Meet the DeFINE Network Mentees
Over the past few years, London College of Fashion, UAL have been working alongside nine other partners to build one of the largest fashion-tech communities in Europe. In the first of our two-part series about the DeFINE Network, we introduced the project and explored the various activities that have been taking place around it over the past three years. In particular, we highlighted the ways that you can get involved with DeFINE, including by joining the community or by accessing their online resources.
For the second part of our series, we met up with some of the DeFINE mentees to talk about their experience on the mentoring programme, learn more about their unique fashion-tech ventures and discuss the importance of being involved in a community when you’re an entrepreneur.
Who are they? Founded by Zhanna and based in Spain.
What do they do? Textile digitisation venture aiming to bring efficiency, transparency and sustainability to the supply chain within fashion.
Who is the DeFINE Lead Mentor? Tiff Radmore, Collaborative Unit Coordinator at London College of Fashion, UAL, UK.
So how did it feel to be part of DeFINE?
Zhanna: Probably the main thing I would say is about the energy of the programme; it’s built by people who are passionate. I would say the highlight of this programme is the variety of people, the very strong mentors, and also the very strong support alongside the passionate and energetic community.
What was the highlight?
Zhanna: It was important for me to receive feedback and to know that people were saying yes, [Senstile] is right, it should be here, and that we were going in the right direction. It was also really useful to receive guidance from our mentors around our business model, helping make the corners a bit smoother and highlighting the best path for Senstile going forwards.
What do you think the main benefits are of being fashtech community?
Zhanna: You have to be! It helps you to shape your ideas properly. Also, I'm still in touch with some mentors, I get to see how they are doing, and I see the DeFINE community on LinkedIn, and what they are doing, it’s all really inspiring. You know you are not alone in this journey.
It's not easy in terms of the industry, because the fashion industry is still behind in some ways when it comes to innovation. So it's important to see this energy [from DeFINE] especially when you face some difficulties, it’s important to know that you have a community that is working towards the same goal.
Who did you most enjoy working with?
Tiff! Because first of all she was my coordinator. She was amazing. I mean, she just matched my energy, which is very fast. As an entrepreneur, you have a lot of ideas and you're pushing yourself or your project, so it’s great to have somebody on top controlling how you’re doing with timing, checking if you're doing well or if you need any help. We worked really well together, she put me in contact with the right people and then those right people connected me to more people, which has been really great. It was a good match.
Do you feel DeFINE has helped you grow your network?
Tremendously. I mean, I'm still using that network that we were given. That was the most important thing in the beginning of the process, that we got access to so many people within the industry.
So many of the people are inspiring, are open for innovation, and that's important. That's the difference that in this community, you find people who are ready to try your solution and who are ready to talk to you, who will give you advice without you trying to sell to them, they are already open. DeFINE gives you such visibility, and for me it is one of the programs that’s still showing returns.
Who are they? Founded by Erika Lamperti and Stefano Sardo, they are based in Italy with a team of five.
What do they do? IL3X is an AR enabler for fashion brands, creating digital garments which are designed to be worn in digital spaces only, like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. IL3X builds off of a new need in younger generations to buy trending and exclusive apparel that is both affordable and has zero impact on the environment.
Who is the DeFINE Lead Mentor? Anna Ellis, Head of Business Development (Making for Change) London College of Fashion, UAL, UK
Have you enjoyed taking part in DeFINE?
Well, it was an honor to be in the program. And it was very useful for us since we are in the initial stages of our business, we have received a lot of benefits by being in a community with such experienced professionals that helping us along the way.
Have you developed any new product or service whilst you've been on the program?
Yes, we have been working on the launch for ardrobe.com, which is a marketplace of virtual goods that we launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. And this is something we've been working on in the in the last quarter of 2020. It's still in its beta version, but we are operating on that right now and possibly putting out a more updated version shortly.
What has been the highlight for you on the Define project so far?
We were we were very pleased with the fact that [DeFINE] mentors belong to different categories of professionals. So they're not really all the same. So it was it was very interesting for us to get in calls with people from universities. ual, that was that was, for us a unique perspective, because we're since we're in Italy, and we have an accelerator neither they also very useful for us, we didn't have a coverage over the UK. So with you, we had the possibility to see such angle and get, you know, different insights on what we're doing.
What do you think the benefits are of being part of a fast-tech community?
Being in a community always has benefits, because you can exchange views and see what's happening. Also, if there are other startups operating in the same space with the same vision, you can either co-operate or define the scope of work in a different way, so you’re not overlapping.
Who have you most enjoyed working with so far on DeFINE?
We've really been enjoying working with Judith Trolley and Anna Ellis. We were very happy because they were very knowledgeable and very collaborative. We they also worked a lot with my colleague, Leah, who is our CEO. She has been very closely in touch with them and I believe that it has been very beneficial for us. We did a lot of brainstorming sessions, aside from our standard mentoring sessions, and this was very useful for our early-stage work.
Do you think DeFINE has helped you to grow your network?
Yes, for sure. In the UK, we didn't have connections. Because of DeFINE, we got in touch with the Fashion Innovation Agency, FIA, Clo3D, and UAL, and now there are possibilities to do work with them in future. In general, now we feel we have a possibility to leverage on their networks in case we need something, and this is very, very beneficial for a startup. When you are in your initial days, you don't necessarily have that power, to reach out to people. So if you have somebody helping you do that, it's great.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
This is a very on-point question for us. From our side, COVID has accelerated digital activities. So we have to say that, for us, it’s been a good time to be operating. We’re currently pitching to brands, suggesting a new channel of revenues, or a new way to engage with customers, especially with the younger ones. So from our side, this is the right moment for us.
Some brands are not really eager to take on to embrace new initiatives, since they have a lot of issues going on with their operations as they need to sell physical garments, and they have been dealing with issues from the retail side. With these brands, I believe that we planting seeds in the ground for potential activities to flourish at a later time.
Who are they? Founded by Ryan Mario Yasin, Petit Pli has now grown to a team of four including COO Arabella Turek, who we met with to discuss DeFINE’s mentoring experience. Petit Pli has previously received support from LCF’s Centre for Fashion Enterprise, and has received multiple awards, and most recently they were included in TIME’s Best Inventions of 2020.
What do they do? Petit Pli aims to clothe the future of humanity, starting with the next generation. Inspired by aerospace engineering, the clothings continuous size adjustment is a new way of approaching garment design – one suitable to high growth rate in children – with ultra- lightweight, reinforced, rainproof and breathable fabric.
Who is the DeFINE Lead Mentor? Simon Hjelte, Lead Business Developer, Boras INK, Sweden
What was it like being part of DeFINE?
Being part of the DeFINE project was really exciting. On account of it being [one of the] first fashtech communities across Europe, it was an opportunity to not only connect with like-minded startups, but also connect with mentors.
Have you developed any new product or service whilst you've been on the program?
Yes! Due to Covid-19 prolonging our DeFINE mentorship. This meant we were able to not only release new products with the support of our DeFINE mentors, from both the University of Boras and UAL, but we were also able to use their support to enable new product systems. This was particularly impactful with one notable product, which had quite a lot of success, our Petit Pli ‘One Size Fits All’ mask, which ended up being listed as one of TIME magazine’s best inventions of 2020.
What was the highlight of the DeFINE Programme for you?
Honestly, the highlight of the DeFINE program for us was building such a strong connection with our mentor. We were really saddened that we weren't able to visit our mentors and experts at University of Boras, but as soon as this all finishes, we're really keen to visit and learn more about micro-manufacturing facilities face-to-face. Obviously, digital connections are great but face-to-face connections are also important.
And I guess leading on from that, the most important lesson we learned through taking part in the DeFINE program was that digital R&D and networking are needed to breed meaningful innovation. That was a really nice lesson. Not that we were sceptical of it, but it was nice to have it reaffirmed through discussions with our mentors.
What are the benefits to being part of a fashtech community?
I think there are multiple benefits of being part of a fashtech community especially as it's a really burgeoning field. Being part of a community as the field and market is establishing is really integral for knowledge transfer. In particular, both explicit and tacit knowledge, which I think allows growth of not only a strong network, with really great positive ontological foundations, but also breeds a really supportive ecosystem in the long term.
Who did you most enjoy working with?
We don't have favourites! Even if we only spoke to someone for 20 minutes, or we had long term support, every stage and step was necessary. But I think more importantly, the type of support was really flexible to our needs. I think what's important when you're growing as a start-up, being agile. I think working with people that were really cognizant of that made us feel like we were particularly supported, which I think is the most important thing for mentees to feel.
How did the DeFINE Network help you expand your network?
So through taking part in the DeFINE programme, we’ve been able to expand our network within Europe by having mentor based in Sweden. Without the DeFINE network, we definitely would never have been introduced to the fantastic institution and people within the University of Boras. And if we would have been, it probably would have been at a later stage.
If this sounds like you, there are multiple ways you can get involved with the DeFINE community:
- Browse business support options across Europe using DeFINE’s Interactive Map
- Join the DeFINE LinkedIn Group to connect with like-minded individuals and view the different events and opportunities that are regularly shared.
- Register on the DeFINE Directory and browse fellow community members within the network.