Joy Tang knows how lucky she is. After years of hard work, her startup Markable has successfully launched its app, has nine people on staff and is bringing in revenue — a stage of development that some entrepreneurs never see realized.
But on top of that, the young CEO of the visual search technology company based in Madison has hit the jackpot in another way: Markable has landed an exclusive partnership with New York Fashion Week, giving Tang literal front-row seats to the prestigious Manhattan gala that's something like the Oscars of the fashion industry.
"For a lot of people I know, they tell me it's their life goal to be in a front seat at fashion week," she said, laughing. "I personally don't have goals like this."
The deal means people who attend the fashion extravaganza — as well as those who attend parallel fashion weeks in Los Angeles, Miami, and Dubai — will be able to pre-order clothing they see modeled on the runway using the Markable app.
The idea behind the app, which itself only just launched last week, is simple: Users submit photos of clothes they see, on passers-by or friends or in random blogs, and the app analyzes the image to figure out what that clothing item might be. Users can then purchase the item in Markable itself, making the app a one-stop-shop. The software works thanks to sophisticated artificial intelligence technology, as well as a database featuring more than 800 brands of clothing.
When Markable makes its debut at fashion week, in some ways, it will be business as usual: Users will be able to upload photos, sift through possible fashion item matches, and make purchases. In other ways, it will be an entirely new dynamic: Instead of clothes associated with brands like Banana Republic or Forever 21, the app will be highlighting content straight from the designers themselves. In addition, the clothes in question will be a far cry from a $40 blouse from H&M; they'll be cutting-edge luxury items with price tags stretching into the thousands of dollars.
According to Tang, Markable's presence at the New York Fashion Week is a game-changer — not just for her company, but also for the event itself. In the past, people who have wanted to buy the luxury designer clothes showcased at the extravaganza have typically been out of luck — what's shown on the runway isn't usually available in stores or online.
"Most designers, they came up with the design last minute," she said. "They wanted to beat the other designers."
In theory, fashion show audience members can buy the designs months later when they make their debut on consumer markets. But by that time, the odds are slim of people actually remembering the things that had caught their eye weeks before, said Tang.
And that's why Markable is so valuable, said Tang. Its entire premise is to capture that "concentration of emotion" a person experiences when they see a certain fashion item and then to turn that moment into a sale. In other words, when a person has an "I want to buy that" moment, Markable lets them actually follow through.
She said that as someone who's attended fashion events before, she has felt on a personal level how important that function is.
"I'm frustrated when I see an outfit at a show I really like and I can't buy it right away," she said.
Markable has demonstrably come a long way since Tang founded it in 2014, leaving behind a lucrative career in stock trading. And now, in the wake of the app's launch and the New York Fashion Week deal, Tang says she has big plans for the company's continued development.
For one thing, the team has plenty of user feedback that it already needs to sift through. Tang is also pushing for the company to perfect its image recognition AI. The goal is to have it be the most accurate technology of its kind in the world by August.
Tang also hopes to suss out more partnerships with other platforms and fashion projects. The more that the app becomes a fixture at fashion events, she said, the more of those emotionally charged "I have to buy that" moments can be captured.
"We're hoping to collaborate with a lot of big players to really transform the entire e-commerce industry," she said.
It's an ambitious agenda for a growing company. Tang plans to hire three more people shortly to help move things forward. But although Markable is making big moves in other respects, Tang says she's more than happy with the company's current home.
The team won't be leaving its small table at the co-working space 100state in downtown Madison anytime soon.