Through its Dream Assembly programme, fashion platform Farfetch is seeking to foster start-ups with the potential to change the industry for good
“Innovation cannot just be external – it needs to be drawn from the outside in,” José Neves, founder and chief executive of Farfetch, told a room filled with retail start-ups and investors last month.
The Portuguese entrepreneur was speaking at an event to celebrate the second cohort of Farfetch’s fashion and technology accelerator, Dream Assembly. Eight selected start-ups took part in the 10-week programme, splitting their time between Farfetch’s offices in London and Lisbon. The start-ups range from early-stage ideas to more established businesses hoping to progress to the next stage of growth. They received mentorship from Farfetch, as well as its partners in the programme, Burberry and Stella McCartney, alongside education, early-stage funding and access to investors. This year’s accelerator concentrated on seed-stage start-ups with a specific focus on sustainability.
“We firmly believe that no one company is going to invent or come up with all the answers to the challenges facing the retail industry,” David Grunwald, vice-president for innovation at Farfetch, explains. “Having recently emerged from the start-up ecosystem ourselves, we also feel very strongly that helping companies in their own early stages of growth is the right thing to do.”
Cracking the environmental conundrums facing the industry is a challenge on almost every retailer’s lips. Grunwald adds that giving this year’s Dream Assembly a sustainable angle was a natural evolution from the first cohort, which was not themed, but still attracted several green initiatives as entries. Farfetch is now partnering with Hong Kong-based Dream Assembly alumnus Upteam, a vintage accessory and apparel curator, on a pilot resale programme for luxury handbags, which launched earlier this year.
“Sustainability is a complex challenge that weighs heavily on the industry,” adds Grunwald. “We know there are great solutions out there and that entrepreneurs are tackling the challenge head on.”
Drapers meets the eight sustainable start-ups looking to shake up the sector.
Founder Joe Metcalfe says that his mission is to bring charity shopping online, giving thrifty shoppers the same level of service as industry titans Asos and Amazon. Customers are sent a box to fill up with their unwanted clothes. Thrift+ then processes, photographs and uploads the items to its ecommerce site. It donates 33% of every sale to charity and users are rewarded with credits to use on the Thrift+ store. For retailers, Thrift+ says it offers the chance to offload imperfect stock – including damaged returns or samples – by selling it into the second-hand market, rather than destroying it. Proceeds are given to the retailer’s chosen charity, and Thrift+ claims to have prevented the destruction of more than £1m worth of unsellable clothing since it was founded in 2015.
Good on You
Sprinkled with a dusting of star power – actress Emma Watson has pledged her support – Good On You helps retailers to educate increasingly conscious consumers about their ethical credentials. Established by Ethical Consumers Australia in 2016, it rates retailers and brands on how green they are. It aggregates relevant public information from certification schemes, such as Fair Trade, information from relevant non-governmental organisations and brand statements. Consumers can search for businesses using the Good On You website or app, allowing them to make better purchasing decisions. Top-rated brands are connected to the start-up’s user base through newsletters, blogs and social media posts. It also offers retailers access to expertise on ethical sourcing, manufacturing and distribution.
This start-up wants to help retailers cut down on returns by giving shoppers a better idea of what products will look like on their bodies. Users – named Sozies, after the French word for look-a-like or doppelgänger – try clothing on and take pictures, as well as providing their size, height and body measurements. Their content can then be integrated into retailers’ websites to give customers a better idea of what it will look like on a diverse range of body types. Sozie, established in 2016, has worked with US retailer Target.
To The Market
Working with more than 100 suppliers in 20 countries, To The Market connects retailers and brands to socially and environmentally friendly suppliers. It promises transparent supply chains, and vets all its manufacturers to ensure high standards, concentrating on sustainable processes, such as organic cotton, upcycled fabrics and natural dyes. To The Market was founded in 2014 by Jane Mosbacher Morris, who is an advisory member of the responsible sourcing council at brand house VF Corporation – the owner of Vans and Timberland – and has published a book on ethical purchasing.
EON Group already counts giants such as H&M, Tommy Hilfiger owner PVH and Microsoft among its partners. It creates digital profiles for physical products, which allows items to be connected to the “Internet of Things” – everyday devices or items that can be connected to the internet and each other. A T-shirt, for example, is given a digital identity that replicates the physical product, meaning all information about the product can be accessed over the internet. The start-up, set up in 2017, argues that giving clothing a digital identity, such as threads embedded with RFID (radio frequency identification) technology, retailers can drive transparency across their businesses.
Aiming to create circular shopping experiences, Material World is a monthly subscription service in which customers receive five pre-owned designer items curated by a stylist. Shoppers fill in a style profile and are matched with a personal stylist before being sent their items. They keep what they like and send back what they don’t. Consumers aiming to slimline their wardrobes can trade in unwanted designer items by sending them in to Material World, which makes an offer for them. The subscription service, founded in 2012, only accepts selected brands, among them Ganni, Reformation, Rixo London, Reiss and Rejina Pyo.
Fashion rental service Panoply City offers the latest collections from 40 luxury brands, including Stella McCartney, Red Valentino and Victoria Beckham. Prices vary from €69 to €319 (£61 to £280) depending on how many items customers rent, and items can be borrowed for up to eight days. Dry cleaning and delivery costs are included.
Save Your Wardrobe
This app describes itself as a “digital wardrobe management tool” and aims to help customers organise and plan their wardrobes better. It uploads information about clothes customers have bought from their emails into the app, and uses artificial intelligence to suggest outfits, as well as make shopping recommendations to complement what the user already owns.