Snap Fashion: the picture of growth

From the cat-walk to your coat-hanger, the way in which we find and buy clothes is changing. And a young, innovative company in London is at the centre of this revolution.

Snap Fashion is a visual search engine. See an item of clothing you like, photograph (snap) it and Snap Fashion’s computer vision technology will find similar items of clothing.

Its algorithms search major retailers and refine results – which are based on the cut, colour and texture of the photographed item – by different categories of clothing.

At present, Snap Fashion works with 30,000 British brands from New Look to Net a Porter, from Selfridges to TopShop. “It’s not about getting the look for less,” explains founder and CEO Jenny Griffiths, “it’s about finding and buying what is right for you, quickly.”

As a computer science student at Bristol University, Griffiths wrote the original algorithms in 2009. The business started when she won a University business plan competition. “It was £15,000 to do some development rather than get a job,” she recalls.

But then she received job and research offers so her nascent business went on the back-burner. “I bottled it,” she says with a smile. But not for long.

Win competitions, win funding

She entered the Tech City Launchpad competition in 2011 and won £300,000 from private investors and £100,000 matched funding from Innovate UK to develop the search engine.

“Innovate UK’s money was absolutely invaluable,” she says, “this company wouldn’t have existed without it.” (Read more about Innovate UK’s funding competitions here.)

In the following year Snap Fashion won a Cisco British Innovation Gateway (BIG) award. The BIG award is a five-year initiative to encourage sustainable and scalable growth of innovative high-tech small and medium-sized enterprises. Its win meant a cheque for $100,000 plus marketing, legal and PR support.

“Fashion is a really personal thing and it’s sometimes really hard to describe what it is that draws you towards your favourite items,” Griffiths says.

“Searching using pictures seemed like the obvious thing to do, and I’m proud to say that we were the first people to do it.”

Today, Snap Fashion employs nine people – a number that could well triple within 12 months. The company is turning a profit and seeing revenues grow quickly.

Sharing space

The company is based in the IDEA London centre, which was founded by University College London, Cisco and DC Thomson as a space in which entrepreneurs can get their businesses up and running. “Having a shared space makes such a difference,” she says.

“Growing a small business is such an emotional roller-coaster, so it’s really helpful being able to talk to other founders in the same space.”

The company makes its money in two ways: through affiliate commission on consumer sales – so when someone buys from Snap Fashion, the company takes a percentage of the sale price – and through licensing its software to publishers and fashion houses.

It’s an exciting time right now. This particular sector of consumer technology is hot right now. There are more markets than fashion that could use Snap Fashion’s clever algorithms. Griffiths is back on the fund-raising circuit.

Global ambitions

At present, the Snap Fashion apps are only being actively pushed in the UK. The UK e-commerce market is vibrant but Griffiths’ ambitions are much wider.

“Our ambitions are global,” she says. In particular, she intends to break into the US market this year but also has her eyes on south-east Asia.

But in order to execute an internationalisation strategy, Snap Fashion has to strike up plenty of partnerships. And here UKTI has been a real support.

In the past 12 months, Griffiths has been to Brazil with the British Council, to Malaysia and Singapore on a UKTI trade mission, and on a delegation of women tech entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley with SVC2UK. (You can find out all the events that UKTI is hosting this year.)

Tapping into UKTI is really useful,” she says. “Their staff really do find out your business needs and connect you with the right people.” A snap fit, you might say.

 

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