At fashion lab, tech startups are pointed toward success

Some of America's leading names in fashion aren't just thinking about what's in season, they also have an eye toward the future, CBS News correspondent Vinita Nair reports.

New York City is arguably the fashion capital of the world, and the brains behind a new mentorship program would like to see it become the fashion tech capital of the world, as well, fostering a new generation of retail-focused startups.

Jared Schiffman, the founder of Perch technology, was creating interactive installations for museums. Then he realized his technology could be used to sell products. His company adds interactive displays to retail items; when you pick up an item, you can click through an interface to see available colors, sizes and reviews.

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Products paired with Perch technology
Perch

"Everything you see on the table is actually created by this technology that lives above the table. We project down onto the table, and that's how we create the imagery..." Schiffman said. "If you're holding a product, actually you're a lot more likely to buy it."

Perch is one of eight companies hand-picked for the New York Fashion Tech Lab, a 12-week program in which tech startups are paired with retail giants such as Macy's, Kate Spade, J.Crew and Ralph Lauren. With half of all new businesses failing after five years, the non-profit lab is designed to help the startups beat the odds.

The Partnership Fund for New York City and Springboard Enterprises run the program.

"A lot of people have good ideas, a lot of people start companies, a lot of them can't get to the next level -- and it's not the money, usually -- it's really having the customer base, having proof of concept, having validation," Springboard's Kay Koplovitz said.

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Inside the fashion tech startup
CBS News

The tech companies were selected based on the strength of their ideas for transforming retail.

Mary Beech, the chief marketing officer at Kate Spade, says the lab is like a boot camp where major brands can teach startups how to market their products.

"Attention spans are short," Beech said. "We need them to get to the point of their pitch, and quickly. They've been living in this bubble of developing their app, their solution, and they need to come to me and explain how it's going to impact my business."

Amanda Curtis runs one of the other companies featured at the lab. She founded her tech startup, called Nineteenth Amendment, after her clothing line failed. While companies were interested in her designs, they wouldn't buy them because she had no past record of sales.

So she built a website for budding designers to test and market new lines. Customers can purchase garments, and Nineteenth Amendment coordinates the production through U.S. manufacturers.

At the lab, Curtis learned something different about the business from each company she worked with.

"From Alex and Ani, we really learned about growing a brand. From Macys, it's large-scale -- it's, how do you reach that larger audience?" Curtis said.

Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren met with all eight startup companies during the lab.

"We've been through the wars, we've been through the changes, we've seen quite a bit," Lundgren said. "Someone in our company has got advice for most of these individuals on almost any subject that they can bring up."

Lundgren thinks the lab is beneficial for both the startups and established companies.

"We can find a company that's going to have a new idea, a new technology that we can benefit from, we want to be very helpful in getting them going and off the ground," Lundgren said. "And if we can create more jobs for New York City in this technology sector, that would be good, too."

At the end of the program, all eight companies pitch their refined business plans to a room full of potential partners and investors.

"I think it's been about simplifying the message, the pitch that we're communicating," Schiffman said. "The key thing that's been exceptionally helpful for us is making sure that we're communicating the right thing to the right group of people."

None of the retail companies has any obligation to work with the tech startups in the future. But to be fashion-forward, they'll have to be tech-savvy.

"I think the smart companies are realizing not only that this is the way that the future is going to unfold, but that it creates endless possibilities for them," Beech said.

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