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The people orchestrating technology’s role in fashion and beauty are as important as the technology itself. This year, as Web3 strategies matured in the form of virtual worlds and loyalty-driven NFT drops and generative AI came to the forefront, key players have been working to make sense of what it means for the industry. From trailblazing founders to brand leaders advocating for technology investment from inside influential companies, these innovators are determining what fashion and beauty’s relationship to technology will look like moving forward.
Co-founder | Mntge
At a time when fashion is focused on defining the future, Nicholas Adler is finding inspiration in the past. Adler, along with Brennan Russo and Sean Wotherspoon, is a co-founder of Mntge, a startup that is exploring how blockchain-based technology — specifically NFTs — can be used to rejuvenate vintage apparel. Early projects include a Mntge Pass to get access to designer drops and a project to digitise some of Wotherspoon’s favourite archived pieces. Most recently, it distributed one-of-one jean jackets to legions of collectors and Web3 creatives as part of its Patchwork project, which tapped 11 artists to design digital versions of vintage patches. While Mntge isn’t the only startup to give digital value to physical goods, it is the only one to explicitly mine the untapped value of vintage fashion. Its founders also benefit from considerable networks in fashion and culture, giving their platform a leg up among tech founders — Adler is a longtime talent manager (he’s a business partner to Snoop Dogg); Russo managed Adidas brand collaborations with Pharrell Williams; and Wotherspoon is the co-founder of sneaker and vintage retailer Round Two and an artist who has worked with the likes of Adidas, Gap and Pokémon.
In the long term, their technology could help major luxury brands continue to earn revenue through resale, which would incentivise brands to find new value in old things, tying together two of fashion’s most urgent innovation priorities: sustainability and tech.
VP global brand and customer experience | Lacoste
Benjamin Blamoutier has been the global VP for brand and customer experience at Lacoste since 2020. During his tenure over a particularly tumultuous three years, he injected new ideas and excitement into a label that is not normally positioned as influential or daring. That’s included tapping the younger generation of consumers via experiments with co-creation, token-gating and virtual stores. Many of these projects are under Lacoste’s new Web3 arm, called ‘Undw3’ (pronounced Underwater — a play on its iconic crocodile logo), which he launched in 2022. During a turbulent period for cryptocurrencies and NFTs, Lacoste’s Web3 efforts have enjoyed stability and accolades among Web3 influencers, in part because of Blamoutier’s extensive work to test what is most popular among its new community. (Hint: transparency, creativity and organic growth in place of hype.) This Web3 effort isn’t isolated; Blamoutier’s work also requires overseeing Lacoste’s global customer experience through social media, retention, branding and offline experience, so his more innovative projects are tapping into a broader strategy that aims to strengthen Lacoste’s modern-day role in culture through community connections.
Co-founder and image director | Dundas
While most independent brands prefer more conservative approaches to new technology, Evangelo Bousis has spearheaded a number of projects that illustrate a more daring, experimental appetite. The focus of the former model and actor, who is now the co-founder and chief brand officer of luxury fashion label Dundas, is on how independent labels can use new technology to innovate with a larger-than-average footprint, all while staying loyal to the brand’s existing ethos. He co-founded Dundas with life and business partner Peter Dundas in 2017 and has since raised more than €20 million. Following Bousis’s embrace of a see-now-buy-now seasonal model, and a collaboration with Revolve to increase access to the brand, he has more recently explored how digital fashion and Web3 technology can introduce the brand to Gen Z while taking advantage of its popularity among celebrities. In addition to showing during Metaverse Fashion Week, Dundas created an NFT version of Mary J Blige’s Dundas Super Bowl look and translated popular pieces worn by stars such as Beyoncé and Emily Ratajowksi into popular pieces on Roblox. One headpiece on Roblox sold more than 1,000 units in the first month. It also updated its approach to see-now-buy-now to see-now-wear-now via a partnership with DressX that enabled fashion fans to wear runway looks via augmented reality — even before the physical versions hit social media.
Founder | AI Fashion Week
As fashion’s biggest brands grappled with understanding generative AI this year after it exploded on the scene, Paris native Cyril Foiret already had a fashion use-case up and running: the first-ever AI Fashion Week. The competition event welcomed legions of global creatives — many from outside of fashion — to experiment with how the new technology could upend the fashion design process. It attracted big backers, including New York’s Spring Studios and e-commerce retailer Revolve Group, and guest judges came from Celine, Adidas and Vogue Japan. For many, this event was the first time that the fashion industry got a glimpse of how AI could expand on, rather than threaten, human creativity. Foiret is uniquely well-positioned: after an early career as a wardrobe stylist, he evolved into a self-taught graphic designer and coder and founded Maison Meta, a creative studio that helped clients, including Moncler, Pangaia and Revolve, become some of the first big brands to innovate using the technology. His latest brainchild provoked questions about how to evaluate talent and technique in the future of fashion, but it wasn’t only a thought exercise for the digital realm; the works from three participating designers were selected to be produced by Revolve — for the physical here-and-now.
Founder and CEO | Geeiq
Charles Hambro founded metaverse insights platform Geeiq in 2018 with the view of leveraging data to help companies navigate metaverse and gaming platforms effectively. An early mover in the space, Hambro has worked with brands including Gucci, L’Oréal and Tommy Hilfiger to help carve out their data-driven virtual strategies. Geeiq also tracks brands’ performance analytics on platforms like Roblox and Decentraland — for instance, comparisons of major brands’ Roblox products and experiences (from players including Burberry, Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger and Nars) and analyses of Metaverse Fashion Week participants’ gamification and product offerings. At Geeiq, Hambro is pioneering a shift in the way we measure success in the metaverse: from traditional social media metrics like clicks and engagements to time spent. It’s about reframing thinking around what a game is, with a focus on the experiential aspect, the CEO says.
Heesuk Ricky Kang
Head of business | Naver Z/Zepeto
Zepeto, a metaverse social gaming platform based in South Korea, has crossed over into global relevance. In the past few years, it has become a go-to destination for major brands, including Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Nars and Bulgari, who look to the platform to experiment with digital clothing, digital venues and the generations who spend time and money there. Leading the strategy behind many of these appearances is Heesuk Ricky Kang, the head of business at parent company Naver Corporation (which also recently purchased Poshmark). At Zepeto, Kang oversees business development, revenue, virtual economy and investments that continue to make the platform relevant for its 400 million lifetime users. He directly works with luxury brands to advise on successful activations for influential Gen Z. Prior to this work, he was the co-founder and COO of an extended reality and Web3 startup based in Shanghai and Seoul.
Investor, co-founder and managing director | Firstlight
Megan Kaspar, an investor, co-founder and managing director at tech investment firm Firstlight, is an influential force in the future of fashion. Kaspar began investing in and understanding blockchain and cryptocurrencies in 2012 and was an early investor in Bitcoin, Ethereum and Polygon. She soon became one of the first to identify the fashion opportunities in this space. She is a founding member of Red DAO, a fashion-focused group that invests in digital fashion, including Web3 fashion startups The Fabricant and Draup. Red DAO also famously bought the Dolce & Gabbana Doge Crown NFT, the most expensive fashion NFT to date, for ETH 423.5 in September 2021 (about $1.27 million at the time). Most recently, Kaspar was selected by Louis Vuitton to become an advisor and ‘Via Guide’, one in a group of Web3 fashion influencers chosen to usher both the brand and its fans through its first major NFT sale. She’s also a mentor to the emerging digital fashion designers selected by prestigious digital fashion startup Syky. Her influence is perhaps equally notable behind the scenes. She’s curated an invitation-only community of fashion Web3 experts who convene at global fashion and tech conventions around the globe, and advises startups, including Digital Twin, 0xBrands and EZU.
Evan Keast, Scott Martin and Jordan Castro
Co-founders | Doodles
Evan Keast, Scott Martin and Jordan Castro launched NFT project-turned-Web3 media brand Doodles in 2021. At the time, Doodles was a popular PFP (profile picture) collection of 10,000 generative NFTs, available in varying degrees of rarity. Now, following a $54 million funding round led by Seven Seven Six (which is also a lead investor in digital fashion platform Syky) and $704 million valuation in September 2022, the company is shifting gears to focus on expansion by way of growth and IP monetisation opportunities. Most recently, Doodles curated a collection of phygital wearables with Pharrell Williams, its chief brand officer and Louis Vuitton Men’s creative director. As Doodles continues on its venture to create a fully-fledged media brand, its goal is to create a universe that bridges IP and social identity and rewards community engagement. This collab with Williams was the first step towards achieving this output. And, in August 2023, the founders took things one step further with a physical experience in Chicago that invited families to “shop and play” during a $28 hour-long experience that included creating customised Doodles characters.
Model and founder | Kode with Klossy
Karlie Kloss is one of the most successful models of the last 20 years. She’s also a leading influencer in the world of digital fashion, having become known as a proponent of technology — an industry that can, at times, be seen as at odds with fashion. Following an ongoing effort to foster young women’s education in computer science through her non-profit Kode with Klossy, founded in 2015, the supermodel has more recently backed the metaverse as a key ingredient in the future of fashion. Last September, she persuaded Carolina Herrera creative director Wes Gordon to digitise and sell the runway gown that Kloss modelled in the physical show. Pieces sold for more than $5,000 on Roblox’s peer-to-peer resale market and the project was considered a breakout success that brought viral moments into the metaverse. More recently, Kloss has opened her own digital fashion world inside Roblox called Fashion Klossette. In keeping with her tradition of fostering emerging talent, Kloss is encouraging aspiring fashion creatives to practise their craft within the world. It pulls on her years of experience at runway shows and photoshoots, giving access to fashion styling and photography to a new generation, and also, behind the scenes, acts as an ambassadorial project for industry peers. During a pre-launch preview with Vogue Business, her star power was evident: the experience had already drawn 5.3 million visitors before it was even announced.
President of Web3 media | A16Z
How the world’s fashion, tech and investment leaders see the future of cryptocurrencies and blockchain in culture will determine the trajectory of major industries. Shaping that is Christopher Lyons, the president of Web3 media at A16Z Crypto, a venture capital fund managed by leading VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. The fund has invested in influential companies, including Mythical Games, which partnered with Burberry on a blockchain-based game; Gucci partner Yuga Labs (owner of Bored Ape Yacht Club and 10KTF); and Opensea, the dominant platform for secondhand brand NFT sales, in addition to multiple other startups shaping the future of creation and revenue. Lyons is especially known for his work to increase access to these new fields for those from underrepresented backgrounds. He also co-founded the firm’s Cultural Leadership Fund, which aims to connect cultural leaders to technology companies and elevate Black creators in technology — all good news for the fashion industry as it works to participate in and shape the future of the internet, equitably.
Founder and CEO | Bods
As the founder and CEO of 3D clothing try-on tech provider Bods, Christine Marzano’s vision is to transform fashion e-commerce through artificial intelligence and gaming technology. Bods enables consumers to get a better idea of an item’s fit before purchasing by using AI to determine measurements from photos, creating a 3D avatar that fits the consumer’s size specs and skin tone. The founder and former model also hopes to make the technology more appealing by making it more user-friendly and accessible to users not versed in the gaming world (despite using Unreal Engine’s gaming software to develop its models). Bods has caught the eye of luxury retailers, including Khaite, and investors — last year, the company secured $5.6 million in seed funding from Stellation Capital, model Karlie Kloss and Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss.
Chief brand officer | Puma
For 23 years, Adam Petrick, Puma’s chief brand officer, has contributed to a number of influential projects, including the strategy to partner with high-fashion brands and celebrities, including Rihanna and Jay-Z; beginning in 2018, he oversaw the launch of the #Reform platform, which partners with high-profile ambassadors to stand up for equality. More recently, to help fuel Puma’s growth in revenue and recognition, which included its highest-ever sales in 2022, Petrick created a new playbook, this time eyeing Web3 as a new relevant cultural channel. He started in early 2022 by acquiring a range of feline-inspired NFTs to the brand’s public crypto wallet, Puma.eth. This was followed by a splashy New York Fashion Week show that put Puma back on the fashion map and introduced it to legions of Web3 fans who accessed the brand through a digital portal called Black Station and who collected and traded NFTs in hopes of collecting the now-lucrative sneakers. Petrick’s work for Puma also includes influencing internal teams; once design teams explored designing digital shoes, they found that their physical aesthetic enjoyed a breath of fresh air along with it. In the new year, Petrick plans to leave Puma, seeking out other opportunities to grow brands and categories through creative disruption.
Senior product director | Google Shopping
Lilian Rincon is a senior product director of Google Shopping for consumers worldwide — so by shaping the direction of Google Shopping, she is shaping the future of shopping. Most recently, she led a project to offer Google shoppers the option to see clothing online on a range of models, which combined diversity and inclusion with generative AI and sustainability. By bringing AI fit tech to Google Shopping, Rincon’s work applied a bleeding-edge solution to a practical problem, and it’s accessible to the average global shopper: how to find the right size when shopping online. Her work in this space was informed by both her professional experience — including leading experiences for Google Assistant, Skype and Microsoft Ads — and her personal background living in Venezuela, Canada, Indonesia and the US.
Emerging technologies manager | Christian Dior Couture
Dior is a major brand whose movements and influence are closely watched. So, it’s a big deal, then, that when it released a new sneaker collection in July 2023, those shoes included blockchain-based perks. That project, a Trojan Horse to get new technologies in the hands (and on the feet) of mainstream consumers, was the brainchild of Shreya Tyagi, a trained computer scientist who is now the emerging technologies manager at Christian Dior Couture. For the past year she has helped develop Dior’s strategy for on-chain use cases, debuting to the public via the B33 sneakers designed by Dior creative director Kim Jones, a project that was well-received by Web3 communities and beyond — with more in the works. The India native began working at LVMH developing product and client insights for brands such as Berluti and Fendi in 2017, and before focusing on its Web3 efforts, she led the Dior Data Accelerator — an in-house incubator devoted to using AI to provide personalised client experiences, smart product recommendations and tailored messaging.
Co-founder | Ave Advisory
In February, sports and athleisure brand Alo Yoga launched its first NFT project that combined digital wearables with rewards, including free workouts and styling support. It was met with high uptake — 70 per cent of those eligible engaged their wallets. It marked the first step in ex-CMO Angélic Vendette’s larger plan for a digital-first loyalty programme — just one way the executive is rethinking the traditional marketing role to include Web3 and metaverse initiatives. She’s now branched off on her own to double down on her Web3 expertise at self-founded Ave Advisory, where she’ll continue to advise Alo on its Web3 efforts while helping brands to develop their innovation strategies. Vendette sees Web3 as the future of marketing. Since the NFT launch, Alo has also teamed up with The Sandbox for a shoppable metaverse space and returned to the blockchain-based platform for an activation during its Belonging Week experience wherein visitors have the chance to win a year of Alo Moves. Now, she’s set to drive these community efforts across new and different retail brands.
Head of corporate innovation | Chalhoub Group
Nick Vinckier is the head of corporate innovation at Chalhoub Group, which he joined as head of growth in 2019. In his current role, Vinckier has headed up projects such as Lanvin’s phygital sneakers and the group’s first Decentraland wearable. In March 2023, Vinckier spearheaded the Middle Eastern retail operator’s first Web3-native brand: Sol3mates. The brand aims to boost sustainability (and exclusivity) by never producing more than it sells, encouraging designers to be “creative directors” of their own brands within Sol3mates (and pay them accordingly with royalties), and empowering community via co-creation. Sol3mates is an indicator of Chalhoub Group’s confidence in Web3 technology as a tool for luxury, and Vinckier plans to scale this tech in collaboration with experts like luxury Web3 platform Exclusible, with which Sol3mates partnered for its first drop.
Gala Marija Vrbanić
Founder and CEO | Tribute Brand
Gala Marija Vrbanić is the founder and creative director behind Tribute Brand, a digital platform that’s home to the first digital fashion item to become a recognisable, viral sensation on social media: the ballooning strapless metallic ball gown, topped with a huge metallic bow, has become a recognisable emblem of this new technology and culture. As an early innovator — Tribute Brand launched in 2020 — both Vrbanić’s aesthetic and processes have gone on to influence others. With a digital fashion tailoring service called ‘Instagram Couture’ and limited-edition collections that sell out in five minutes, Vrbanić’s work shows not only the capabilities of the tech, but her instincts for what’s next. Since then, her work has attracted collaborations with brands such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Carolina Herrera. Now, Tribute Brand has developed its own 3D and Web3 capabilities, including in-app AR interaction, NFC-enabled physical assets and a virtual ‘Tribute Street’, fuelled in part by a $4.5 million funding round last summer — a notable achievement amid a crypto winter. In a volatile industry, Vrbanić has maintained her status as being ahead of the curve through phygital collections and projects that use generative art in the design process.
Co-founder and CEO | Cala
While most people were still experimenting with AI image generator Dall-e, Andrew Wyatt was figuring out how to apply it to fashion’s supply chain. Wyatt, a former shipping tech executive, is the co-founder and CEO of Cala, a startup that uses tech to aid in the fashion design and supply chain process, including designing, manufacturing and fulfilment. Its network includes factories in 13 countries; now it also includes OpenAI, the generative AI company valued at more than $27 billion, and creator of Dall-e. In 2022, Cala became the first and only fashion company to get early access to use Dall-e 2’s API. People using Cala can now design by text command via AI, and can then go on to use the rest of Cala’s existing tools to ultimately produce their designs. By integrating text-to-image technology, Cala enables a range of elusive goals for fashion: waste-free, sketch-free design; customer co-creation; and easy 3D product visualisation among them.
Co-founder and CEO | Zero10
George Yashin founded AR platform Zero10 in 2020 following an increased sense of fatigue at fashion’s breakneck pace (Yashin helmed his own brand ZNY before pivoting to Zero10). In its early days, Zero10 worked with emerging designers, including Edward Crutchley, Maisie Wilen, Barragán and Alexandra Sipa. In November 2022, Zero10 launched its platform to enable designers to easily make their designs 3D- (and, therefore, AR-) compatible. This year, Zero10 has doubled down on big-name luxury collaborations, including partnerships with Coach and Tommy Hilfiger. In May 2023, Zero10 worked with Coach on digital renditions of its revived Tabby bag, available for virtual try-on via mirrors in-store and, most notably, an AR window outside Coach’s Soho space in New York. Yashin staunchly believes in the potential AR offers — not just for brands to enhance their reach and profitability, but in opening up creative opportunities to those who might not otherwise have access — by bringing the tech into the hands of any kid who wants to create digital fashion, as he puts it.
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