“537 designers that show four times a year. That’s about 35,000 looks a year. Even if you’re smart, even if you have the best IQ in the world, there’s no way anyone can remember every single polka-dot look from a season,” explained Alexandra Van Houtte to the Financial Times’ Jo Ellison. The founder of Tagwalk, the Carmen-backed digital fashion database, was recalling her former career as a fashion assistant, and the painfully slow process of trawling through thousands of catwalk images to make moodboards for upcoming shoots. Her solution to this industry problem was to build a search platform on which every item of clothing and each accessory is tagged and organized, and which today, has accumulated 25,000 registered users.
As Ellison writes, what started as a work aid for fashion assistants has become one of the most sophisticated tools in the industry for trend forecasting, research and inspiration. “Our users are every single magazine, every single retailer, every single wholesaler, every single buyer in the world,” said Alexandra. And she also has fashion students, design directors, chief executives and marketeers searching the site. Featuring all the brands that show on the Paris, New York, London and Milan fashion schedules, Tagwalk also allows off-schedule brands to showcase their lookbooks, includes street style images, and last month launched a shoppable function that connects the user with an e-retailer in return for a commission.
Born in France, Alexandra studied Contemporary Chinese Studies at Nottingham University in the UK before pursuing a higher degree in Fashion Media Styling at the London College of Fashion. After interning at Lanvin, she became a full time fashion assistant, and now oversees an office of 12 of her own staff in Paris after securing early investment and support from Carmen. “I invested in Alexandra when Tagwalk was only two months old,” Carmen told the Financial Times. “Investing early on is always a big risk. To give seed money as a co-founding investor at this stage in my life is not as easy as when I was younger, but I make exceptions when I fall in love with the founder or an idea that will disrupt business and our lives as consumers.”
And the investment also taps into Carmen’s recent focus on companies she believes will lessen fashion’s impact on the environment. “I anticipated that designers will have better access to the needs and wants of their clientele, so they can adapt their collections, and that accurate market intelligence will result in less waste,” she said. “The goal is to use the data from Tagwalk so that all designers have a better sense of what their customer wants, and enhance the opportunity to sell directly from the runway. This way, the sell-through is maximised.”
Carmen was also instrumental in introducing Alexandra to Adrian Cheng and Clive Ng of ‘investment club’ C Ventures. “Tagwalk is a small disruption that will create a massive ripple effect across the fashion industry,” said Cheng. “Already it’s changing how fashion research can be done, but the potential is immense.”
Looking to the future, Alexandra’s immediate plans are to launch properly in Asia, as well as to cover more fashion schedules such as Copenhagen and Seoul - she is conscious that she has to capitalise on her innovation as soon as possible as others could soon encroach on her space. And admitting that somewhere down the line she’d love to sell Tagwalk, she caveats this by stating that she didn’t set it up just to make money. Remembering the nights she spent scanning the internet and screenshotting black dresses, she explains that she simply wanted to make fashion less “stupid”, and as Ellison notes, thanks to Alexandra, we’re all getting a lot smarter.
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