For trend forecasters, the goal is to identify a trend years before it comes to fruition, and to break down the context of that trend for those who don't have time to travel the world searching for inspiration. (I.e. design teams and marketers at big time retailers.) But as fashion seeps deeper and deeper into the web--traditional trend forecasting firms seem, well, a little...staid. Who needs a trend forecaster when we have Susie Bubble?
Enter Stylesight, an online-only paid subscription service that offers trend analysis for pretty much every market in the world, about pretty much every topic, from children's clothing to interiors. Not only does Stylesight (www.stylesight.com) offer users in-depth reports, but it also serves as a sort of Google Docs for your fashion stuff. The service allows each user to store their inspiration in tidy folders--and it also allows you to clip items from anywhere on the Web to reference.
So instead of looking at Stylesight as a resource, users look at it as a tool. They take advantage of the all-inclusive nature of the site, often making it their homepage. Sound interesting? We recently sat down with Frank Bober--a former fashion designer and founder of the company--to talk shop.
Fashionista: It’s quiet in here! Frank Bober: It’s funny about the quiet.
It’s just interesting because I’m so used to a newsroom where everyone is like “ahhraahrahh”. Well, actually, if you go into the content room there’s plenty of that--they’re talking content all the time. We have a real cool office in the East End of London with a ton of content people…all of our forecasting moved from Paris to London so we’re consolidating everything there. There are content people--accessories, youth culture, high street--and then we have sales and client services so we have quite a bit of business in Europe. When you think about a global operation, yeah this is the head quarters, but we’re in Shanghai, Hong Kong, LA…we just got a great loft space in Culver City in LA which is a very cool place. So we got all the cool dudes there and dudettes--mostly women--that are creating content.
Renee, who is our senior vice president of global trends, is in LA. We’re on Skype with the little camera; we can meet any time. So when you think about it, it’s the New York office and we’re in New York but stuff is happening all over the world in terms of content and we get so much content coming in that there’s an awful lot of synthesizing of that information that goes on here, so it’s quiet. It’s very efficient. Efficient, that’s a very good word because I was interviewed the other day by a publication in England and I was talking about the global nature of the company and I was saying that you can’t make yourself into a global company and be one language. So all those “competitors”--all those other people that might be in this space whether they’re online or printing books--all of them are in one language so I don’t consider them global companies. And then from a technology company point of view, what’s unique about Stylesight is that we consider ourselves a technology company. And why do we do that? Because we’re the only company in our space that actually has a development team, we’re doing out own coding.
This is something new…do we have a clip? [Shows us a clip of a new function that allows the user to grab any images from the web.]
This is our own code. So this means that not only our information is available but the web’s information and it also mirrors the way people work.
So it’s a tool more than.… Right. And I think that that’s what differentiates us, and that’s why we’re growing the way we are and making the impact that we are. How did this all come to be? One of my famous lines is that I paid $300,000 for what is today Photoshop. In the 1980s there was all this cad/cam stuff and I was always an early adopter of technology. I always paid a lot of money. I was one of the first guys with flatscreens...$12,000 per flat screen, now they’re $1,000, because I had to have a flat screen. So when I sold my company in 2000….
And what was that company? CMT Enterprises, a private label company which actually prepared me very well for doing Stylesight. Because private label is project driven so there’s many different types of projects we’re doing is what the site is like, you can do lots of different projects.
We actually sold to a company that was a big client of ours…they’re now out of business, a company call Harold’s, they were a regional chain in the southwest. They had like 90 stores. We ended up manufacturing all of their product and then they decided they might as well own it so I said, “Ok, I’ll sell it. What’s the price?” And then I kind of semi-retired but retirement in not in my DNA. I had the name Stylesight…I had done something with it early in the dot com time and then I had a partner—two partners, two German guys in Hong Kong--and realized that we were going to have a put a lot of money in, and the whole dot com was falling apart but I held on to the name.… I liked the name Stylesight so when I sold the business and took a little time off—about a year and a half and went around the country and blah blah blah--just then print on demand was becoming a viable commercial dynamic. [Print on demand is essentially being able to charge people to download a PDF.]
A friend of mine had all the big pictures from the designer collections--he was a photographer, and I said okay let me fool around with the technology a little bit and test the market because Google was just beginning and I thought, what an interesting thing to do a image search engine for the industry because that’s what I would have wanted. The whole idea was that the search engines started first, there wasn’t any opinion, there was no news, there was no market intelligence, just all pictures.
In my career a picture is worth a thousand words. Creative people are stimulated by visual. I wanted to test the market first. So we started organizing these reports but because you could print them on demand you didn’t have any inventory and you had no accounts receivable because you got paid by credit card and I thought that’s a good business—no inventory and no accounts receivable. I can print them as I sell them.
We ended up selling those reports to over 600 companies. We really did it in the entrepreneurial grass roots way. They were 300 bucks a piece and 600 companies liked them so then I got the idea that the way I was thinking about organizing content was very acceptable and so then I started to work with a developer using just a digital asset management program--the search engine.
Once I started to show the search engine to potential customers, they went “Wow that’s what I like.” Especially with the folder idea and the idea to be able to organize your work--it was very primitive compared to what it is today. I spent forty years as a designer and manufacturer. I started as a designer so I know the routine, I know what everybody is going through.
Why do you think it took the fashion industry as a whole so long to adapt to the web? Because when you think fashion, you think trends and being ahead of everything...but it wasn’t like that. That’s a good question. Because the beginning of a collection is the creative piece. But it was the last piece of the puzzle to adopt and adapt to technology because there was this notion it took away from creativity, it didn’t enhance creativity, you needed to be on the mountain to get the vision. In fact using Stylesight actually allows more creativity because there’s less preparation work because you’re in the cloud. Once they began to see that--especially the younger designers began to see that, “Wait a second, you guys are organizing all this for me so I can spend more time being creative, what a cool thing right?”
If you were thinking about this in the early 2000s, you obviously have a lot of foresight into what’s happening next. What do you think is the next big thing in fashion? Whether it’s trend-driven or it’s technology-driven? The one thing that I like--Donna Karan with Urban Zen. She was kind of fooling around with it because of her commitment to yoga, but I think that...comfort, I think the color, I It’s pioneer-ish, actually. And in a very subtle way. She’s bringing clothing into lifestyle. But not yoga-clothes--it’s not like tights and a t-shirt. There’s some really--it’s elegant, cool stuff. I think the trend has to do with integrating style and fashion into lifestyle. I think the next big thing is even further blurring of the lines. Which is a good thing. And I like that. Because it’s what we’re doing at Stylesight, right? It’s, you know, it’s natural. I think--there’s a new natural, let’s put it that way. The new natural that has to do with the embracing of technology as a natural, not an unnatural, thing. We’re bringing it to us and then using it in a way that is enhancing our life, rather than saying, “I don’t use email.” You don’t hear that often nowadays. Everybody is using it and having fun with it and it’s folded into their lifestyle. So it’s kind of a new natural. I’d love to use that on the site. The new natural.