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How Technology Gives Fashion Startups An Edge Over Legacy Brands

Chris Burch, @

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Fashion startups have historically struggled to find a niche in the marketplace, especially when competing with heritage brands, but recent technological advancements have made them far more competitive. Although heritage brands have advantages like name recognition and being established in the marketplace, fashion startups are now taking advantage of technology that allows them to offer niche clothing and accessories, custom fit clothing and unique and cutting edge designs at affordable prices.

Compared to just 10 years ago, new designers have a much greater chance at success. Here are some of the ways that new technology has evened out the playing field between heritage brands and fashion startups.

Online Marketing
One of the biggest advantages that fashion startups have is online marketing, and social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest provide enormous and low-cost opportunities to show off a brand. Nascent designers are able to create look-books, display their clothing lines and advertise upcoming events without spending a penny to do so. Even paid advertising online is far less expensive than standard media advertising, and banner ads are often available for less than a penny per view.

While heritage brands may spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise in fashion magazines, online advertising is so effective that established brands are using it too. In fact, Michael Kors was the first brand to advertise on Instagram.

eCommerce Shopping
Running a brick and mortar store is incredibly expensive. In addition to rent, fashion designers have to deal with insurance, upkeep and the cost of utilities. These expenses can dwarf all other costs, including materials and labor. However, thanks to the Internet, physical locations are no longer required to sell clothing and accessories.

In spite of the fact that people aren't able to try before they buy, consumers have become increasingly comfortable with shopping for clothes online. A survey found that about half of those in the 25-34 age bracket preferred to shop online. This may be due to the fact that many startups are now taking advantage of online tools that let people create an avatar with their measurements. With a personal avatar, shoppers can see how clothing will fit without having to go into a store and try them on.

Custom Fit Clothing
Some designers are taking virtual body avatars to the next level by offering custom fit fashions that are created with someone's exact measurements. Tailor made clothing is available now through a number of online stores, and the process works by allowing customers to select a design and then put in their measurements. Some companies even allow people to change neck shapes and sleeve types for an additional charge.

This is possible thanks to the ability of computer design programs to make the alterations needed automatically instead of by hand. The process requires more effort than standard manufacturing, but design programs and automated equipment have made the process far less labor intensive than what was required to create tailor-made clothing in the past.

Niche Fashion
Technology has also led to an increase in the number of successful niche clothing startups. A number of fashion startups have been able to cater to specific customers, creating everything from plus-size clothing to sportswear made with organic materials. Legacy houses have traditionally created full lines of clothing and accessories that can be worn by the largest number of individuals possible.

This was necessary, at least in part, due to the fact that brands would need enough merchandise to fill a store or have broad enough appeal to be sold by other retailers. Being able to open a physical shop or being sold through other companies can be a major bonus for a fashion designer, but it is no longer required to succeed.

Design Tools and 3D Printing
3D printing and the ability to create custom print fabric in-house have been also been huge boons for the fashion industry. While still expensive, digital fabric printers and 3D printers have the potential to dramatically reduce materials costs for designers. With these tools, designers can create clothing and even accessories in-house and without having to outsource certain types of production.

This not only reduces costs, it can help fashion startups create cutting edge and unique fashions at prices that are still affordable to many people. Production time is also reduced when fashion designers aren't waiting for a third-party to provide materials or finish an order.

Chris Burch is a leading entrepreneur, venture capitalist and founder of Burch Creative Capital.
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