry in particular, these are some of the ways in which we’d expect to see specific changes come about.
Blockchain Will Fight Counterfeit Products & Streamline The Fashion Supply Chain
The distributed ledger technology called blockchain is mostly known for being the foundational tech behind cryptocurrency. More generally, a blockchain is basically a string of chronologically arranged code. Each new block of code on the chain requires every computer with access to the blockchain to approve the addition of that data via a shared cryptographic solution, which translates to peer-verified security in every data transfer, addition or modification. It all happens nearly instantaneously, without any of the red tape commonly attached to security protocols. And this same tech can be used to protect products and ensure quality in the fashion industry.
Each individual fashion item can be tagged with labels attached to blockchains, which allows everyone in the supply chain to verify its origin, ownership and every time it has changed hands. The LuxTag Project took to Medium to detail how some designers are already taking advantage of this potentially revolutionary product integrity solution. Back in 2017, Londoner Martine Jarlgaard produced the first smart label-tagged garments. Scanning the tags gave users time-stamped info on everything about the garments – from raw material acquisition and factory information down to how the finished products were packaged and delivered. Similarly, fashion retailer Babyghost used near-field communication (NFC) chips to tag its 2017 summer and spring collection. This allowed customers to use the NFC tags to find out everything they wanted and needed to know about every Babyghost product.
Apart from ensuring product integrity, this can also push fashion labels to be more honest about where they get their raw materials, how they conduct labor practices and everything else customers in 2019 (and beyond) will be concerned about. Essentially, information sharing and supply chain transparency are about to become realities in the global fashion industry. This is a potentially huge boon to the fashion supply chain, the fight against counterfeit goods, and corporate social responsibility.
Competitive Payment Options Will Dictate Retail Preferences
In recent years, payment platforms such as Paypal, Amazon Pay, Payoneer, Venmo and Dwolla have played increasingly large roles not just in online retail, but in various other spaces such as vacation rentals, gaming and service industries. The reason is simple: these payment options offer the convenience and security that some more traditional methods lack. By and large, newer, more innovative payment platforms are now making things even easier for both customers and product and service providers.
For instance, the service called Paysafe Pay Later is potentially revolutionary in allowing customers to delay payment until after their ordered products have been shipped, all in a way that doesn’t impact the company’s cashflow. A New Zealand-based gaming company details how online casinos now use the Paysafecard, which is similar but slightly faster to use than VISA and other debit/credit cards. Independent of bank, card or other personal financial information, Paysafe instead relies on a single, 16-digit pin to credit money to a customer’s account and verify transactions. It’s currently seeing heavy use in gaming and retail – two of the biggest revenue sources on the web. And it’s just one example of a new payment service that could prove to be a deciding factor in how customers choose which fashion retailers to shop from in the future.
Nobal’s smart mirror solution for fitting rooms
Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything
There are several reasons why Intelistyle cannot help but cover how A.I. will change the face of retail. For one thing, A.I. algorithms are responsible for well-informed and relevant product suggestions for online retail customers. For another, A.I. can be used to predict trends and product demand, allowing retailers to be better at managing inventory and catering to customers’ needs.
Though they may seem simple, even those small perks can help retailers avoid serious problems – such as, for example, the massive surplus Under Armour faced last year when it overestimated product demand and wound up $1.3 billion the hole! And even this is only scratching the surface of the benefits A.I. can provide to retailers.
Examples could go on and on, but even the relatively brief write-ups above provide a picture of how a small handful of tech innovations can and will revolutionize the fashion retail business.
An exclusive interview with Paul Kruszewski, AI technologist, serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO of WRNCH – a leading AI computer vision software engineering company based in Montreal.
The “machines” are coming! As the farfetched robot apocalypse of Sci-Fi films becomes an impending reality of our daily life, the reaction of the fashion industry remains mixed. When a technology is projected to revolutionise the industry, the possibility of feasting on the early adopter’s advantage captures the most sceptical hearts… on the other other hand, scepticism takes the reins and demands to know:
Will AI be the end of human creativity and jobs in fashion?
While the answer is more complex than a single word, it is still a solid: No.
The good, the bad and the ugly speculations surrounding AI should all be taken with a grain of salt.
Darwin’s foresight that it’s neither the strongest nor the smartest but the most adaptable to change that will survive the test of time rings true. The fashion industry is dipping its toes (or legs as of 2018) in the waters of artificial intelligence.
We sat down with a man who took a deep dive into these novel waters 20 years ago: Paul Kruszewski, AI technologist and serial entrepreneur. During our exclusive interview on his personal journey to success, he shared valuable tips for fashion companies looking to incorporate AI into their business. Come and take a look at the past, present, and future of AI and its implications for the fashion industry.
From Farming To Artificial Intelligence
Paul’s first encounter with technology dates back to late 70s, when he was raising pigs for pocket money as a 12-year-old kid at his family farm in Alberta. “I really wanted a computer, that was the cool thing” he recalls. After selling his pigs for $250 and combining it with his brother’s $250 input, he was still only halfway there. “I go to my dad and said, programming is the future. We need to buy a computer. You match us up to $1,000”. $500 later, he was writing his first program on a Radio Shack TRS-80.
Radio Shack TRS-80 is one of the first desktop microcomputers launched in 1977
Fast forward to 1998, having completed his bachelor’s in computer science at University of Alberta, his MA and Ph.D. at McGill University, Paul was recruited by a company called My Virtual Model: “They said, e-commerce is going to change everything. We’re going to create your body on the internet and we will put clothes on you and we will charge”. With just a powerpoint and a $30 million capital, he took the team from 1 person to 60 in 9 months, built a chip while the founders sold the software. Looking back at the business, he maintains the vision was “conceptually great” but “the promise of trying clothes on the internet and making a buying decision from that… It was 20 years too early. The technology wasn’t there!”.
When asked where he sees the technology today in means of enabling that vision, he says “We’re right on the cusp”. Paul goes on to predict that in 5 years it will be pretty standard for people to stand in front of their TV and try on basic clothing. “I think AI is going to transform everything… the supply chain, design. The design process of clothing will be semi-automated in 10 years. On the other side of the spectrum, AI is going to completely change materials and 3D printing”.
Electronic textiles known as “Smart Fabrics” enable digital components to be embedded in them for a variety of benefits from customised fit to weather adaptability
Business of Fashion’s collaborative report with McKinsey & Company confirms Paul’s prediction, stating that 20-30% of current fashion jobs will become automated. But, don’t brace yourself for such a disaster scenario just yet. Rather than replacing humans, AI will be supplementing existing jobs and will be creating brand new ones. The bottom line is that fashion still does and will persist to need the human touch. Prominent fashion schools of the world like The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and The London College of Fashion are already incorporating AI-led skills training into their degree programs to raise the next generation of industry leaders.
“…who controls the customer experience? Will it be the clothing manufacturer, the retailer or the person behind?”
Speaking of leaders, back to Paul Kruszewski, who was next recruited as the CTO of a video games company. “But I realised that I’m a technologist and an entrepreneur. In 2000, I started my first company in AI”. Shortly after, he was approached and persuaded by Rick McKenzie, a professor, and military researcher, to collaborate on military simulations. It didn’t take long to start getting results…
The Technological Power Play
When once he was struggling to secure a place in the market, he was now getting calls from companies and corporations including the US Marine Corps. But what is the secret to his commercial success? “No matter what you think is the right call at the time, you have to listen to the market” he reveals, “There will always be that interesting tension of who controls the customer experience. Will it be the clothing manufacturer, the retailer or the person behind?”. While we will have to wait to find out the definitive answer to that question, he expects to be interesting to watch as completely different possibilities for fashion unfold over the coming decade.
The Vital Questions To Ask Your Business
As with all virgin territory, adapting AI into your business comes with the innate possibility of mistakes along the way. “All of a sudden everyone is an AI-powered company. Why?” he inquires and then proceeds to highlight that AI is a tool to enhance your existing product and not a product in itself. In this uncharted land, where there isn’t yet enough history to go by and map out a fine print to success, Paul encourages companies to go back to 3 basic questions for a seamless integration process:
1- What are you trying to solve?
2- What is your pain as an organisation?
3- What are you doing that you want to get better at?
And find out where you can be unique!
A Curated Dataset Is The Key To Success
A lot of traditional fashion and retail organisations do not have the expertise to work with their data. In such instances, Paul recommends collaborating with an external AI expert who will curate their data for optimal results. Which brings us to one of the most immediate challenges in AI, collecting a good data set: “There are widely available datasets but your competitors also have access to them” he says. Bespoke, customised data is the way forward for finding and capturing the unique competitive advantage that your business needs to differentiate and come into prominence. Once again, delegating the task to AI experts specialised in your industry, who can help you build your own data sets is key: “Some organisations initially freak out because they have never heard of that. And that’s fine!”
Companies are encouraged to work with an AI expert on curating their own datasets
The Evolution of AI in Fashion
Talking about the evolution of AI as it relates to fashion, Paul reports that we have come a long way from the early simulators that were essentially just a pose with no interactivity. “We generate synthetic data: virtual humans, virtual clothing. We dress them, put them in virtual environments and we take virtual pictures of them”.
As technology blurs the distinctions between physical and online retail, retailers will need to rethink their competitive strategies. We chat with Thomas Battle at Nobal who are enabling retailers to bridge the gap between offline and online through their iMirror technology.
Talk to us about your latest venture and what excites you about it.
Right now retail is undergoing a revolution where the definition of shopping is being re-defined. Is the future of retail entirely digital? Does brick-and-mortar still excite shoppers enough to bring them into stores? Will a combination of e-commerce and physical sales drive customers to purchase more?
We believe that the future of retail is experiential shopping that combines the best features of e-commerce with the best of a brick-and-mortar store. Customers will come to a store to partake in an experience and just happen to buy a fully customized product which will be sent to their home via drone.
Experiences will range from workouts to educational workshops to community meetups during which customers will be surrounded by a tailored brand, community and set of products that shoppers will engage with on an emotional level. Shoppers will build outfits that match their personalities and then have it delivered directly to their homes.
We’ve built the iMirror, the world’s most advanced interactive mirror, to be the digital interface that facilitates the experiences delivered by these stores. The iMirror brings every mirror in the store to life and allows brands to engage their customers with an intuitive digital experience. Our flagship experience, the digital fitting room, is already allowing customers to get product recommendations, order out of stock inventory, and communicate with sales associates in real time anywhere in the store.
Re-imagining and re-inventing an industry with major retail thought leaders, and building products that change the way we interact with the physical and the digital worlds is incredibly exciting.
Nobal’s iMirror bring online commerce into the physical store.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in retail these days?
The biggest challenge in retail is creating those unique in-store experiences. A production that draws in people not just to shop, but to learn, interact and enjoy. Right now every store needs to look at themselves and ask “Is coming into my store a fun or amazing enough experience that I overcome the convenience of buying products online?” Creating these experiences is hard and the companies exploring this space are exploring a new frontier of opportunities. That being said, for the first companies to discover how to do this right, there is a lot of long-term upsides.
What are the most important trends that you see and how do you see retail changing in the next 5 years?
Combining physical and digital sales channels into truly omnichannel experiences is probably the most important trend currently in retail. Most companies have siloed their online and brick-and-mortar experiences and they don’t talk to each other. Each sales channel has their own value and issues, by combining the best features of both, you create an environment in which your customers have a much better experience in your stores.
Immersive in-store experiences created with the iMirror
What makes a great omnichannel experience? Are there any companies that you think are nailing it in this space?
Great omnichannel strategies are ones that seamlessly integrate the technology into the environment around you. Technologies like tablets are at a huge disadvantage because they take you out of the shopping experience. Companies like Perch are doing a great job of this seamless omnichannel integration in places like Sephora, (and us of course!).
Perch in collaboration with Nike – reimagining the retail store experience based on merging the Physical + Digital.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as a business leader?
Task prioritization is one of the hardest things in the world to do and (at the same time) one of the most valuable things to get right. For me, I work through living To Do lists that keep me on track at a macro and micro level throughout the day.
What is the one book that you recommend our audience should read and why?
The Up Side of Down is one of my favourite books. As a startup, it is key to celebrate and embrace failure. Failure is how we learn and grow as human beings. Once we start fearing failure, we become stagnant and cease to grow.
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to business leaders looking to incorporate innovation into their strategy? What’s the best way to make that happen?
Right now, no one knows what the store of the future is going to look like. In 15 years, it is going to seem like the most obvious thing in the world as to what experiences become omnipresent in retail. The market is ultimately going to decide what works and what does not. Companies that take risks, test and iterate on as many innovations as possible will be in a much better position to take advantage of the huge upside that comes from being the first to market with a new breed of the shopping experience. The only other option is to risk going the way of Sears and Toys R Us.
Innovation is an essential component to success in retail today and into the future.
Kostas Koukoravas speaks to Validify‘s CEO, Fergal O’Mullane, about the biggest innovations in fashion retail and how retailers can leverage technology to stay ahead of the curve.
Talk to us about your latest venture and how did you come up with the idea.
Validify helps leading retailers access curated and vetted information on the latest emerging retail technology from around the world. I have been working in the retail tech space in London for the last 15 years, consumer shopping behaviour has transformed in this time on the back of transformative innovation, in particular, the use of smartphones and social media. The number of tech companies launching new solutions has also increased exponentially and retailers are finding it increasingly difficult to identify the right technology for them.
We founded Validify to help retailers to discover groundbreaking innovation and to help streamline the selection and adoption process.
What are the most interesting applications of A.I. in the retail industry?
It’s very early days for AI in retail. Artificial intelligence is an overused term and encompasses a number of areas from machine learning to deep learning all the way through to image recognition and natural learning processing (NPL) that underpins voice technology. At present, the application of AI in the retail industry is limited or in ‘pilot’ phase. Despite current limitations, there are interesting applications of AI in the areas of personalisation, stock inventory, search and customer service (chatbots).
Retailers turning to machine learning and predictive analytics to serve up personalised content and product recommendations to their customers. Whilst conceptually not new (Amazon has led the way in this for years), the detailed level of customer and product attributes that can now be assessed in real-time significantly improves personal experience.
AI is used to automatically analyse swathes of data to predict demand, forecast inventory and replenish in real time. Can reduce stocks, excess build-ups and the need for markdowns. It also enables retailers to stock the store with different products depending on demographics.
Prevalent in the beauty industry, facial recognition technology being used to provide customers with personalised recommendations based on skin types. Image analysis also being used in-store to analyse customer footprint and sentiments in relation to the environment and product.
Panasonic showcases its new Future Mirror at CEATEC 2016
Though still in relatively early stages, NLP being used to enable these ‘bots’ to interpret human language and sentiment in order to respond in ‘human-like’, conversational manner. Similar to the technology being used in Amazon Alexa and Google Home etc.
Can you give us some examples of the most innovative companies in retail? What makes them stand out?
There are some great examples of innovation coming from both mature retailers and the newest online players.
H&M is a great example of a company that used to lag behind. However, in recent years has deployed innovative technology across the business including investing in automated warehousing, employing AI driven inventory management technology to its recent development of voice-activated mirrors in its flagship store in New York. Ikea is another great example of a company embracing innovation as a core pillar of their business. They continue to invest in new technologies such as AR and VR whilst partnering with Apple and Amazon to further their technology ambitions. They were one of the first to use AR in a practical application enabling customers to visualize product in their homes without ever going near a store.
On the other side of the spectrum, new retail incumbent Stichfix is innovating with fashion design, using AI to create and design garments reactively to consumer opinions/ buying habits.
What makes these companies stand out is their understanding that innovation and technology is core to the future of their business, not an afterthought. In particular, these companies are willing to experiment with new technologies ahead of their competitors via trial and error. The acceptance that failure is part of the innovating process and the ability to move on quickly will enable these retailers to potentially stay ahead of the curve.
What are the biggest barriers to adopting innovation for mature companies?
Mature companies are often burdened by legacy technology, processes that prohibit technology adoption and a culture that doesn’t foster innovation. Mature businesses working off legacy technology lack the agility to adapt to the pace of change we are currently seeing in the retail space. This is conflated by the elongated internal processes and decision-making often found in larger, more mature companies. The culture of ‘innovation’ has traditionally been harder to foster in more mature companies often seen as the responsibility of a single person/ team to manage. Without company-wide acceptance that innovation is necessary it acts as a barrier to adoption especially in the current climate where retailer budgets are under increasing pressure. Finally, many companies (not just mature) struggle to know ‘how’ to innovate, what technologies to employ and where to source them.
“…businesses need to take a more agile, test and learn approach to innovation…don’t be afraid to fail, but fail fast…this is the approach taken by the most successful businesses in the world…”
What are some good ways to overcome them?
To overcome some of these challenges you often have to start to form the top – getting senior management to embrace innovate and make a commitment to invest in doing so. Also, businesses need to take a more agile, test and learn approach to innovation…don’t be afraid to fail, but fail fast…this is the approach taken by the most successful businesses in the world…including the biggest retailer Amazon.
What do you think the impact of Brexit will be in London as an innovation hub?
Without having a crystal ball, it is difficult to predict the exact impact Brexit will have. There are concerns that incredible talent available in London will move out. The reality is that London already relies on talent and companies outside the UK to help support it as an innovation hub. At Validfy we continue to work every day with technology companies looking to settle in London and build out their teams. There are still huge investments being made into the UK in general and some of the biggest technology companies are still setting up in London. The UK has over 5million start-ups and that continues to grow – made ever more apparent by the number of co-working spaces popping up in London to support the ecosystem. We do not believe that London will collapse as an innovation hub overnight but it may need to adapt.
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to business leaders looking to incorporate innovation into their strategy?
The first step should be ensuring you truly understand who your customer is, what value you deliver them and what can you do to deliver the best possible customer experience. Innovation is a powerful enabler, but the fundamentals of being a successful retailer haven’t changed, you need to deliver a great product and a great customer experience.
Retailers also need to take a more agile approach to innovation, they need encourage a test and learn the methodology to innovation…it’s ok if something doesn’t work, pilot it, if it works roll it out, if it fails throw it out, the important thing is to fail fast!