London, Europe’s largest tech ecosystem, is where the intersection of fashion and technology has been more palpable than ever. London-based start-up Notpla was recently named one of the winners of Prince William’s The Earthshot Prize. Each winner will receive a £1 million grant to continue their work on sustainability and environmental issues. Founders Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez of Notpla have discovered an alternative to plastic made from seaweed and plants. It is completely biodegradable and can be used in a variety of ways, including paper for the cosmetic and fashion industries. With the rise of charities such as the Prince William Earthshot Award, new venture capital (VC) and investment firms dedicated to the fashion industry, the UK capital is fast becoming one of the most attractive places to start or grow a fashion tech business.
Fashion technology doesn’t just stop at climate change – London has set ambitious goals as a city to become a net zero carbon city by 2030. – solutions in e-commerce. It harnesses the power of the metaverse to implement more efficient digital payments, authentication and production methods. For example, the Mayor’s Business Growth Program helps high-growth businesses in creative, urban innovation, life sciences and finance, technology and business services. Engineering company Nanoloom used the program to expand its work in developing biodegradable graphene-based fibers. “That [program] was good at building relationships with a lot of people in the ecosystem, said co-founder Victoria Matacyznski. “London is pretty big on fintech so it was really good. Where you are located, especially for tech startups, probably makes a big difference. We are at the London BioScience Innovation Center. It is a laboratory area. It means that all security matters are being addressed.”
Investment programs such as Innovate UK and the Fashion District are key players in developing a strong and sustainable network within the UK fashion industry. Innovate UK recently awarded a grant to Nanoloom to scale their new prototype and bring it to market. Between 2020 and 2021, Innovate UK funded £3.1 billion in grants to a range of organisations. The Fashion District works with powerhouses such as the British Fashion Council, UAL: London College of Fashion and others to connect investors with designers, creators and entrepreneurs with a particular interest in investing in technology, environmental and business ideas with a social conscience.
Meet some of London’s exciting fashion tech companies across a range of industries.
London is home to over 215 technology companies, representing 48% of all businesses in the UK. Take Drest, the world’s first luxury fashion mobile game launched in 2019. The app makes the world of fashion accessible to everyone and offers a place for brand discovery and engagement. “Since our launch in 2019, we’ve seen 250% year-over-year user growth among a highly engaged and fashion-loving community of mostly 18-29-year-old women,” says Lisa Bridgett, CEO. “When Lucy. [Yeomans] founded by Drest, London was the obvious choice as the location for our headquarters; is an innovative and progressive, international city with so many connections to the world – from the US to Europe and Asia. Within the fashion industry, London is known not only for nurturing some of the best creative talent in the world, but also for being the cradle of e-commerce.”
Bridgett believes that “gaming can be used as a force for good” when it comes to sustainability issues. “As the conversation around metaversion evolves, it’s becoming clear that we’ll be spending a lot more time in virtual worlds over the next few years. Current studies show that 70% of Gen Z gamers, 63% of Millennials and 53% of Gen X gamers say they plan to hang out in virtual game worlds without playing a game in the future,” he says. Clothing and the way we present ourselves, whether physically or digitally through our avatars, remains extremely important, which is why building a digital wardrobe will become just as essential, if not more so, than having a physical wardrobe. Our players love building their digital wardrobe and can reuse most of their items in different challenges, meaning they don’t even have to buy new digital clothes for every single slip.”
A recent report from London & Partners and dealroom.co revealed that the UK ranks fourth globally in terms of financing virtual purchases into digital shopping, with London-based e-commerce companies attracting $5 billion in 2021. Many tech fashion companies have set up shop in London, including By Rotation , a peer-to-peer fashion rental app where you can rent, resell and rent designer fashion with others. “We’ve actually been dubbed the Instagram of rental fashion,” says founder and CEO Eshita Kabra-Davies. “Users can download the app for free, create an account and follow each other. The great thing is that you end up matching other people who are the same size as you.’
When the pandemic hit, By Rotation and many businesses hit a roadblock. However, Kabra-Davies credits the lockdown period for “educating people to rethink how much stuff they really need”, especially when it comes to clothing. “I think a lot of people are much more aware of how much they need and have taken stock of their consumption behavior,” he says. “Instead of shopping at these fast fashion retailers, you can actually borrow another person’s clothes just for the weekend, at the same price – if not lower – and even higher quality than the fast fashion piece itself.” The community-based platform is determined to change the way its users consume fashion by empowering and connecting like-minded individuals to reduce landfill waste, help improve their carbon footprint and more. “I think London supports the creation of a global civic environment that many tech founders really need, especially as we think about scaling our business,” he states. “I think London is known for being the Silicon Valley of Europe.
From the development of new materials (such as plastic alternative Notpla) to new e-commerce platforms, London is home to many businesses focusing on sustainability. The goal of Save Your Wardrobe is directly aimed at ecological balance. Co-founded by husband and wife Mehdi Doghri and Hasna Kourda, the program guides consumers on how to make the most of their existing wardrobe and reconnect with the contents of their wardrobe to shop less. “The idea came when she [Kourda] he was working in fashion and he was looking at how wasteful the industry was and how I think consumer behavior was also unsustainable,” says Doghri. “We wanted to impact the industry by changing consumer behavior first.”
There are many companies with a similar vision of digitizing wardrobes, but what sets Save Your Wardrobe apart is their commitment to extending the life of clothes. “You have an item that’s digitized, but then you have to find the right one [repair] service,” he explains. “How you find out what repairs are needed, how much they cost and who can actually do them is what Save Your Wardrobe is good at.” For this company, taking care of your clothes is the key to sustainable fashion thinking. It’s the main idea that users pick up on. “We’re really trying to solve a problem that people have right now in their homes and in their closets for the next few years until hopefully somebody else fixes the industry at its roots,” he says.
Petit Pli, a fashion brand dedicated to sustainable children’s clothing, started as a student project in 2017 and won the UK’s James Dyson Award for the concept of growing children’s clothing. Founder and CEO Ryan Mario Yasin created the patented Petit Pli technology while studying as a Global Innovation Design student at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. “When it comes to places to start and grow a sustainable circular business, London is the place to be,” said Yasin. “It is an investment hub in the UK and a core of discerning shoppers. The growing number of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and investment companies listed on the LSE with a mandate to invest sustainably signals how London is helping investors discover green opportunities. In the first half of 2021 alone, investors poured £1.6 billion into new investment companies focused on renewable energy infrastructure. This means that sustainability-driven SMEs can not only survive but thrive in London.
Investment and VC
Investors and VCs are the foundation of all successful businesses, and when it comes to the startup ecosystem, London gives Silicon Valley a run for its money. Specifically in fashion, The Mills Fabrica accelerates innovation in the techstyle industry. They aim to build a sustainable future through technology-based solutions, from supply chain and manufacturing to materials and product creation. Head of Europe Nikita Jayasuriya credits the fashion industry for the company’s successful properties. “The only way you’re really going to have a real impact on the industry we’re in today is to invest in infrastructure from the manufacturing textile supply chain, the manufacturing part of the industry,” he explains. “If you can fix everything behind what I call the velvet curtain that no one sees, you solve it and turn it around and invest in sustainable solutions that can basically help change the industry.”
Mills Fabrica has a legacy in Hong Kong but expanded to London in 2018. Collaboration with institutions such as Central St. Martins, are just one example of their commitment to working with like-minded entrepreneurs and UK talent. “You’ve got the Crick Institute here, you’ve got Central St. Martins, you’ve got UCL (University College London), you’ve got the British Library, you’ve got the second biggest Google office on the planet. It’s being built across the street from us right now – so it’s going to be the epicenter of knowledge,” he says. Their partnership with Central St. Martins is giving selected students a cash prize and a 3-month residency in Hong Kong or London in their shared space. Each student gets access to the Fabrica lab, which has laser cutters, laundry testing, cutting and sewing machines and 3D printing. “We want, to believe in themselves,” he explains. “We want them to leave university believing in themselves, investing their time in themselves and moving forward with their ideas and innovations.”
Fashion and technology are in heaven in London, and this is evidenced by the support of institutions such as the British Fashion Council (BFC), which brings together designers, creatives, brand partners, media and retailers from the British fashion industry. There is also the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA), part of the London College of Fashion, which works to use new technologies to change the status quo in the fashion and retail industry. Laura Citron, CEO of London & Partners, praises London for its cutting-edge approach to business. “From financial services and fashion to retail and healthcare, technology continues to disrupt traditional industries,” he says. “With strengths in all these sectors, London is at the forefront of the convergence trend. The combination of our global fashion and technology industry makes London a unique place to grow and expand the fashion technology business.”