Alexandra Van Houtte founded the website Tagwalk in 2016 with the aim of helping brands, retailers and stylists to work more efficiently to find the inspiration and latest trends they need from the international catwalks.
Describing her platform as “a 360° search engine that minimises research time, yet maximises research results”, Van Houtte’s digital database references every image from the womenswear and menswear collections across London, Paris, New York and Milan, as well as accessories, models and street style. It uses artificial intelligence to tag every item, making them instantly searchable by style, trend, colour and designer.
Growing rapidly, the site has already amassed 25,000 registered users and investment from private investor Carmen Busquets, who was the lead investor in Net-a-Porter and has also helped fund Farfetch. Van Houtte now employs 10 people in Paris, and plans to increase this to 14 in the next two months. Last month the 28-year-old entrepreneur, London College of Fashion graduate and former stylist also expanded her platform to launch an affiliate shopping area, called Tag Shop.
What inspired you to set up Tagwalk?
As a stylist, I was tired of the redundancy of looking through 537 shows, four times a year. There are approximately 35,000 looks between Paris, London, Milan and New York. There was nothing to categorise and help the search process. It was time consuming and, if I’m honest, it was quite unprofessional: we missed a good three-quarters of the designers because of the painstaking process.
Did you take inspiration from any other industries?
Many – Instagram for its easy search process, Deliveroo for the rapidity, Uber for the simplicity of the application, and Net-a-Porter for its user experience.
You first launched Tagwalk in 2016. How did you find that first year?
To fund the launch I had saved up money from my old job and I put my flat on AirBnB. The first year went very quickly. We went from one employee to 10, and from zero investors to Carmen Busquets. I had a lot of press and not much time to think about the situation. We developed womenswear, menswear, accessories, street style, couture, models and shopping, all in the space of six months.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in launching your own digital fashion business?
I wouldn’t say it was hard or difficult to launch it – I think the hardest part of launching your own business is having to be positive and strong for yourself, your team, your investors and clients even when you don’t feel like it. It’s pushing through your boundaries, all day, every day. The biggest hurdle was definitely to stop listening to others and start listening to myself.
How does the tagwalk model work? And how much does it cost?
We don’t charge the designers showing at fashion weeks to be tagged, but we offer other off-schedule brands a presence on the site, as well as data consulting and affiliation, for a fee. I think it’s a healthy relationship to have with brands. The cost varies depending on what the brand wants – between £5,000 and £40,000. We currently have 25,000 registered users, 91% of which are fashion professionals. Of those, 49% are from media or creative departments.
You currently cover Paris, New York, London and Milan fashion weeks, as well as off-schedule brands. What are your plans to expand from here?
I’m really looking at expanding into worldwide fashion weeks in the next couple of months. It’s just a question of how we proceed now. The next ones I’m keen to add are Copenhagen, Seoul, and Tokyo.
With all the data you hold on designers and trends, you also offer a consultancy service. Is this a key element of the business?
Yes, we consult on trends and worldwide strategies for brands, retailers and buyers. It works hand in hand with the data we have to offer.
You recently launched a shoppable function. Is this the future direction for the business to help monetise it? What has take-up of this been like so far?
We launched Tag Shop a month ago. It’s an added bonus on top of everything else we have. We had an incredible response in the first two weeks – a third of our traffic resulted in buying. We’ve teamed up with Net-a-Porter, Matchesfashion, Moda Operandi and 24 Sèvres, and then with our listed brands’ own direct ecommerce sites. Already three-eighths of our traffic goes towards Tag Shop.
Which brands are proving most popular on Tag Shop?
What more do you think needs to be done to support young entrepreneurs starting up in digital fashion?
I think young people should just get on with it. You don’t need support for the digital like you do in retail. Anyone has a chance in digital. You don’t need to have the contacts, or have gone to a great school. If your idea is good and well executed, and you believe in your vision, I think the various countries’ governments and press will start to recognise you, for what you do and not for who you are.
Where do you hope the business will be in five years’ time?
I don’t like to talk so much about the future. There is so much to do at the moment that I think it’s best to take each day as it comes.
What do you enjoy most about working in the fashion industry and having set up Tagwalk?
I’ve enjoyed how open, kind and helpful the industry has been with me. I thought it would be problematic and it wasn’t at all. Setting up Tagwalk has been a real rollercoaster that never ends, but I’m happy with how events are turning out.