Bellizio & Igel (B&I) was thrilled to take part in the third annual FashInvest Capital Conference this past Tuesday (December 11, 2012). FashInvest is dedicated to connecting traditional fashion and so-called “fashion-tech” entrepreneurs to VCs, angels, private equity and other strategic partners and vendors. This year’s conference featured an array of brands in different spaces and with varying degrees of experience. Some brands were selected to give two-minute-long “quick pitches” while others gave more detailed pitches, including feedback from a panel of industry experts. We were fortunate enough to be among the feedback panelists. I’ve included the full list of presenting brands here.
While B&I was first approached by FashInvest to be feedback panelists, after some further conversation, we agreed to an expanded role with the conference itself. We introduced several brands that ultimately participated (Brideside, Dormify, D’Marie, Shop My Label and Beautisol) and we connected Designer-of-the-Year award recipient, Diane Gilman (HSN’s “Queen of Jeans”) to FashInvest. We also agreed to be the official “Tweet” partner of the conference, and spent the day tweeting about the business and legal issues raised by the entrepreneurs, panelists and conference attendees. It was a great experience getting to know these fascinating entrepreneurs and their brands.
There’s no way to do this conference justice in the space provided by this blog, but we’ll point out some of the conference highlights (for us, anyway). We highly suggest that you attend next year’s conference in person. It’s a tremendous networking opportunity and a great place to learn more about the fashion investment community.
The quick pitches presented quite a challenge. How can you possibly provide enough information about the market, opportunity, team, competition, challenges, potential for success, use of funds and everything else that typically goes into a pitch in just two minutes? The short answer is you can’t and you don’t have to – you just have to do enough to wet a potential investor’s appetite and a couple of brands really stood out to me as accomplishing that.
Bazaart marries e-commence and art by reinventing digital catalogs on tablets. With Bazzart, anyone can create shoppable collages from their favorite fashion brands visual assets and share them with the world. Bazaart was already part of the DreamIt accelerator and had a great pitch, which effectively and succinctly explained their revenue streams (affiliate commissions and fees from retailer who want to make their catalog accessible on the site) and proprietary features (including patented technology which learns user tastes based on search patterns and recommends relevant products matching the user’s taste).
Brandon Fail of The Shoplift is a marketing genius. He managed to get everyone talking about his presentation BEFORE the conference had even begun. How? At the cocktail reception the night before the conference, he made a friendly wager with FashInvest CEO that he could get through 50 SLIDES in two minutes. The presentation itself was memorable (as is the name) and, yes, he won the bet. The Shoplift is billed as the first mall that the shopper get to build for themselves. “Shoplift” anything that’s available for sale on the web, run your own store, stock your own collection, build your own following, etc. The site is in beta, but we think it will make for a truly fun shopping experience.
The Shirt (by Rochelle Behrens) designs clothes for women who want look stylish at work and at play, without having to change wardrobes to do it. Rochelle has developed a patented dual-button technology which eliminates the gape across a woman’s bust. Rochelle wore one of her shirts, which was a great way to show “proof of concept.”
After the quick pitches, an All-star panel consisting of Lawrence Lenihan (FirstMark Capital), Daniel Schultz (DJF Gotham) and Morty Singer (Marvin Traub Associates) discussed what drives investors to invest. This was an all-star panel to be sure. Lenihan brought up a point that, judging from the retweets, clearly resonated. He said that features and widgets are not enough… you have to fill a need. Build a brand, don’t just sell stuff. Schultz thought that the key to the investment castle was scalability. Singer focused, in part, on the idea that a successful mobile strategy is crucial.
At lunch, keynote speaker Aslaug Magnusdottir, the CEO/Founder of Moda Operandi, was honored. After spending some time learning about the wild success that is Moda Operandi, we got back to the pitches.
We knew Dormify before the conference and we already knew they had a big idea. Dormify is a curated, online content and commerce brand offering home goods and similar products to students and young adults looking to create a unique living space at school and beyond. Think of a curated, more stylish and hipper online version of Bed Bath & Beyond. Dormify did a great job pointing out its great margins and relatively recession-proof market.
Modalyst is a curated, online wholesale accessories marketplace connecting emerging designers and independent boutiques. The key here is “collective buying,” so that boutiques can test new brands without worrying about minimums. Greater exposure means everyone wins. Modalyst did a great job of recognizing a problem and coming up with a simple, innovative solution to that problem.
SeamBLISS gave a great presentation. They, too, recognized a problem in the marketplace. Bespoke is all the rage, but high prices prevent a large swath of the fashion-buying public from participating in this market. At the same time, many talented sewers and designers are having a hard time making ends meet. SeamBLISS is an online marketplace where shoppers can connect and collaborate with these artisans to produce affordable, custom clothing.
Additional panels on Effective Exit Strategies and Winning Business Models followed the presentations, but Diane Gilman, in closing the conference, stole the show. Gilman reiterated the importance of persistence, noting that before she became the #1 fashion vendor on HSN, she had been forced to reinvent herself and her brand many times before she finally found lasting success over the course of the last several years (after more than 40 years in the business). Gilman’s passion and personality were infectious, and a crowd massed stage-side after she spoke to meet her.
If you’d like to get involved in the next conference, either as a presenting brand or as a panelist, please get in touch with us and we’ll make the necessary introductions.