Spotlight with Michael Reidbord, CEO/Founder of Fashion Tech Consortium
Finding synchrony between startups and large corporations is not easy. While big companies are established with processes and requirements that cause them to move slower, startups, on the other hand, are quick, ever-changing, and easily adapting. The problem with getting these two worlds to work well together is even more of an issue in the global retail industry.
This is where the Fashion Tech Consortium comes into the picture. Bridging the gap between innovative startups in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Israel, they continue to help startups to strengthen what they do, to be as well prepared as possible, to engage with the retail community. They aim to bring to them the best companies in the world and continue to scout and find the most cutting edge solutions available, from ideation to consumer closet.
From protecting lives to connecting brands
To help bridge this gap, the man behind the brand remains to be a veteran in the apparel industry, Michael Reidbord, CEO/Founder of Fashion Tech Consortium (FTC).
Growing up in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and coming from a background in Industrial Engineering, Reidbord has always examined everything with a process-oriented, technical mind. This was no different in his experience working as a clothing manufacturer, starting off his career-making match sets (pants and shirts that workers would wear) for various industries.
As his career progressed and he attempted to branch out on his own, Reidbord soon found himself applying his engineering mind for the servicemen of the world; firefighters, police, and military. It is here, he helped construct uniforms that were safe and durable, as these outfits were meant to protect those who protect society.
When you are making thousand dollar firefighting suits, you need to incorporate the highest levels of efficiency and technology into the manufacturing process.
After living in Germany and producing technical apparel for the European fire brigades and police forces, Reidbord became CEO of a technology company involved in mapping tied to high-density photography creating a virtual drive and location-based advertising. This was a highly engineered Street View type solution taking photos every few feet and tying them to maps. It was here he refined his knowledge and skills in the tech world.
Although in the tech world, his mind had never strayed far from the retail. Containing great knowledge and a diverse experience throughout his years in both retail and the tech industry, he began to notice that retail in particular, as exciting and fast-moving as it was, lacked the technological advances that many other sectors were implementing at speed. In fact, most of the technological integrations were found in warehouses and factories, rather than the stores itself.
Throughout his work, Reidbord was no stranger to working with technology. He saw, firsthand, just how much it could make an impact on an industry. And seeing all the problems retailers were having with each passing year, he decided he’d play his role to make the change, by connecting brands and technological entrepreneurs with one another. And thus, FTC was born.
Building the business: struggles and challenges
During his journey, Reidbord has seen his share of struggles and challenges.
Simply put, startups operate at light speed, consisting of highly motivated and fast-moving individuals. There is a short runway, with funds, staff to pay, and overhead to concern themselves with. There is no choice but to move rapidly. They need to move quickly.
On the other side of the equation, there are brands and retailers that have been built over a foundational structure, which as a large organization, moving much slower. Drastic change is less likely to be adapted and processes are a lot more formalized.
There are different mentalities between the way these two organizations operate, as one runs off of an entrepreneurial attitude (startup level) and the other, a much more cautious, and traditional flow (brands and retailers). With such disparities, the challenge has always remained to get these two to work together fluidly.
Even if some of these large organizations are aware of the changes to be made, a lot of them are stuck in a place where they lack the platform to even try new things. Many employees of such a large organization already have their own regular job to attend to, let alone taking on a whole other aspect to adopt new technologies – all the while not getting paid any extra for the added effort.
For start-ups, even if they have great ideas, the questions are still a dozen: do you have the resources to deliver? Is your technology completely full proof? Have you mapped out all the different scenarios to provide the retailer and brand with the solution you are talking about?
The biggest problem is they [start-ups] are an unknown entity without credibility and a history. Every company will have to overcome this hurdle. The question remains: Will you deliver on your promises.
Breaking down the Fashion Tech Consortium
Despite its struggles, the Fashion Tech Consortium has grown tremendously over the years, with a portfolio containing about 90 companies.
From flooring products, cosmetics, consumer demands, Fashion Tech Consortium helps all types of retailers, focusing on the following five areas:
- Business Intelligence (to find out about the market, the consumer and competitors)
- Supply chain (predictive analytics to smart manufacturing, smart warehousing)
- Visualization (AR/VR, 3D and design processes)
- Brick-and-mortar stores
For Reidbord, the aim has always been to help companies – from small to big – refine their business plans, better understand their markets, strengthen their teams, raise money, and connect to the innovation economy. While FTC can be attributed to helping many startups get their product into the market, the company has partnered with large brands (Unilever, Macy’s, Fast Retailing, P&G, Coca Cola to name a few) to assimilate seamlessly into this digital world as well.
A large portion of the solution providers FTC is partnered with is from Israel, one of the tech hubs of the world. The reason for this being, he had found (in a business trip of his) that many startups here had enormous capabilities in technology (cybersecurity, AI, pharmaceuticals), with many large successful companies that are public and private that focus on banking, medicine, the healthcare industry. FTC also has partnerships with companies from the US, Europe, and Asia (China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Philippines).
The importance of retail technology
Working with technology from early on, Reidbord has always been somewhat of a future-forward thinker. Taking a look at the future of fashion in general, he notes that the implementation of artificial intelligence and emerging technologies as a whole will only be the way to go.
Taking the physical store, for example, there is a lot of room for improvement. Not only should retailers look to ways to make the shopping experience more personalized and convenient, but even manufacturers should integrate things like computer vision and robotics within their factories. He notes that there are going to be drastic changes in all the different areas of the supply chain.
In today’s landscape, there are a lot of companies like Amazon, JD, Alibaba that are forcing all of this change to happen. The unfortunate truth remains: if you want to play in this industry and be important, you need to have upgraded systems and processes that help to serve the customer in a better way, whether it be through replenishing your items faster, predicting consumer demand better, and/or leveraging your data easier. Without this mentality, it is only a matter of time until you lose to the competition.
Smart companies are trying new things. The rigid old fashion companies will go away. When you can go out and see everyone’s Instagram feed, all runways, all the fashion shows, detect all the color palettes and scan social media platforms to see what influences people and utilize this to design products – you will win. If you walk around and think you know the answers, and blindly design collections and produce products, you will lose. It’s simple as that.
Reidbord believes that the most important thing that modern retailers need to know is to stop making products that people don’t want. Instead, use that time to start understanding what the consumers truly desire.
It is instrumental to see what is happening in the future of the industry. Creating what is desirable is what is fundamentally the most important aspect of the industry. As every month passes, there are more store closings, more changes, and more new brands coming into the industry that are highly focused on the consumer.
Today, you can see the well-equipped companies surviving, and the ones that don’t embrace new technologies losing. Overstored, over mulled, and overproduced inventory has been a leading cause for markdowns, and lost revenue.
As a veteran in the business and someone that has helped connect startups and big retailers from all over, Michael Reidbord has definitely seen enough to know what helps both parties maneuver through such rocky times, especially with the economy shifting the way it is.
When it comes to retailers, his best advice is to pilot as many products as they can, to experiment as much as possible and to trust the rising entrepreneurs to help improve their businesses. Change does not happen easily and there are always reasons not to do something. So, he recommends making time and creating a budget for a pilot to integrate the necessary technologies that can potentially transform their business.
As for the rising entrepreneurs, it is important to keep in mind that penetrating the market and minds of these big retailers is much harder than anticipated. It will take longer to embed their technology into the retail community, as it is a slow-moving one, so they should plan accordingly, putting off certain expenses if need be.