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October 23, 2014
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Source: cellarpaper.com.
The winning team: SWATCHit. Source: pcmag.com.

Industry visionary and co-executive producer of Decoded FashionStephanie Winston Wolkoff is all about leveraging the power of the tech geeks. In the first ever fashion "hackathon" that concluded this month during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, the winning B2B app by SWATCHit received US$10,000 and CFDA backing, sending a clear message to an industry dominated by it-bags, Cara Delevingne and glossy aesthetics: without geek there would be no chic.

Winston Wolkoff and tech maven, Liz Bacelar, conceived of the Decoded Fashion initiative - the organising body behind the hackathon - as an ongoing series merging fashion and technology. "Decoded Fashion will allow us to take the next step in putting fashion on par with the most advanced tech companies," says Winston Wolkoff, who also admits being amazed at her five-year-old daughter's proficiency with the iPad - a testament to the growing importance of technology in all facets of life.

The hackathon was a 24-hour event that brought together computer programmers, graphic designers, software developers and entrepreneurs on February 2-3, from which five finalist teams were chosen and the winners announced on February 14, the last day of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. The finalists pitched their ideas to a panel of esteemed judges which included fashion authorities such as Aliza Licht of DKNY, CFDA CEO Steven Kolb, Dirk Standen from Style.com, and a handful of designers. The scene was much like the Canadian venture capital TV show Dragons' Den (or America's equivalent, Shark Tank) - only with Zac Posen as a dragon instead of Arlene Dickinson.

On the first day of the hackathon, Jag Gill, an MBA candidate at MIT's Sloan School of Management, waltzed into a room filled with techies and fashion moguls. Gill left investment banking to pursue her interests in connectivity. "At SWATCHit we believe connectivity is productivity. Leaner, faster and clearer communication will innovate in an industry that is marred by basic pain-points such as language and work culture." By the end of the day, Gill had acquired a following of techies vying to be on her team, who believed in her vision and understood her approach to entrepreneurship.

Leaner, faster and clearer communication will innovate in an industry that is marred by basic pain-points such as language and work culture.

"There is so much that goes on behind-the-scenes from production to design, to merchandising, and we're really looking for ways to modernise the process and to be more efficient," says Licht on the Decoded Fashion video spot.

The SWATCHit team presented its B2B app that connects fashion designers and artisans in emerging market textile industries - and won. "We have constructed an innovative platform that can be accessed via web and mobile that connects two dis-intermediated stakeholders: designers and outsourcing agents (emerging market artisans)," Gill tells The Genteel. Having conceived of the idea long before the hackathon took place, Gill organised field trips to India where she worked with artisans, realising that "emerging markets need inclusive models that promote social impact."

Fashion designer Rachel Roy petitioned for a solution much like the one proffered by SWATCHit. "When you're designing, you put something on a model and you know how it looks; when I put it on, I know how it feels. How do you translate that to a factory, especially if they speak a different language?" asked Roy during The Fashion Brief session, where designers imparted words of wisdom to the participants before the hacking began.

Gill's specific interest in the Indian textile industry comes at a crucial moment - as labour costs and power costs increase in China, the leading producer of man-made textiles, India might have the opportunity to expand its market share, reports Rakesh Neelakandan of Commodity Online. Although the Indian textile industry is attempting to overcome increasing lending rates, high labour, power and transaction costs, as well as a complicated duty structure, an app like the one created by SWATCHit could potentially facilitate growth by increasing demand though connectivity. If American designers have easier access to textiles in India, the Indian textile industry is one step closer to achieving their $64.41 billion dollar goal for March 2017.

Ambitious as it sounds, the SWATCHit team is receiving backing from the CFDA to develop their app, and as we all know, a little bit of funding can go a long way - especially when it comes to startup companies. As for Decoded Fashion, this initiative hopes to become a fixture at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, bridging fashion and technology ever closer each season.

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