It's no secret that department store sales have dwindled and the shopping mall brands of our youth (Gap, PacSun and Abercrombie & Fitch, for example) have gone through their fair share of financial difficulties, along with slow-and-steady rebrandings and new upper-level hires. "The consumer experience has changed dramatically and retail hasn't changed at all," says Pano Anthos, managing director of XRC Labs, an accelerator program that selects startups to take part in a 10-week program at its two-story Fifth Avenue office in New York City. Each company provides a platform, experience or service to innovate the traditional retail landscape.
According to Anthos, these cohorts apply strategies that are common within the tech industry, such as "failing fast," "build to learn" and getting products out as quickly as possible — even if it's not entirely perfect yet. Demo Day took place at the end of July: a graduation of sorts held at Parsons where each cohort presented its business to an audience of investors, retailers and brand executives. Before the first startup took the stage, Anthos proudly shared that five out of the 10 companies had rebranded or pivoted — a great achievement.
When it comes to choosing its new class each year, Anthos explains to Fashionista that it's important to look at the startup's team. "It's likely they're going to change direction a bit at least once, so [the team] requires open-mindedness in listening to feedback, tenacity and quick decision making." The accelerator includes an industry-specific network of 60+ mentors with whom cohorts meet multiple times per week, including executives from major fashion brands like Rag & Bone and Kate Spade. If an idea is three-quarters correct, it's up to those experienced professionals to help refine the startup's message and solution, says Anthos, all while ensuring the company has the potential to change retail significantly.
Strypes came into the program this summer with a different name — Savvy Society — and a focus on 3-D printed footwear accessories for teenage girls, but has since pivoted into providing an online customization platform and storefront experiences with 3-D printing technology. Another great example is By Reveal, which arrived at XRC Labs as Vala Collective. CEO Megan Berry rebranded what she previously called "Poptiques" as mobile boutiques that serve as offline retail discoveries for consumers on the go. (Much like food trucks or pop-up food spots commonly found in urban locales.) And thanks to a recent partnership deal, those planning to attend New York Fashion Week next month will likely run into a By Reveal box in between shows.
More highlighted achievements from the cohorts includes The Crated, which brings smart fabrics to market and recently signed on with Hela Clothing, a manufacturer for major brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Levi's. Perseus Mirrors's hands-free smart mirror for the home is nearly halfway to its newly launched Kickstarter goal. ShopShops, which provides Chinese consumers the ability to shop from contemporary retailers in the U.S. — Assembly, Alchemist, among others — via an e-commerce platform is now available on the Apple App Store. Wearaway is the first online rental services specifically for wardrobe stylists and costume designers, tapping into a reported $6 billion industry.
Cohorts still stay in touch with Anthos beyond their stay with XRC Labs, and the startups from the program's first class, which took place last year, continue to flourish. Online jewelry destination Gleem & Co. secured an exclusive partnership with Ebay; athleisure bag company Caraa teamed with Reebok, Classpass and a number of boutique fitness retailers; and Findmine provides its algorithm-based service for e-commerce sites like John Varvatos, creating personalized outfits for consumers shopping online. While there are plenty of incubators and accelerator programs within the fashion industry — and more likely launching every year — none are as specifically tailored to the retail and consumer goods space as XRC Labs. And for an industry that's in need of newness, providing startups with the right resources from the beginning is critical.
"You don't have any mentors, money, real estate space," says Anthos. "You're doing it the hard way yourself. It's a grind. It's already difficult to survive, much less thrive, so let's give them a chance."