By Caitlin Keating, reporter
Fortune: What is your background?
I have always been involved in technology. I was making software programs when I was 15 years old. After being born in Malawi, I moved to the UK when I was about 8 years old, and then London when I was 25. I then had the opportunity to move to New York in 2000 and got involved in working in holographic 3D projection technology at Dimensional Media Associates.
How did your background for technology turn into creating Fashion GPS?
I was technology consultant for KCD Public Relations and they needed a system to track their inventory that was going back and forth between designers and media outlets. I ended up building a simple program that basically allowed you to print bar codes so when they needed to send out items to publicists or to shoots, they could make a bar code that would go with the item.
Marc Jacobs’s company then saw the stickers and asked “where are these coming from?” I had a conversation with the public relations department, and then they wanted to start using it. This was the first version of GPS. It was literally two little printers that would print the bar code, and print the label of the address of where the product was going to.
After a couple of years of selling the product for bar code scanning, I had a meeting with Aliza Litcht at Donna Karan in 2005. I showed Aliza the product and she said, “this is amazing, this is exactly what we need to organize,” but there was still a lot missing from the product. Donna Karan needed more than just sample tracking. They had tons of requests for samples coming in. So I ended up working with Aliza’s team for about a year, trying to really understand what their day-to-day processes were, and build that into a new system for Fashion GPS, adding more functionality.
Your entire background was in technology. Did you have to understand the fashion world to help them solve their day-to-day issues?
No. I think that was a good thing. By not really getting involved in fashion, I was able to have a perspective of just trying to provide an efficient process for them that wasn’t about clothes or fashion. It was just about how could I make it easier for them. So I would speak to each person at the company and sit with them for the day to see what they were doing and how I could use technology to make their day easier for them. I also thought about how I could use technology for different people in departments to communicate.
I used the Salesforce model, in the sense it was a SaaS (Sales as a Software) model as a opposed to Legacy (something installed with arduous installation process.) This was what made Fashion GPS a success! I was meeting with a lot companies at the time and they wanted to install software. It would have been too complicated because then you have to deal with a technology team and train them how to use it. We used the Salesforce model in the way that you don’t have to install the software but instead just have to use your web browser. It benefits the brands and PR companies, because all they need is the Internet. The negative to this though is that at the time some brands were nervous about where their data would be stored because not many people were comfortable at the time with having their content in the cloud.
Creating barcodes for samples was a solution to what problem?
One of the designer’s biggest problems was that if a sample was not reserved or accounted for and people just went into the wardrobe and took it, no one would have any clue where it was. If a request comes in and someone wants look #12, and they find out it’s being used for a specific shoot, it will tell the person who wants it who they should contact to retrieve the sample. Instead of going through books and emails, it’s makes the process really easy. Something that used to take several hours to figure out suddenly took just a couple seconds.
Have you had to raise capital?
We recently raised 1.25MM in capital. Our investors are Alex Zubillaga, Len Blavatnik, Guy Oseary, Ashton Kutcher, Ron Burkle, Shana Fisher, Kelli Turner, Ronald Lauder and John Josephson.
Technology and fashion more than ever seems to be intersecting, with numerous online retail companies popping up left and right.
We at Fashion GPS make fashion people into tech people. I really love that because if you get a tech person and put them in front of a fashion people, it wont work. But if you get a fashion person and convert them into tech, they can still communicate with the fashion industry.
We bridge those two things. We have 27 employees in New York, 8 which are developers. The rest are fashion people. Were currently growing and will be opening up an office in Sydney, are scaling up in Paris and Milan.
How does Fashion GPS make a profit?
The whole system works on a monthly fee. The minimum is three users. If you want the whole package, it’s $555 per user per month. If it’s a huge scale, we have enterprise plans, so we can cut a deal. It’s important for us to look at small brands as well because if you’re a small designer it’s so important that you don’t get caught up in the administration of managing your samples, events and contacts. It’s better if you leave that up to Fashion GPS so you can focus on the creative and the relationships. We scaled the Soho product so that smaller brands would still have the same functionality as anyone else. The price is determined by the volume of sample products managed through the Fashion GPS system and has a maximum amount of licenses on the account.