Detroit Fashion + Tech Hackathon Is On This Weekend  

September 25, 2020
By Rachael Thomas

The fourth Detroit Fashion + Tech Hackathon, a 36-hour competition that focuses on the interconnection between the apparel and technology industries, kicks off this evening. 

More than 100 participants with various backgrounds in design, web development, and data analysis come in teams of their own or will be placed into teams to present business pitches and design prototypes to solve problem statements submitted by this year’s participating businesses, Detroit Denim Co. and the hackathon’s 2019 winner, Deviate Fashion. On Sunday, the top three teams will present their final pitch and a winner will be selected.

Combining her automotive consumer product career experience and her passion for the apparel industry, Lori McColl created the DF+TH in 2017. In creating the hackathon, it was McColl’s goal to make more opportunities for women and people of color to participate in the tech field. The event is co-hosted by McColl’s technology consultancy and innovation lab, Whim-Detroit, and Pure Michigan Business Connect.

Despite the May event initially being canceled due to COVID-19, the DF+TH team started from scratch and planned a virtual event for this month, and it was added to the Detroit Month of Design schedule. In going virtual, DF+TH opened the competition to international participants for the first time; people from 11 countries including India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the United Kingdom will compete.

McColl spoke with Hour Detroit to share what the weekend holds for competitors, and the lasting impact she hopes the DF+TH will have on the local apparel and tech industries. 

Hour Detroit: Can you tell us what will happen during the competition? 

Lori McColl: We get teams of participants who have very different backgrounds working together on real problems that come from our brains in the city. On opening night, we have our launch party, and that’s where the two brands this year, Detroit Denim Co. and Deviate Fashion, will talk about their business and set the stage for their problem statement that we worked on together. From there on, [the teams] work through a thoughtful methodology of how do you understand the problem? How do you understand the research behind the problem? What solution would you build? How would you build it and what value would it bring in? How would you scale that? So, by the end of the weekend, they have a pitch deck, a working demo, and a clear vision of how their solution addresses the real problem that they picked from the two brands. It could be a mobile app. It could be a machine learning algorithm. It could be a Google extension. It could be an entirely new platform. It could be anything.

What will this year’s problem statements focus on?

We have an awesome problem statement from Detroit Denim Co. We’ve crafted a really great problem statement that focuses on user experience within the manufacturing process: Create a solution that allows the customer to experience the construction of their [made-to-order] jeans through the manufacturing process. The Deviate Fashion problem statement is focused around leveraging data to help mid-size brands assess the dye recipe that would be the best starting point, based on the type of textile, color, and cut. 

What do the winners receive? 

The cash prize for the top winner is $900. And then we have a $5,000 income prize package that we worked on in combination with International Strategic Management Inc. for the winning team. They’ll provide complementary services to get them through to a business plan for the idea. So, when you start with a working prototype, that’s just step one — you actually have to run the numbers, do the math, the scalability, the marketing, and all that. [ISM] will work them through that process for three weeks afterward. For the second and third place [winners], we’re working on a complimentary prize pack with Shift Up, which is the technology learning gym in the city. And then we have MixPose, which is an AI-based yoga platform. They’ve offered subscriptions as well. So, we have lots of great stuff. 

What lasting impact do you hope DF+TH has on Detroit’s apparel and manufacturing industries?

I mean, the story of Deviate Fashion winning [DF+TH] last year, taking what they learned, building it into a fashion brand business plan, and then launching and being incredibly successful — those stories are exactly why we do this. What I’d like to do is start to slowly build two skill sets in this kind of area from the technology space to teach people more innovation and working with people from different backgrounds. So, for those who are design specific, introducing them into the technology space, and for those who are technology-specific, introducing them to the business and the design side. When we complete that understanding, you have more tools to be more successful. I would love to see more ideas and businesses popping up in different spaces in this area.

Viewers can watch the event via Detroit Fashion + Tech Hackathon Facebook live stream at 6 p.m. Visit detroitfashionhackathon.com for more information and event updates.