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Seeking start-ups: Topshop launches innovation programme geared to wearable tech

Karlie Kloss for Topshop, spring/summer 2016
Karlie Kloss for Topshop, spring/summer 2016

British retailer Topshop is aiming to bring technology-enabled fashion product to its consumers with the launch of a start-up programme focused on wearables.

Top Pitch, as it’s called, aims to discover and co-develop prototypes that move wearable technology further into the fashion arena while retaining functionality that delivers for the user. The initiative is run in collaboration with corporate innovation and early stage investment company, L Marks.

It comes at a time when wearable technology is an increasing consideration in the retail market; the outcome of ever-connected consumers, coupled with advances in technology (proliferation of sensors, evolution of batteries, cloud computing and such like) making product delivery increasingly possible.

While the fashion industry has been playing in the space for some time, there’s not yet been anything that has truly resonated to a mass audience. Early examples varied from garments that light up for stage performances, or quirky t-shirts and footwear that can send and receive Tweets on the user’s behalf, for instance.

More recently, a shift was seen towards collaborations with technology companies to produce accessories for existing devices (Tory Burch and Public School for FitBit and Hermès for Apple, for instance), or with Intel to create new products like Opening Ceremony’s MICA bracelet.

The aim with each was to demonstrate the role design must play in making wearables that consumers actually want to “wear”. From a functionality perspective, however, the majority of releases to date have still been geared around the fitness or communications space.

Seemingly, there’s a space in the market for something that not only appeals to consumers from an aesthetic perspective, but offers broad desired utility. Wearables will only get to the point of mass adoption if indeed they provide something to the user that is in-keeping with what they like to wear and don’t just do something they get bored of and discard.

Which is what Topshop is hoping to find. “The merge of style and function has yet to have been seen in a true consumer-ready sense and our aim is to discover new-to-market, highly desirable product at accessible prices for our fashion-savvy customer,” says Sheena Sauvaire, global marketing and communications director at Topshop.

Top Pitch then is an invitation for start-ups in the smart accessories or emerging apparel space to participate in a month-long bootcamp, which culminates in a presentation to Arcadia owner Sir Philip Green. Each will have access to a group of mentors* from across the fashion and technology world, including Maddy Evans, fashion director at Topshop, Bethany Koby, co-founder and CEO, Technology Will Save Us; and (full disclosure) myself – Rachel Arthur, journalist and founder of Fashion & Mash.

It’s a move that makes sense for such a brand: one with a tech-savvy youth consumer keen to explore in this space, an attitude to democratising fashion – thus drive to find the right products at the right price – and an ongoing commitment to supporting and championing emerging talent across the creative industries.

Adds Stuart Marks, chairman of L Marks: “Top Pitch is such a great opportunity for entrepreneurs working on a wearable technology product. When presenting to buyers, it is always better to know them really well. What better way is there to learn about Topshop than work in collaboration with them for four weeks, developing your brand and strategy as well as the direction your product will take.”

At the end of the programme, the most promising team (judged on designing a product with utility, relevance and style for the Topshop customer) will be awarded the chance to secure equity investment and potential to see their product in Topshop stores in the future.

For further information or to apply for a place, visit Closing date for applications is May 22, 2016.

This story first appeared on Forbes.

Startups technology

John Lewis’ JLAB announces five start-up finalists for 2015


John Lewis is focusing on retail services and connected devices in its second annual start-up accelerator program.

The 2015 JLAB finalists include a digital queue management system for stores called Qudini; an app-based coffee shop created by three teenagers called Space Lounges; a platform that allows connected home users to control all of their devices through one portal called Alfred; a camera device that lets you see who is at your front door called Peeple; and a wearables team called Ikinen who have developed the Helios solar-powered cover for iPhone users.

A total of 21 participated in a pitch day earlier this month (as per the above shot). Said Paul Coby, IT Director at John Lewis: “The five start-ups we’ve chosen certainly demonstrate what a wealth of great ideas there is out there. Each idea has huge potential to bring something new, whether to our customers’ experience of shopping or consumers’ everyday lives.”

Each will be given initial funding and office space within John Lewis’s head office for 12 weeks from early July, and access to a full panel of mentors, of which I am delighted to be one. Look out for my diary entry on the experience later this summer following the second pitch day in September, which will crown the final winner with a prize of up to £100,000 in funding.

The scheme is run in partnership with technology entrepreneur Stuart Marks and his venture fund, L Marks. Last year’s winner was beacon-provider Localz.