FASHION TECH INSIGHTS: TAGWALK
Former fashion assistant at Numéro and Grazia, and house of Lanvin Alexandra Van Houtte launched Tagwalk, the first fashion show keyword searcher, in mid-2016. The idea for Tagwalk began to evolve from her experiences as a junior stylist, when Van Houtte would spend hours searching through the latest runway garments and trends; she needed a tool that would get the work done easy and fast. Her frustration led to developing a pioneering search engine, and today Tagwalk operates based on a system of keywords, like Instagram hashtags, allowing users to find all matching runway outfits and create mood boards, the same way they would on Pinterest; plus providing the possibility of printing, easily saving them directly on one’s PC, or downloading them on .pdf. We sat down with Van Houtte to discuss developing and launching Tagwalk, handling feedback and criticism and what’s next for her and her project in the future.
I’ve read that your frustration as a stylist sparked the idea for Tagwalk, but, given your diverse education and background, I can’t help but ask you: have you ever thought about how each experience – from your studies on Mandarin Chinese and Art to your career in fashion – contributed to the creation of Tagwalk?
I think each experience has unconsciously built to the contribution of Tagwalk, however, I would have never discovered the necessity of such a tool if I hadn’t interned and assisted stylists, and had to go through the work process of looking through thousands of pictures per photoshoot. Learning Mandarin has definitely taught me to persevere and work hard, until it pays off but assisting is what sparked the idea of creating a search engine.
Could you please discuss your work and progress from the initial idea until the launch?
In January 2016, I decided I was officially going to launch something which had been in my mind for over two years. It started with the name: what was short, catchy and explained the website in a simple title? “Tagwalk” was really sparked from Instagram and its hashtags, and “catwalk” is a synonym for runway, so Tagwalk came very naturally. I then contacted a graphic designer and a web developer, and everything went very quickly; I knew what I wanted, what I didn’t want, what I wanted the website to do, what not to do etc. I then had to contact over 200 brands from New York, London, Milan and Paris, explaining the project and asking them to trust me that the website would be a simple and efficient work tool. I then tagged alone more than 8,000 pictures for the official launch in April 2016, before working with a team of great people for the following collections.
Tagwalk began with over 500 key words. How did you choose which keywords to start with? How are keywords generated after a show? Can you reveal any keywords that have emerged this season?
Tagwalk now has 655 keywords. Our team doesn’t choose the keywords purposely; they are written down very naturally and organically. We started tagging images and slowly adding keywords such as “khaki,” “mono-sleeve,” etc. As soon as a show is over, we receive the images and start tagging them, one by one. Once the fashion week is over, we go though them again, taking keywords away, adding some, and correcting others. Many people have mentioned that Tagwalk should have an artificial service which would recognize the colors, styles, etc, in advance, but I feel that what makes Tagwalk better is that it’s real people tagging images, and differentiating a “safari” and “military” look even though both are khaki-colored.
For next Spring/Summer, our team really noticed lots of florals, stripes, extra long sleeves, hoods, bold shoulders, orange, pink, yellow… they are so many, but these are just a couple. You can see the main trends on Tagwalk’s “Tag Trends” section.
Coming from a completely different background, how easy did you cope with the technical parts and challenges? How did you know the steps required and how did you make all the decisions?
I think the biggest challenge I face everyday is the technical side of the website – I am surrounded by an amazing team, and the more Tagwalk grows the more I understand about algorithms, cohorts, stickiness etc. At first, I knew no steps and I slowly started to read websites such as techcrunch.com to grasp what was important in a startup, what tips to remember, how to pitch, how to add value to your company etc. I think my mind hasn’t physically been to rest since last Christmas, as I have about a million questions I ask myself every day, and no one but myself to answer them!
Tagwalk is a search engine that incorporates some functionalities of the visual social media, like Instagram and Pinterest. How did you see this combination fit to your platform, and in what ways does it help users?
I am 2.0 Generation – I live (and love) Instagram and Pinterest – I spend my life on the internet. They are both so good at what they do, and I wanted Tagwalk to be as simple to use as their tool. I got inspired by the rapidity of Instagram hashtags to reference the looks, and by Pinterest’s mood boards to create private mood boards. People in fashion have usually used either Instagram or Pinterest for work or pleasure, so I wanted them to instinctively know how to use Tagwalk.
Your platform has been much discussed since its early launch. As far as I know, it has been very well-received, but did you have any negative comments? Were you prepared to handle feedback and criticism?
When the Beta version came out, I had some very justified criticism, and I feel that you should always take in criticism and analyze it. When I do talks at fashion schools, I always tell students to really look at the website, and tell me what they hate about it; it helps our team evolve towards a better user experience product. I was definitely prepared to handle feedback and criticism, as I’m a strong believer that critics make your product stronger. It’s easy for people to tell you they like your website; it’s harder for someone to say that they didn’t like it for this or that reason, so I like receiving a bit of both sides to balance it all out!
Is becoming a dedicated fashion engine in your future plans? Would you expand it to include broader fashion topics (such as legendary personalities and eras)?
Tagwalk is in full development. We will always be a dedicated fashion engine, and we would like to expand it to different eras, once the timing and the finance are aligned and if we feel our users would need it.
Google’s new feature “Shop the Look” is said to launch soon. Have you thought about incorporating e-commerce or monetizing Tagwalk?
The question has been asked numerous times, and I think that what Google is about to launch is great. E-commerce is not to be done in the close future, as we are really concentrating on developing a perfect algorithm and clear content, before embarking on other domains. I always say that in the fashion industry there is space for many of us in many different departments, and I think that Google is the perfect example of that.
What are your future plans and aspirations in the industry? Are they limited to Tagwalk?
For the moment, my full time and attention are dedicated to Tagwalk. I would like to push it to its maximum capacity before thinking of future plans or a different path.