Decoded Fashion Conference Highlights Fashion and Tech’s Tricky Relationship

For the fashion industry, Pinterest reigns supreme.

Decoded Fashion's Consumer Powered Design panel with Ari Goldberg, Louis Monoyudis, Nina Cherny and Joyann King (Photo: Decoded Flickr)

It’s far from perfect, but the fashion industry is in a committed relationship with technology. The day-long Decoded Fashion event at Lincoln Center on Monday explored the facets of the fusion of tech and fashion. While the two can get along swimmingly, the fashion industry’s understanding of tech is limited, and technology is (currently) unable to fix some of fashion’s biggest problems.

Comprised of ten panels with three keynotes (including Tumblr’s wunderkind David Karp), the event celebrated technology’s role in the fashion industry, though many panels also addressed the myriad problems that fashion faces with its expansion online in the era of social media.

By now, it’s a given that fashion has to have a social media presence, but there are five platforms you “can’t not do” as a brand, most notably Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram, according to tech-savvy fashionistas.

Representatives of different brands differed on which they found to be the most valuable. While many lauded the click-through properties of Twitter, more found that Facebook was the most lucrative for actual sales. In fact, Stylecaster’s Ari Goldberg noted that for some brands, Facebook drove three times the traffic of Twitter. Instagram and Tumblr remain virtual lookbooks for brands, and though the designers of the CFDA panel swore the photo app was their favorite, neither has as much success as other social media when it comes to actually pushing product.

All of the designers of the CFDA panel (from Alice+Olivia, kate spade and Nicole Miller) viewed social media as a narrative device, each one a different storefront window to fill up with the right sort of content. While some panels used social media to talk about numbers, designers and creatives viewed it as a tool for spread of their brands over the Internet, or “creating the world of the brand,” as Ms. Bendet termed it.

The general consensus of the day was that Pinterest will be the next big social media outlet. Though that may not be breaking news, the fashion industry is coming for the fledgling site. Already, brands like Saks have pinboards which are connected to their main sites.

While the conference celebrated the use of technology in fashion, there was a theme of “technology as obstacle” that pervaded several panels. The Internet creates a gap between retailer and consumer, one which startups, technology and social media are trying to bridge, with varying degrees of success.

The “Investor Reveal” panel staffed by venture capitalists and the session entitled “Consumer-Powered Design” spoke to fashion’s problematic relationship with the Internet. Panelists throughout the day implied that there is a misunderstanding by the majority of the fashion industry of how the fashion business translates into e-commerce. Members of some panels went so far as to call the fashion industry “broken.”

“Fashion is laggard when it comes to data,” said Mr. Goldberg, who asserted that the industry would be transformed once it got its online act together.

Social media was not the only method presented as means for pushing product; there was plenty of tech, including a dazzling video panel. (FYI, interactive video is about to happen in a major way.)

Each panel may have looked at fashion and technology’s relationship a different way, but ultimately it is a relationship: both rewarding and frustrating, sometimes successful and occasionally a disaster. Despite the boom of startups and innovative use of social media, it seems that the fashion industry needs to decode technology to succeed.