The Bay Area is the US Fashion Tech Hub

WHY SAN FRANCISCO & THE BAY AREA IS THE COUNTRY’S FASHION TECH HUB

ThredUP, Polyvore, ShopStyle, LeTote, and FitBit have a few things in common: they are changing the fashion industry, they are based in the Bay Area, and they are fundamentally rooted in Computer Science.

BAy Area Fashion

San Francisco is beat only by New York and Los Angeles for amount of fashion designers in an area.  The fashion designers in San Francisco, on average, make the highest salaries in the country.  (1) In the context of shaping the industry’s future this fact alone is irrelevant.  The Bay is known for having a large community of venture capitalists, thriving when it comes to innovation, and being the most influential place for computer science in the world.  Across design professions, San Francisco is the design capital of the country, with the highest number of designers across industries. (2)

With 35-40% of our country’s venture capital (3) and 15.4% (4) of global venture capital (compared to NY’s 5%), Silicon Valley has a long history and culture of innovation.  Venture capital in this area is not capped at sheer quantity, but remains high in quality.  Over the past 10 years, Khosla Ventures has been building a Fashion-Tech portfolio composed of companies such as: Smartspot, Everlane, Avametric, Feetz, Shoes of Prey, Mtailor, TeeSpring, and Narrative. (5)  Incubators like Wearable World and Highway1 have been supporting efforts in the wearables space.

The area garners organizations like “International Web Association and the HTML Writers Guild as well as the World Organization of Webmasters.”  Major corporations such as: Facebook, Google, Apple, Oracle, and Cisco attract talent from top institutions all over the world. (6) Innovation stems from environment and being immersed with the people who are familiar with the fundamental concepts that are changing every industry in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Fashion-Tech companies we have seen thus far have very little to do with Fashion Design talent itself and a lot to do with Computer Science talent.  Looking at a cross-section of Fashion-Tech founders from e-commerce to wearables, a pattern of Computer Science, Engineering, and MBAs appears.

Polyvore

  • Jianing Hu : PhD Carnegie Mellon, Computer Science
  • Jess Lee : Stanford University, Computer Science

ShopStyle (acquired by Popsugar)

  • Jason Rhee : BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan and MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
  • Krista Moatz : MBA from University of Washington

ThredUP

  • James Reinhart : MBA Harvard Business School
  • Olivia Lubin : Bachelor’s in Computer Science at Boston University and Masters in Healthcare Technology Management
  • Chris Homer : Bachelor's in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton and an MBA from Harvard

Fitbit

  • James Park : Incomplete Computer Science degree at Harvard College
  • Eric Friedman : B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science from Yale University

THE NEED SEEKER APPROACH

The Need Seeker Approach to innovation leads not only design communities, but engineering, and business.  While industrial design and architectural design are both inherently linked to working with engineers and focusing on need, fashion design is often exempt from these things.

In the case of Fashion Tech, this new industry might have more to do with industrial design and engineering than Fashion.  From the creative angle, some of the most interesting exploratory projects to date have not been by Fashion Designers or by professionals from the fashion industry at all, but by Architects and Industrial Designers.

A FEW THINGS MADE BETTEr

The function and innovation based attitude in the Bay Area extends into apparel and fashion.  A long history of the most renowned function-based apparel brands in the country are based in the Bay Area from Levi Strauss & Co., Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, and Athleta.  A number of ideologies have led the population in this area to focus on making fewer things at a higher quality.  San Francisco has been the city to spark a number of progressive movements along the same vein, from slow food and farm to table dining to slow fashion and sustainability.

A list of SF/Bay Area based Fashion + Fashion/Tech Companies:

(Please feel free to add more by commenting below!)

Alphyn Industries
American-Giant
Athleta
Athos
Awear
Bebe
Betabrand
Boutiika
Boutine
Charlotte Russe
Chronos
Chubbies
Cloth & Dagger
Combat Gent
Cronologics
Cuyana
Everlane
Fold4me
Gap Inc.

Gymboree Corporation
Huckberry
Inspirare
JanSport
Jill Milan
Levi Strauss & Co.
Lucy
Lumo bodytech
MarineLayer
Marmot
ModCloth
Modern Citizen
Motiv
Mountain Hardwear
Muvr
Myfit.co
O'Neill
Olio
Omate

Polyvore
Poshmark
Raf9
Rocksbox
Ross Stores
Sensilk
ShopNear.me
Sonas Denim
Spire
Stitch Fix
Stitch Labs
StyleSeatv
Stylematic
Styleyou
Stylishous
Tappur
TaylorStitch
The North Face
Thirdlove

Thread
Threadflip
Tobi.com
True & Co
Trumaker
Twice
Underhanger
Unplugged Goods
Vizl
Zazzle

 

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Image by The Fashion Robot // Taken in San Francisco

Image by The Fashion Robot // Taken in San Francisco

(1) http://www.citylab.com/work/2012/09/worlds-leading-cities-fashion/3182/
(2) http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/07/americas-leading-design-cities/373146/
(3) http://www.bayareaeconomy.org/files/pdf/CultureOfInnovationFullWeb.pdf
(4) http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/01/global-startup-cities-venture-capital/429255/
(5) http://www.khoslaventures.com/portfolio/all-companies
(6) https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/mortgages/best-places-tech-jobs-2015/