Fashion Hackathons: The Good, Bad And Ugly

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I was disappointed to see a marked lack of diversity on the judging panel – a shame in any industry, but particularly troublesome at an event focused on fashion & beauty. Let’s do our best not to take this negative trend from tech in general along with us into fashion tech.

By Liza Kindred (Founder & CEO, Third Wave Fashion)

Since the beginning of the month, two fashion hackathons have taken place here in New York City: this past weekend was Hearst Fashion Hack, organized by Hearst and AngelHack (and sponsored by us), and the previous weekend was the Decoded Hackathon, put on by the ladies behind the Decoded Fashion Conference. Both were great events in their own right.

We attended parts of both events (see our previous reports on Decoded and Hearst) and were both excited and a little disappointed by what we saw.

The Good

Attendance - The fact that both events sold out is a real testament to the blossoming love affair between fashion and technology. Hundreds of hackers with real chops signed up for the events, which led to strong teams that built out very solid products. To have fashionistas and hackers on the ground talking to each other for hours on end will only lead to a more cohesive fashion tech industry.

Fashion’s Participation - No longer does content have to sit back and watch, powerhouse fashion companies got into the game. Hearst made the biggest push with their own event, but Conde Nast was another strong supporter of the Decoded event. Gilt, Bazaar, Elle and Marie Claire all got involed in the Hearst event, and the Decoded event boasted the CFDA, DKNY, The Gap and Bonobos.

Tech’s Participation - It’s been hard for fashion to get real traction in the tech world, but that wasn’t at all the case in these events. Microsoft and HTC were strong participants in the Hearst event, and Tumblr and Fourquare supported the Decoded event.

Wealth of APIs - The number of API’s available to participants was staggering. From revenue generating possibilities with Skimlinks and Gilt, to hardware like Samsung, HTC and Windows mobile, there were a myriad of quality options for participants to chose from. A special shoutout is deserved by Hearst, who created an API just for this event, and opened up access to a huge amount of content from across their publications.

Diversity of Attendees - Decoded announced that their participants were 40% female. This is fantastic. Both events had an impressive diversity of ages, genders, races, and skill sets sitting together working on their hacks.

Quality Entries - Some of the entries at the hackathons clearly captured the imagination of the judges and audiences. Several made me want to shout, “Put that in the app store now!” The runners-up in both events was was composed of an impressive mix of business savvy, understanding of the fashion industry, and clever use of technology. Congrats are in order for everyone who won awards – and many who did not!

Hearst Tower - It must be said, holding an event on the 44th floor of the beautiful Hearst Tower was truly spectacular. Fashionistas can be a jaded crowd, but it seemed that not a single person could resist taking pictures out the windows.

The Bad

Lack of Business Savvy - Oversimplification of industry problems ran rampant. People proposed to “Solve the online fit issue!” or “Provide a link between buyers and wholesalers!” which are complex problems that many companies have been trying to solve for years. While it’s admirable for people to try to tackle these problems in a weekend, it’s probably more realistic to find a bite-sized problem and solve it in a really beautiful way.

Lack of Awareness - Too many pitches replicated existing companies without adding any value. There seemed to be a real lack of awareness of the depth and breadth of fashion tech products and businesses already on the market. Here at Third Wave Fashion, we track over 600 fashion tech companies. Our database will be launching publicly very soon, and during the next fashion hackathons, we hope to offer up our knowledge in order to empower people about the actual holes in the industry.

Two Minutes Pitches - It’s inherent to a hackathon, but 120 seconds is not a lot of time for people to get their ideas across – especially when technical problems presented themselves.

The Ugly

Lack of Diversity - Hearst Tower was beautiful, but I was personally disappointed to see a marked lack of diversity on the judge’s panel. There were a couple of women, but the vast majority of the judge’s panel consisted of white males. This is a shame in any industry, but particularly troublesome at an event focused on fashion and beauty. Let’s do our best not to take this negative trend from technology in general along with us into fashion tech.

The Silver Lining

Overall these events were fantastic for fashion and wonderful for tech. While there are some real pros working in fashion tech today, we’ve all got a lot to learn.

These events brought together hundreds of people with one common cause – to band together to make fashion tech more awesome. Both events were well executed and broke a lot of ground; well worth it for all involved.

This post was originally posted at Third Wave Fashion.

Women 2.0 readers: Have you ever attended a fashion hackathon? Let us know about it in the comments!

About the guest blogger: Liza Kindred is Founder and CEO of Third Wave Fashion. A passionate believer in open business, Liza’s last stint was as Managing Partner at a successful web development & education company. She opened her first business at the age of 22. Liza is a strong advocate for open business practices, and has been consulting for business startups. Follow her on Twitter at @LizaK.