Not one but two 'fashion hackathons'--one hosted by the CFDA and IMG and the other by Hearst--will take place during this coming New York fashion week. This news is pretty surprising when you consider that most fashion people probably don’t even know what a hackathon is.
To explain what a hackathon is, why it’s happening during New York fashion week, and what this means for the industry, we spoke with Liz Bacelar, founder of Decoded Fashion, an organization that creates events dedicated to bringing fashion and tech together. Bacelar, along with former Lincoln Center fashion director (and, before that, director of special events at Vogue) Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, made the CFDA/IMG fashion hackathon (an official part of NYFW) happen.
What will happen is this: From February 2-3, more than 400 top app developers will spend 24 hours coding a fashion-focused app. The top three finalists with the best apps will present them to a panel of industry judges during a Decoded Fashion tech forum at Lincoln Center on February 14. The winner will have their app launched by the CFDA.
After 10 year in journalism, Bacelar joined a tech company as head of communications and noticed, with the rise of females in the tech world, a new interest in tech companies creating ideas for fashion and retail, though, she says, many of them were “missing the mark.” On the other side, she was hearing technology difficulties from people in fashion and retail that “were so easily solvable if they only knew where the solution was.” So, she left her job to launch Decoded Fashion to connect the fashion and tech worlds. After speaking with her, we'd argue she's doing it better than anyone.
She says there was a moment at one of Decoded Fashion’s first events when Nicole Miller and Stacy Bendet were talking about apps they wish existed. “Everything they were saying was so easy from the tech point and I remember sitting and thinking, ‘Oh my god these people need a hackathon.’”
Except they didn’t necessarily want one. "I remember talking to my partner [about doing a hackathon] and she said, 'What the hell is that?' [Fashion people] have no obligation to know." Not to mention fashion people are notoriously slow to embrace technology. "Some brands still take orders on paper from buyers and that’s crazy."
Outside of fashion, hackathons happen all the time--"Apps like Foursquare are created like that," says Bacelar. "No one’s done it with fashion and retail because the support was non-existent."
It took Bacelar six months to educate people and get them on board with what was an unheard of idea. Surprisingly, tech people weren't any easier to convince. "It was even harder!" said Bacelar. "The industry is still male-driven and there is this perception that fashion is stupid; it's silly; it's irrelevant, and a lot of the serious developers that we know thought it was just a joke."
Somehow, she and Winston Wolkoff convinced fashion people to take hackathons seriously, and developers to take fashion people seriously, and planned a pretty high-profile colliding of worlds. Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley will give the keynote speech at the NYFW event (Bacelar thinks Foursquare will be the next important social media platform for fashion brands and retailers after Tumblr and Facebook). They also got some big fashion names confirmed to participate, including Zac Posen (who will give the fashion keynote), Coco Rocha, Candy Pratts Price, Valentine Uhovski, Uri Minkoff, Rachel Roy, Aliza Licht (aka DKNY PR Girl), Steven Kolb, Style.com's Dirk Standen. They're also in talks with J. Crew, Opening Ceremony, Jason Wu, Rodarte, and Nicola Formichetti (Update: J.Crew will not be participating).
Bacelar and Winston Wolkoff already have other hackathons in the works internationally. They're working on a similar event with the British Fashion Council for this fall and are also in talks with "one of the top fashion weeks in the world" in Europe that she "cannot believe would be ready for this" because they're "so stuck in their world of luxury."
Hmm...wonder what "top fashion week" she could be talking about...