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The CFDA and Andreessen Horowitz Think Designers and Tech Startups Should Be Collaborating More

The fashion and tech industries are more connected than ever. But for designers, it's still often unclear how they can tap into new technologies to make their businesses stronger. The CFDA wants to rectify that.

The fashion and tech industries are more connected than ever. But for designers, it's still often unclear how they can tap into new technologies to make their businesses stronger.

The CFDA wants to rectify that. On Wednesday, with the help of industry advisor Ari Bloom and Kristina Simmons of venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz, the council hosted a panel discussion featuring companies that designers in the audience -- including Steven Alan, Tamara Mellon and the Public School guys -- just might want to work with.

First up was Shapeways, the maker of 3D-printed jewelry, as well as a pair of wings worn down the runway at the latest Victoria's Secret fashion show. "Our sweet spot is in accessories and jewelry," said Charlie Maddock, director of business development at Shapeways. (The firm has worked with Kimberly Ovitz and Neiman Marcus, among others, in the past.) The big question from the audience was: When is 3D printing going to become less expensive? Maddock said that prices for plastic pieces have decreased dramatically. A 3D-printed iPhone case, for instance, costs about $25 to make. Three years ago it was more like $500. Hopefully, the cost of printing metals will come down, too. "What we want is for you to leverage the minimum run of one," Maddock said. "Instead of making 1,000 of the same pieces, 3D printing allows you to make 1,000 unique pieces."

Danika Laszuk, vice president of marketing at Jawbone, also wants to collaborate with fashion houses on new designs, particularly for the Jawbone UP, its big foray into the wearables market. "This has to be something people want to wear, that's comfortable and that looks good," Laszuk said. She also spoke quite a bit about how the company is leveraging its data to create compelling stories around events. For example, last Fashion Week they tracked the sleeping, eating and drinking habits of several attendees who were wearing the Jawbone UP. "There was lots of caffeine involved," she said.

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For designers who want to modernize their sketch process, there was FiftyThree, a company that makes what I can only describe as digital creation tools. "Paper," its first product, allows you to create beautiful sketches on the iPad. "Book" allows you to print those sketches in a custom-bound Moleskine notebook. And "Pencil" is the startup's attempt at making the stylus hip: it's rendered in a sustainable walnut. "The rise of the tablet has changed everything," George Petschnigg, FiftyThree's cofounder and CEO, said. Both Kelly Wearstler and Twitter's Jack Dorsey are fans.

Andrew Lipovsky, cofounder and CEO of Eponym, was there to recruit new brands for his white-label eyewear business. You might remember Lipovsky from his "open letter to Warby Parker" last year, in which he chided the affordable-eyewear firm for bullying his Brooklyn-based brand, Classic Specs. CS is still around, but what Lipovsky and his founders figured out was that they could do really, really good business by making eyewear for fashion brands who are too small -- or too cool -- to work with the likes of Luxottica. Steven Alan is one of Eponym's biggest clients. Eponym does all the work for these brands, from the sourcing to selling. "It's not fair that only big brands got to make their own eyewear," Lipovsky said. "We're offering them a viable opportunity."

And last but not least there was Sara Wilson, who works on strategic partnership development at Facebook and Instagram. Wilson spoke a lot about best practices, particularly in relation to Instagram, but she was clear that company is not into brands jumping on Instagram Direct just yet. "We're not encouraging it for brands," she said. "Of course some of them are already leveraging it in cool ways, but we're focusing on the individual user." Instead, Wilson suggested brands watch new advertising opportunities closely -- and to really think about how they're represented on Instagram. "The brands with best accounts are the ones that choose for or five topics and really own them," she said. "Burberry has done a great job of this -- for them it's the weather, trench coats, etc. When I look in my feed, I instantly know it's a Burberry photo."

Andreessen Horowitz's Simmons, who spent years at Lululemon before joining the San Francisco-based VC firm earlier this year, thinks fashion and tech are perfect partners: now they're just figuring out how to make the most out of each other's strengths. "One thing I think tech companies can learn from fashion is putting personality into how they do things," she said. And for fashion companies, it's about utilizing tech to make your product better, and easier for the customer to access. Expect to see a few headline-making collaborations come out of this event.