I’ve been curious about Keiretsu Forum’s Ahead of the Fashion (AF) for a while before I finally got the chance to attend the AF event on May 8, 2012 at The Julia Morgan Ballroom, 465 California St. San Francisco is a truly unique landscape in which technology and fashion come together, and AF as an accelerator program for tech start-ups in consumer, fashion, and retail industries proves to be an effective mix of start-up pitching, fashion showcasing, learning, and networking. Thank you Sonja Markova (Managing Director, Keiretsu Forum) for inviting us, as well as the rest of the AF founding team Enrico Beltramini (Co-Founder & Managing Director, Naxuri Capital), and Randy Wiliams (Founder & CEO, Keiretsu Forum) for making these start-up & fashion-oriented gatherings possible.

The first half of the event featured 7 start-up company presentations (2-min Presentation, 2-min Q&A, 4-min Feedback) in front of esteemed panelists: Enrico Beltramini, Will Young (Director-San Francisco, Zappos.com), Joan Barnes (Founder, Gymboree and Yoga Studios), Gower Smith (Founder & Co-Chairman, Zoom Systems), Barry Gilbert (Gilbert Consulting; Former CEO, Smith & Hawken; Former President, The Sharper Image), and MC Paul Weiss. Some presenters were well-prepared and able to communicate their points across effectively during the presentation but got their position “weakened” during the Q&A and feedback session (such as Handbago.com – huge props for going first and setting the bar high – and StyleYou.com), some were gutsy but less prepared for effective pitching (MIXR), some presented great ideas but no sufficient proof of concept (such as DesignIn, Inc. and Fold4Me Ltd.), and one “cheated” by having a short runway show at the beginning of the presentation and handing out swags to the panelists (very “clever”, SOLZ, Inc :).

Combatant Gentlemen and Boditecture's Wen GuoBut the one who prevailed was Combatant Gentlemen‘s Vishaal Melwani (Co-Founder) who took the top honor of the night. His direct-to-consumer e-commerce corporate menswear brand offers customized pieces with more affordable, attractive prices than, say, Indo Chino. Well-rounded presentation, solid story and business model, and very scalable potential to really make it big. Well done, Combat Gent!

The second half of the event kicked off with an update of last event’s winner, Boditecture. Wen Guo, Creator and Designer of Boditecture joined the model lineup to demonstrate the sophisticated convertible fashion line. This was my first time seeing Boditecture, and I have to say it’s nothing short of very solid, great work. See images from the Boditecture fashion show below:

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Afterwards, it was three fashion designers’ turn to each do a 4-min Fashion Show, 2-min Presentation, 4-min Q&A, and 4-min Feedback. By this time, the event was close to 30 minutes behind schedule, so some people already started to leave (not the fashionistas, of course). And it was too bad because they missed great fashion presentations from the following three designers:

1. Christopher Collins – Christopher Collins, Designer & Erica Tanamachi, Creative Director and CFO
I have been a fan of Project Runway for a long time, so seeing Christopher Collins in person triggered an internal mini squeal of happiness, if you would. The collection presented is luxurious RTW, and it’s clear that Christopher Collins is such a beloved San Francisco brand. The fashion line also won the top honor of the night, along with Combat Gent. Keep going Mr. Collins, we love you :)

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2. Ragabond – Alina Gorbaty & Laura Webb
It’s hard to come prepared with less-than-24-hour notice due to last-minute cancellation from Nigel Who? brand, and to present after Christopher Collins was probably just as hard. However, Alina & Laura made the best out of their session. To be that prepared in such short amount of time is remarkable, and they were able to communicate their story and needs effectively. Kudos to Ragabond!

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3. Vasily Vein
Having seen Vasily Vein’s collection before, I immediately expected the fashion show to be spectacular and dramatic. And it was. Strong feminine, practical outfits gave way to more dramatic dresses. At the end of the evening, there was no real questions or feedback for this session. As MC Paul Weiss said it, “We were all mesmerized by the beauty.” So true. Or perhaps we were just too tired. Here’s to dramatic high fashion, and congrats Vasily Vein for winning the runner-up honor.

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Gosh, what a wonderful night. I left the event feeling energized and happy. There’s so much learning done just from watching all the presentations and seeing the audience reactions to all the start-ups and fashion shows. Can’t wait to be able to attend these kinds of events again!

Thank you for reading, do check out Ahead of the Fashion if you’re interested about fashion and tech in San Francisco. I highly recommend it.

Have a great day,

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