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Business of Fashion

Starkweather at the Lost Labs Showcase


Starkweather at the Lost Labs Showcase

On Friday, April 13, Starkweather, along with four other Chicago startups, presented to a room of 100+ individuals in an old warehouse building on Goose Island. The event was the culmination of three months of incubation through the first Lost Labs program. Run by Charles Adler, co-founder of Kickstarter and founder of Lost Arts, Lost Labs is an opportunity to "[apply] ambition, to explore the potential of curiosity," for "anyone with a tenacious creative spirit." 


As part of the first cohort, there was a loose framework for us to structure our goals and a timeline to achieve it. I found myself motivated to challenge myself and reach higher than I had initially outlined. The result for Starkweather was a full-on new business plan and pitch that has been updated to reflect all the lessons learned, all the new resources that are available, and the forecast of where the industry and consumer behavior is going in the future. 


The capstone event gave me a platform to share those organized thoughts to a group of intelligent, curious professionals who then had an opportunity to come speak with the founder (myself), see the products, try them on, and share their feedback. I walked away inspired with new ideas, and excited to get the product into waiting customers' hands. That excitement will serve me well, as motivation and foundation to overcome the challenges to come. Truth: the hard work begins now.

Writing this on a 30º day in mid-April, I know even as I wait for the warm weather to come, that getting cold-weather product to market for fall 2018 will keep me occupied until the weather turns cold again. 

Over the next several months, I will be getting the word out, taking lots of meetings and copious notes, and building out the resources to make the Fall's launch a catalyst for Starkweather's future success. 

Thank you to Charles and Elizabeth @LostArts, and to the rest of the cohort founders.


2018/1 Cohort Companies:

Founded by Louis Vowell, CoLab is an online collaboration platform that connects artists and alumni from different art universities across the country. CoLab was created to alleviate post-graduation isolation, with the aim of facilitating cross-campus communication and producing collaborative artworks.

Fertile Design
Fertile Design is a biodegradable plastic, partially made of food waste, that is chemically balanced to feed the soil when it is discarded in the ground. This product, which can replace traditional plastics, is the creation of Jessica Gorse.

For the artistically inspired, Fossick is a homewares and accessories company with an ethical and sustainable twist. Cate Breasley started the company to a range of uniquely designed, one-off pieces in vibrant colors and patterns that celebrate individuality, creativity, and hidden potential. 

Sojourn Fare
Roman Titus founded Sojourn Fare to make the mushrooms (and their medicinal and culinary potential) more prevalent in the world. The company builds farm-tech software that empowers growers to control, monitor and optimize mushroom cultivation.

Starkweather creates outerwear for urban environments, combining low and high-tech solutions to design products that marry technology, function and aesthetics. Lee Anderson created Starkweather to provide an alternative for people who wish to wear something other than the ubiquitous black puffy jacket all winter, while maintaining warmth and functionality.


Product Potential


Product Potential

No one wants stuff anymore. Businesses have been created to help us get rid of our stuff, or share our stuff, or repurpose our stuff. We’ve been asked to decide: “Does it bring you joy?”

What does that mean for product companies that rely on people wanting (not needing) stuff the company sells? I like to think it means we will all make less stuff.

As a designer, I believe in creation for the sake of solving persistent problems and making lives better. I believe that making products beautiful is a critical factor of the overall success. And that there will always be a place in the world for products that answer those two criteria.

The best products are, and will forever be: Easy and obvious.

That is to say, once it’s introduced, it is such an obvious evolution that we can’t remember the world without it. And that we adopt it easily enough for that evolution to happen at scale.

Products are a vessel for change.

They inevitably take on a life of their own once they get into the hands of the user. The best designers will continue to be those who pay attention to that, and make an effort to understand the unplanned phenomena that emerge around their product. This follow through can help designers understand changing culture in a profound way.

Products are multi-faceted. They can be many things to many different people, and thus a vessel for many things, from self-expression and future shaping, to empowerment of people.

What does this mean in fashion?

When fashion products have such a short lifespan, it is difficult for them to grasp hold long enough to have an impact. Since the goal is for products to be easy and obvious, it would be an uphill battle to try and force different behavior around the consumption of fashion. But in order to impact that change, companies can make efforts on the back end.

If we want our products to be different, it can’t be superficial. Our process also needs to be different. From conception through production and onto consumption, the product lifecycle represents several opportunities for impact. Thus it’s role as a vessel for change. If we aren’t able to make change yet on the consumer level, we can at least make change through the design process (organizational level) and supply chain (potential global impact).

There was a time when garments were built to last; each item repaired and passed down through generations. With an older sister, hand-me-downs made up half of my personal wardrobe as a kid. The more disposable our clothes become, the less likely we are to give them a second life, either through repairs or through resale/donation/handing-down, and the less likely they are to last long enough to do so.

This is not to suggest that we all should own a sewing kit and learn to darn. Although that would be a great thing, it is unrealistic. Since we are not in the business of moving backwards, but going forward, we are better off not trying to go back to “the way things were before.” Instead, we can look to design new systems that create a new evolution, better than where we are, but equally better than the “good old days.”

Instead of being nostalgic for the way things were, we create a future that is undeniably stronger. This is the potential of products. There is a great responsibility on the shoulders of creators not to fill the world with waste, but to add value. As so many would-be consumers make efforts to rid themselves of stuff, now is the time to solidify that mindset by answering it with products of value.

Product has the potential to be a vessel for positive change in many ways around the world. It starts with the process. And while the consumer climate is demanding less, we have the chance to seal that relationship with the consumer, thus empowering an era of conscious consumerism at scale. Let’s not let the opportunity go to waste.



Starkweather on American Fashion Podcast

Thanks to the hosts of American Fashion Podcast for inviting Starkweather founder, Lee Anderson, on the show for a conversation on the latest in the news, what's so great about outerwear, and working towards getting some direction for this crazy industry that we all love. 

Lee Anderson of the Starkweather outerwear R&D group is in the studio talking about her conferences and focus groups, which she has been using to explore the fashion industry’s chronic issues. The hosts comment on a long list of recent news stories about the industry (see references list below). Charles Beckwith hits the Tranoï New York trade show and talks to designers Charles Harbison (Harbison), Yasmine Rana (Y by Yasmine), Katie Gallagher, and Philip Chu (Ground Zero), along with Tranoï’s CEO David Hadida and Head of Sales Marco Pili.



Outerwear Origin Stories : The Sleeping Bag Coat

There is history behind the phenomenon of puffy coats in cities across the US. Before the fabric technology existed, and before activewear/outdoor lifestyle began reflecting in our urban wardrobes, men and women used to dress in tailored outerwear made of natural fibers. Waxed cotton trenches or wool coats in the form of Pea Coats, Capes, Chesterfield Coats, Top Coats, Toggle Coats....But we're talking 1950s-60s. 

That all changed when fashion became more edgy and experimental, as society was also getting more openly edgy and experimental. The rules and formalities went out the window.

Fast forward to what is popular outerwear today, with streets full of Canada Goose, Moncler, North Face. These brands have all found their way down the mountain and into the city, but that road was cleared for them by a less widely known pioneer. 

The real champion of this origin story is Norma Kamali, dating back to the mid-70s. As the legend goes: 

After splitting with her husband, Mohammed (Eddie) Kamali, in the mid-1970s, she took to camping in the woods with a boyfriend. “It was cold,” she recalled, “and I was always getting up at night to go to the bathroom.” On one particularly nippy night, she threw on her sleeping bag and sprinted for the bush. “As I was running,” she said, “I was thinking, ‘I need to put sleeves in this thing.’ " - NYTimes, Ruth La Ferla May 9, 2009

It's still around today, and here's a version that we love. If you're going to wear a puffy coat, get the one that pays homage to the origin story. 


Starkweather is young, and this is our origin story right here. Exploring the world around us and our reason for being, which only grows stronger from learning about what else is out there and who came before us.

We hope that this knowledge and value translates through to you and your Starkweather experience.




Taking the Fashion-Tech Long View

Galileo showed the   Doge of Venice   how to use the telescope (Fresco by   Giuseppe Bertini  )

Galileo showed the Doge of Venice how to use the telescope (Fresco by Giuseppe Bertini)

Talking fashion technology has become a largely consumer oriented dialogue. Wearables, customer experience, personalization, are all buzzwords that come up across topics and up and down market. Fashion and Tech (from both sides) are wrapped up in being of-the-moment, which takes away from the efforts put towards long-term change and realignment. So many of the more deep-rooted operational issues remain un-discussed and unchanged while we endlessly discuss the newest round of wearable devices that will be abandoned in turn.

Deep change takes more capital risk, and more bottom-up operational auditing. But when presented with an opportunity like this moment of flux in the fashion industry, those are the changes that reap the most benefit. We should all take the long-view. 

So many of the press-oriented conversation pieces begin to feel like anecdotes for brands to become part of the discussion and to say they were among the first. The short-term gains experienced by certain brands are becoming too common for any brand to really stand out, but others are still wanting to participate for fear of being left behind. With all the transient and already outdated efforts we’ve seen in Fashion & Tech, it is that much more exciting when an idea or a project truly bringing us forward.

A couple of these bright moments occurred at the recent Decoded Fashion Summit in New York City, attended by an ever growing mix of fashion, business, and tech decision makers and innovators.

In a “fireside chat” with Symphony Commerce, a service for outsourcing certain infrastructure needs to get companies through their growing pains, the conversation shifted from product to back end. How can scaling business in fashion and retail make the leap in revenue growth without equally increasing their overhead? What does it look like when a five-person startup has the efficiency of a Yoox or an Amazon? These are the questions that lead to growth in an industry that needs to learn new ways of scaling while remaining agile.


Some examples of rock stars in the fashion and tech space growing their operations by scaling out their user experience are Rent the Runway and Rebecca Minkoff. Rent the Runway launched their subscription service which founder Jennifer Hoffman sees as her dream closet, constantly rotating. “Imagine there is a trap door in the back of your closet,” she suggested. “And it leads directly into the Rent The Runway warehouse.” The RTR philosophy of smarter consumption is also one of their great assets. It provides a compass for their business growth, and gives their customers a conscious alternative to fast fashion.


Image from the  WSJ 

Image from the WSJ 

Rebecca Minkoff’s new retail location might be brick and mortar, but there is so much embedded tech that the segue from online to off becomes seamless, to their benefit and the customer’s. They have the advantage of having participated, with great foresight, in the Fashion & Tech dialogue from the beginning, giving them the knowledge and the access to partnerships that made the dream of this store to a reality. Uri Minkoff, CEO, spoke passionately about the choices they made in building their brand’s retail embodiment. They key moments they looked at started with the moment of entry, through to discovery, the approach and interaction with the stylist, lighting, fitting rooms, the checkout, and even getting into post-visit follow up.

When we think of fashion, we obviously think of product. These examples speak to the fact that technology can really enable us to reimagine not only our products and our sales strategies but also our systems. As brands and business we should be thinking about infrastructure and logistics, becoming better and more efficient within our own walls. This will inevitably align with an improved experience for our customers. And this is a place where technology can certainly enable change within fashion companies, most notably amongst startups who are still nimble and who rely more on experimentation than big data to inform their decisions. 

While certain tech tools, including the media buzz generated by being aligned with tech, are enabling companies to make short-term gains, it is the companies that are looking at the long view who will get the most out of this mergence of Fashion and technology.




Decoded Fashion New York Summit: Day Two

Kate Spade's Mary Beech –

Don’t divide the budget into print/digital/video – think of them synchronistically .

Growing up in brick & mortar, digital isn’t natural so hire people for whom it does come naturally because you know it’s important & that’s where the customer is going.

Print – “direct mail is absolutely critical” – email, digital optimization

Marketing digitally: Deliver the best brand story telling, customer service, unique experience.

*Not interesting to hear about big brands who were big when social media came out on how bit they are on social media. It’s obvious for people who know the brand to go and like or become a follower. What about unknown brands who emerged through social media? (Fashion Tech week)

Kate spade's E-bay sponsored shoppable windows were a big hit. They also informed new retail locations, where the most successful shoppable windows had been.

E-bay partnerships were a theme in omni channel retail. Rebecca Minkoff's store was also developed in partnership with e-bay.

The science project- a startup partner who helped get the algorithm right for question & answer through to product suggestions through to sale. First and foremost goal is to be a customer centered organization. If the best solution is a digital solution, then they go tech. If the best solution is analog, they forgo the tech.

Recurring theme: “We want to be wherever, and whenever, our customer wants to buy.”

Shoppable hoarding…? Terrible term

We see the brand as an “Ecosystem of innovation” 

Kate Spade now has a director of Wearbles. As a brand they’re investing in the space. A suite of wearbles – not one size, one solution.

Startups to look out for:

Kairos (opportune time) watches – replace the band not the face. Does this solve the issue of sentimental value / timelessness of other watches?

“Make every moment an opportunity”

NORMAL. Says Liz @recode “3d printing isn’t about making products for everyone. It’s about making products for just one person.”

“Wearables are not just about quantification” Human to digital and back to human.

–Do not put the text before the human experience.

Invisibility : not even call is wearable tech. Call it clothing. Don’t brand it like it’s some bizarre thing. “If it’s called wearable tech then it’s not integrated seamlessly into our lives.”

–From the product design to the system that controls it

–Design for movement

–How to design for touch in the digital age?

–“Less is better” Deiter Rams







long lasting







Wild West of Fashion & Tech

Q: “What does fashion have to do with technology?” and vice-versa

A: Almost always, technology has nothing to do with fashion. It’s just a tool. It’s part of the journey.  SC

A: Actually, they’re both a part of our lives every day. They are totally linked. LG

Lawrence Lenihan has a problem with the term FashionTech – also saying that wearbles are tech pretending to be fashionable.

Google: user first – their customer isn’t necessarily fashion.

They have just as much a right to play in the fashion space as fashion has a right to play in the tech space.

Simon Collins the accountant? No, so why do tech companies say that just because it can be worn on your wrist it’s an accessory. It’s fashion?

ENCOURAGE collaboration

FH: “The smarter technologists hire designers…It should start with the design first, and technology will be an enabler.”

LL: “Is fashion doing it’s job in looking to move forward.”

SC: “Fashion is constantly moving forward & using tons of tech, they just don’t promote it through boring products like all these tech nerds”

“We don’t need to focus just on product.” LG “Wearables is just answering one thing”

“Once tech allows us to do something we couldn’t do before, then it will start to be interesting for fashion designers. We embrace tech when tech becomes interesting enough to embrace” SC

My take: fashion brands are reactionary, not innovators & leaders.

“what are the bigger bets we’re going to make? And then go for it” FH

LL: we’re seeing a golden age of transition across these

One of the biggest places is in infrastructure  –

Do existing companies get phased out? Then totally replaced by this new generation of innovative infrastructure brands?

“under-leveraged asset : billions of photos on social media.” FH

“If we could please use technology to make fashion a little more responsible– work on that” SC's call to action.

Still no one has figured out the mobile web. LG Forget about the bigger screens, focus on the mobile web.

“You have to be where the customer is” “there’s no greater antithesis to luxury than not giving the customer what she wants when she wants it.” LG

Two biggest issues: “what to I wear today?” and fit

Better than a fit algorithm is having an effective return policy. SC

LL – completely disagrees because the reverse logistics issues is hugely complex and expensive

The opposite of fit is customization.

“But given the options available to us now, yes I understand you have to optimize the reverse logistics.” LL

predictions for 5 years:

SC “no more ugly, please"

Virtual reality – practical applications FH

LL – the epic demise of all large retailers  - the next 5-10-20 years is about startup brands who can create something unique, hold up that dialogue and scale that dialogue.

“If I could be anywhere I’d be a great product producer.” Lawrence Lenihan



"How do you protect yourself from a bear? You just have to run faster than your friend." On hw to manage your online presence and privacy

Provide misinformation.

Protect your brand- read the ownership policies of the companies / content platforms / who owns the content? Who owns the customers?

Eventually you can own your own audience so that the data isn’t sold and shared with competitors

1,000,000 hacker budget



Pop-up retail

Consumer lifestyle, product, engagement

8.4% luxury pop up retail increase by next year (8 billion $/yr industry)

71% of consumers want brands to treat/activate their imagination

STORY (making things)– a reatail store that reinvents itself over an again.

Ephemeral retail- product as content


Pop up store solves a lot of issues – maybe it’s the future for small brands unless you have the overhead to invest in a store as technologically infused as the Rebecca minkoff, for example. Retrofitting later on might not feel as ‘invisible’

Think about the end goal of the brand or that time period.

Does this pop-up event create an experience worthy of instagram/twitter?

Pop up allows a mega corporation to break away from the logistical limitations of doing something in-house.  Gives you confidence to go faster in expanding and distributing a brand or reaching a new audience.

The challenge for mainstream retailer is to continue to find ways to connect the consumer to the brand. WAS brand first, product second. NOW item to item – no brand loyalty, but platform loyalty.

“The way we use the physical space will continue to evolve” MG

Ryan Mathers – writer who coined the term “the instavidual,” meaning we are all different people many times during the day. You can’t any longer target a massive broad demographic. You have to think about the evolution of the individual throughout the day.” JB

Entrepreneurial Thinking / Digital Retail

How do you enhance the buyer’s strategy(knowledge) before going into a buying season?


Retailers say they are doing all of their data mining for the benefit of the customer, but it’s really out of self-interest. It’s a business at the end of the day. It would be nice if this was spoken honestly.

IE saks stragegy to have exclusives online and different exclusives offline, so they have a reason to go to both. That’s clearly not done for the customer.

Important to have this space where colleagues can discuss how uncomfortable this transition into technology is. Fashion is old fashioned & nostalgic & doesn’t want to let go for sentimental reasons.

What about small brands that don’t have the resources to access this predictive power via big data?

Are designers more free if they don’t have to focus on data?

The only way to absorb all of this information in a thoughtful article is to choose one topic and forget about the rest of it. I think these little soundbites might be a better way, as an experiment, for those of you who were not there to make your own analysis. 

I have strong opinions on most of these issues, which might have biased the things I chose to note down, but I believe these are the richest parts of the content of the day. 

Please leave your comments below if you have any thoughts on this format versus an opinion piece.