Vancouver: A Hot Spot for Fledgling Fashion and Lifestyle Apps

Vancouver, CA

Vancouver, CA

It’s not exactly a secret that the fashion world is going digital. From paper publications transitioning to digital-only reads, to social media users becoming front-row A-listers at fashion weeks around the world — the shift to pixels over paper is already well on its way in this (and many other) industries.

“Just like so many other genres, I think it’s a giant, game-changing freight train,” says Vancouver-based style expert and fashion journalist Susie Wall of the digital-first shift.

And in Vancouver, this “freight train” is running full speed ahead as the city has become a hotspot of new fashion and lifestyle apps.

But perhaps it’s not the approach that local tech-fashion start-ups are taking, but rather the number of them that are popping up in Vancouver alone, that is so notable.

So, what’s behind the boom? When asked, three industyr insiders — Wall, Style Pixi founder Neil Stevenson-Moore and Mona Akhavi, CEO and Founder of Sidebuy — all had a similar response.

“When it comes to the tech side of things, I think we are a very open city,” Stevenson-Moore says. “We are open to a lot of different things, whether it’s socially or economically, but also problem solving.”

But according to Wall, it’s a whole lot simpler than that.

Vancouver has become a hotspot for fashionable apps including breez, which allows users to shop fashion, lifestyle and home items from other users.

Vancouver has become a hotspot for fashionable apps including breez, which allows users to shop fashion, lifestyle and home items from other users.

“Vancouver is a hot spot for apps and innovators for the same reason it’s a hot spot in general,” Wall says. “It’s open-minded, creative, inspiring, gorgeous, well located, laid back but incredibly savvy — and packed with promise.”

It’s that promise that that led Wall to accept the role of creative director at the newly minted mobile app breez, which was co-founded by her husband Chris Coghlan. And she hasn’t looked back since.

“Given my connection to fashion and design, to social and traditional media as well as to the retail world, the founders were eager to drill down to the specifics about what I felt was missing in the current market,” Wall says. “They also wanted to know how we could differentiate and create a cool, easy, geo-targeted product that had legs in other markets like Palm Springs, Los Angeles or Toronto.”

But while Wall’s background may be largely about stylish wordsmithery, her latest gig sees her taking a much more retail-minded approach to the industry.

“breez is a mobile-friendly, shop-and-sell marketplace for stylish home, fashion and lifestyle items,” she explains of the new platform. “It’s is a tool for retailers, designers, artists and shoppers to post and sell their new or pre-loved items — and make purchases while they’re at it.”

Essentially, it’s a virtual trading post for people looking to liquidate certain pieces, or enterprising small brands and businesses to get into the digital retail game — something Wall sees being integral to survival in today’s changing retail landscape.

“There will always be gravitas associated with the brick and mortar experience, but retailers and designers who aren’t living between traditional and social commerce risk being left at the station,” she says. “That’s why breez is so rad. No e-comm? No problem. Post your product with us.”

Users can rate sellers to make sure they are “posting up to snuff” items and an in-app payment system is in the works, according to Wall.

Wall and the breez team have also looked to take the potential risk out of meeting up with a stranger to exchange goods and payment with a warehouse space in Vancouver’s Amoury District (1633 West 2nd Ave), dubbed the Trading Post, where users can meet to complete a transaction.

“If you’re not comfortable arranging a private sale with a stranger or having another user come to your home, you can connect at the Trading Post,” she says. “It’s a safe, third-party space for users to make transactions with our staff on-site.”

While breez looks to link individual sellers and small boutiques directly to buyers, another Vancouver start-up, StylePixi, looks to do the same — but with some of the biggest players in the retail game.

If the name StylePixi sounds familiar, don’t worry. You’re not imagining it.

The fashion app, which was first released in 2013 as a link between users and retail shops, is in the process of a transformation. One which Stevenson-Moore hopes pays off big in the end.

The 34-year-old CEO and founder of the tech start-up has helmed the app since its beginning — navigating it through a few growing pains — and setting an ambitious new goal for the product.

“Our end goal is that on every door of every shop it says Visa card, MasterCard and StylePixi,” he says.

So, how exactly does he plan to do that?

“Something like 80 per cent of people use their phones when they’re shopping — for everything from taking photos and sharing with friends, researching products, store hours, whatever it is — so what we are trying to figure out is what is the most effective way to tie all these things together,” he says. “And that is what we have done.”

Acknowledging that brands are being forced into “omnichannel” or multi-platform selling practices, Stevenson-Moore believes he has created the perfect platform that will bring the full digital experience to brands — big and small.

“When you really look at the advantages of in-store versus online, online is still really mass media — one message for all people. Holt Renfrew sends the same email to my 70-year-old grandmother that I get,” he explains. “When we think about it, that online side of omnichannel isn’t really personalized at all. Typically, it’s male-female, but that’s about it, whereas with in-store, it’s one-to-one.

“So, we believe we have actually created something that can bridge that gap.”

StylePixi is being marketed to retailers as a customer relationship-building vehicle, as well as a sales tool, by allowing shoppers to input their favourite items found in stores and online, and then outputting a personalized magazine-like app based upon their selections, which will allow retailers to engage shoppers specifically based upon their style, size and preferences.

“Most stores now are kind of organizing items by looks or feelings or activities,” he says. “But what we do, is we actually build you a personal magazine on the fly.”

The plan is for users to sign up with their email address, and a customized email with their digital “lookbook” will be sent when they leave the store — with followup emails for shopping discounts on that and similar items.

Stevenson-Moore sees his product working from the fitting room stage — and beyond.

“We see StylePixi working all over the shop, but that’s where we start seeing it happen,” he says

The company is pushing for a launch of its commercial product in October, with no definite date for its user platform, which will allow users to upload their own looks and curate a personalized style feed, according to Stevenson-Moore.

“We’ve always known there was going to be two sides to it,” he says of the separate retailer and user platforms. “And this is definitely step one.”

The company is also aiming at rolling out with a mix of local and international advertisers — from Quicksilver to Nicole Bridger.

While not exactly an app, tech start-up Sidebuy is another Vancouver-based fashion-tech company looking to build relationships with brands — but with an added online influencer focus instead of shoppers.

“Sidebuy is an online platform that connects bloggers and influencers with brands and help them manage and measure their collaborations,” Akhavi says. “We help brands save money and time in finding their most active and relevant influencers that can promote their brand through authentic content.”

But while the idea of harnessing the power of online influencers to benefit brand campaigns isn’t exactly revolutionary, Akhavi and her team are targeting an element of influencer marketing that has, as yet, gone somewhat unregulated: analytics.

Bloggers and influencers are regularly paid by brands for promoting products on their platforms, and are given additional earnings on sales.

“We are different because we are providing brands and bloggers with an easy-to-use online solution to manage payments and view real-time performance of their campaigns,” she explains. “We enable businesses to promote their brand through the voice of their influential customers who their target audience trust and resonate with. Bloggers, on the other hand, can track the performance of their site and all social channels on one platform and make money on their blog.”

According to Akhavi, it’s a win-win for both brands and bloggers.

“Our cutting-edge technology allows brands to find their most relevant influencers whose image is aligned with theirs,” she says. “It also tracks the performance of the campaigns so they can see how their campaign performed with real-time analytics.”

Sidebuy sells tiered packages to brands based upon the scope and scale of their campaigns, which gives them access to the company’s stable of social influencers who cover a range of topics — from fashion and home, to nutrition and fitness.

“Any brand whether big or small, offline or online can take advantage of the benefits of influence marketing and get access to influencers,” she says of the model.

And with new “influencers” seemingly popping up in Vancouver — and beyond — nearly every day, and brands reportedly funnelling advertising dollars away from traditional print streams in favour of online and app-based initiatives, Akhavi and her team don’t see demand for Sidebuy slowing anytime soon.

“There are a lot of great bloggers here who are true to their brands and will not promote any brand just for the sake of money,” she says. “And marketing and advertising in the fashion and lifestyle industry in Vancouver is growing too, with bigger chains like Nordstrom opening doors.”