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Awear Wants to Embed Chips in Clothing to Make Them Shoppable

The startup has a fresh idea for shopping what you see on the street.

In honor of spring, DKNY held an Easter egg hunt at its Madison Avenue store on Monday. The Easter eggs in this case were items of clothing hidden in plain sight and tagged with identification chips, discoverable through an app that showed the user if they were getting hotter or colder. Within a few feet, the item would scan and pop up in the app.

The event wasn't so much a celebration of any upcoming holiday as it was a proof of concept. DKNY was testing out one application of the product made by Awear Solutions, a startup that's out to digitize the offline world of fashion through a combination of hardware and mobile apps. 

When it comes to bridging the worlds of online and offline in fashion, there's a gap that one might call "Things You See Other People Wearing On The Street And Want But Don't Know Where To Buy." Despite the proliferation of crowdsourced shopping sites like The Hunt and ASAP54, and image recognition apps that encourage users to take stalker-like photos of strangers, the leap from seeing a pair of boots in the wild to clicking "Buy" isn't an exact science. What Awear is chasing is greater specificity in identifying products on the go.

Liron Slonimsky, an Israeli writer and now-tech entrepreneur, began working on the idea for Awear after a stranger gave her the cold shoulder for asking who made her bag. By embedding chips in clothing items, anyone with the companion app can scan the product (up to a 30 foot radius) to find out the product information. Should the user find themselves in a coffee shop packed with fashionable folk, they wind up scanning all of the products in the immediate vicinity, which wouldn't take too long to filter through. 

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The idea for the Easter egg hunt -- Awear's first involvement with a major fashion brand -- came about when Yuli Ziv, the CEO of the Style Coalition and founder of the Fashion 2.0 Awards, introduced Slonimsky to Aliza Licht, Donna Karan International's senior vice president of communications (a.k.a. @dknyprgirl). Ziv says that Awear shows potential as a platform on top of which others can build their products. The chips could dispense product information and washing instructions from a garment's creator, for instance. The use cases are wide-ranging.

DKNY's involvement is a vote of confidence for Awear, but the startup has a long way to go before it can launch. Slonimsky says the team aims to release a full app in 2015, before which they need to recruit as many fashion brands as possible. She compares Awear's hardware to the fax machine: At the beginning, so few people owned one that it had no utility, but as more people adopted it, its relevance grew. In short, Awear is only as good as the number of designers and retailers that are willing to embed their pieces with chips. If too many users try scanning an item only to end up grasping at air, they'll quickly jump ship.

So what's the pitch that will get fashion brands on board? Increased visibility, cheap marketing and a boost in sales is a start. For luxury labels like Louis Vuitton or Prada, Awear's potential to combat counterfeiting could also be a selling point, at the very least for the added value it gives to customers who wouldn't be caught dead with a fake. In addition to acquiring new shoppers, the technology could also help brands engage with their existing customer base. A person would know every time they get scanned -- a real-life "like" of sorts -- and so would brands, helping them build better customer loyalty programs.

It's clear that there is room for a platform that makes the real world searchable, or in the case of fashion, shoppable. Is Awear the company to do it? That remains to be seen.