Better living through digital fashion start-ups

Fashion never sleeps apparently, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Asia where lifestyle related online start-ups are springing up faster than you can say “buy me that Birkin.”

I wrote last month about the slightly surreal situation in Singapore where for some unfathomable reason NINE fashion e-commerce sites had launched in the past year.

I asked then where the out of the box thinking was.

Well how about this. A fashion week, based in Singapore, done entirely online, with a top model and international musicians?

And by entirely online I mean the set-up, the actual runway shows and even the post-show concerts.

The mind-blowingly ambitious Digital Fashion Week is the brainchild of Keyis Ng, a young Singaporean who wants to make the fashion world more accessible to ordinary people.

When I met Keyis for coffee this week, he told me the idea sprung from a partnership with Singapore's Audi Fashion Week, where he introduced live streaming from the runway for the first time at this event.

Apparently that’s too in the box for our man, who sat there thinking that it was about time someone did an entire fashion week online, to cut out the whole fashionista, air kissing elitism that turns the ordinary Joe away from ever attending.

In a nutshell Keyis says by putting it all online you take away the noise associated with fashion. The invite only parties, the bad views from the back if you are a nobody, the judgement if you’re not clad in the latest and greatest and the whole front row drama. What you do focus on then are the clothes and the shows.

It’s a bold concept, and he’s got some interesting ideas for execution too – including multiple angles of shows, more interaction with designers, live commentary and of course the e-commerce angle. What he’s also got, is traction. A host of European based Singaporean born designers will be coming home for this show, and a mystery supermodel has been promised.

If it works, the idea is to bring the physical side of the event to other cities in Asia (the concept he will tell you, is supposed to be global) before spreading his wings beyond this continent.

But will it work? I’m not 100% sure if Asia is ready for this and he may find that a lot of his audience comes from outside of the region - but if it is supposed to be global there is nothing wrong with that. 

There is also the problem that the experience of being in the room is one of the things which makes fashion shows sexy. Recreating the drama. Lighting, music and theatre of a big show is tough.

Keyis is confident but realistic about success. And that’s the right attitude to have. A lot depends on how you define success. I think DFW is a few years ahead of its time in terms of concept and technology. So as you long as you don’t expect a gamechanger off the bat and are prepared to accept it might be a slow burner then its perfect (there is definitely a column in there on the impatience of the online industry.)

I am confident the concept will take off in a big way a few years down the line, and the foundations will firmly be in place by the time the 3D projection streaming becomes widely available to make the experience sexier.

Another interesting fashion start-up about to launch is ZAOZAO, a Hong Kong/Singapore based crowdfunding site that describes itself as Kickstarter meets Fab meets Moda Operandi.

Set up by Vicky Wu and Xiangling Cai, it’s basically a web-based platform that allows designers to post projects and raise cash for the production through crowd-funding. These "Funders," who are effectively shoppers, can discover cool, unique designs and fund them by placing pre-orders on ZAOZAO.

Like Kickstarter - which has yet to take off in Asia - if the target funds (pre-orders) are reached then the styles getproduced. If it falls short, then the designs are consigned to the dustbin of history (well until the designer can raise money some other way)

It really is a great idea and fashion in this region has been crying out for a standalone crowdfunding project for a long time. It's actually a similar idea to one I had last year, except mine was part vote based Fashion Idol and part crowdfunding. (See girls there’s an idea for a spin-off. Hint. Hint.)

Oh, and these girls actually got off their backsides and put in the hard yards (and their backstory really does involve sleeping on friends couches) to make it happen. While I just talked about my idea over lunch repeatedly. 

If ZAOZAO - which can be roughly translated from Mandarin as early discovery - can get traction then it has a potentially huge audience. And from where I'm sitting there is no reason why it can't

There are hundreds of millions of potential shoppers who don’t have the budget to buy Gucci and tens of thousands of talented designers who can’t get the backing to make their dreams reality.

Personally speaking I love the satisfaction of helping people’s dreams come true, which is why I love Kickstarter and the absolutely wonderful Deki. And I think there’s  room in the market for a well thought out and well executed Asian competitor.

We will see how things pan out when the girls launch their website in the next week. Definitely one to keep an eye out for.

Photograph from Audi Fashion Festival courtesy of Cornyleus Tan

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