ModeLab interviews Marte Hentschel
The premier Fashion Tech publication meets the Sourcebook CEO
ModeLab is a biannual, bilingual French/English magazine dedicated to innovations in fashion and textiles. Founded and edited by Fabrice Jonas, the Paris-based publication is now in its fifth issue and this season’s theme is Berlin. For this edition, Sourcebook CEO Marte Hentschel gave her take on the city’s dazzling fashion tech scene, which ModeLab has kindly let us reprint:
ModeLab: Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Marte Hentschel. I’m the founder and CEO of Sourcebook, a Berlin-based startup operating since 2015. We started as an EU-founded R&D project to connect and match suppliers, manufacturers and designers to foster transparent and local supply chains in Europe. Today, we are the largest free online sourcing platform and database, with more than 2,000 registered businesses from various fields in the industry. Our mission is to build a bridge between sustainability and technological innovation, because we believe that these fields will drive the fashion and textile industries forward. I have a background in fashion design and production management, I’m a lecturer and speaker and love well-made, long lasting and smart products!
What do you think about the fashion tech ecosystem in Berlin?
It’s very vibrant, growing, yet still a very young field. In Germany, we have a long tradition in technical textiles, but fashion tech as a topic arrived here about five years ago, and this ecosystem is highly segmented, lacking a strong infrastructure – but some of the communities collaborate pretty well. So you have the DIY communities, the hackers and makers scene, you have soft- and hardware developers and a large number of fashion design graduates – there are ten fashion schools in Berlin alone. Most of these enterprises are small-scale businesses, plus a few large corporate ones. Some key players are driving innovation and professionalisation here, like Premium Exhibitions. They provide a platform for Fashion Tech, Retail Tech and Wearables with their FASHIONTECHBERLIN conference,now a well-established highlight of Berlin Fashion Week. Then we have Zalando here, an e-commerce giant and important employer for young professionals. They are also offering programmes and incubators for Berlin’s Fashion Tech scene that are becoming more and more visible in the tech startup ecosystem. The media is very grateful for all this too, because fashion was starting to look quite outdated and Germans weren't perceiving fashion as an important part of their cultural heritage.
How do you imagine the future of the fashion tech scene in maybe five years, in Berlin and in Europe?
New business models are on the rise, consumer products brands will become service providers and suppliers will become platforms. The traditional order is about to be disrupted with new opportunities for small labels and specialised manufacturers who focus on great products, state-of-the-art technologies and services close to market. Now we see counter-movements to the traditional system of fashion brands with huge runway collections, spending thousands for a show of just 20 minutes,reaching only a limited audience. Today SMEs can even start with one product, test quickly and roll out globally in a short lead time. A tech-focus can be accomplished with design impact and embracing sustainability for a more holistic approach and a loyal fan base. That’s really interesting and so I truly believe that as a more supportive infrastructure is established, we will see more of these new business models as well as more lobbying. From its geeky niche as an innovative driving force, fashion tech will soon become a mass-market topic with economic strength in Berlin and beyond.
With more money in the field, the passion might fade away…
That’s true. Also, if you have a look at other industries, like the food sector or other consumer products industries, you can learn what comes with consolidation: there might be a brain drain of independent minds, hackers and talented makers that Berlin still attracts. In a more commercial ecosystem, these pioneers might leave to find more interesting opportunities and inspiration elsewhere. With rising costs entrepreneurs have to take larger risks to realise a business idea, yet promising ideas might be executed more professionally when there is greater access to money. That’s also why we need politics and initiatives alongside systems like open source and co-creation of labs and incubators. It would be a pity if fashion tech becomes just another venture capital sector focused on exit scenarios without creating real cultural and creative value in the long run. It’s a tough challenge for a city in the heart of Europe with a young startup scene: How to balance a pool of talent in an ecosystem that attracts some of the best minds from all over the world while offering a solid foundation where excellent ideas can be scaled up sustainably? I think collaboration between all stakeholders, public and private, small and large is key.
Maybe that’s the question. In fashion tech, there’s a lot of bullshit. What’s your opinion about this bullshit fashion tech?
To be honest, I really like living in this city where this kind of bullshit is possible. It’s fun to be part of a local laboratory where crazy ideas can be born and you still find peers to follow. Like the Electronic Textile Institute Berlin (ETIB) where they hack knitting and embroidery machines. I think we are at a tipping point where we now mostly see creepy gadgets in the wearables market, but since technology will become more accessible and affordable, we will soon find the electronics and fashion industries merging, providing more holistic solutions for everyday life. However, despite these waves of growth and stabilisation, I think some of these so-called smart textiles and smart wearables aren’t really thought through and well developed, not only in terms of design but also economically, ethically and environmentally. I’m quite critical when it comes to sustainability – when you add electronic components to textiles and the product becomes toxic and un-recyclable then I don’t think you can call it smart. Therefore, dear engineers: please create genuinely smart products and services that are not part of the problem but part of the solution; and fashion designers: please embrace technology as a new design tool and engage in interdisciplinary collaboration!
Is there anything you want to add?
From my perspective as a university lecturer education needs to be updated and professionals need to broaden their practice. For example creative technologists with a good understanding of the fashion industry and access to digitals tools and technology. A large number of fashion designers are still educated in quite a traditional way – they’re afraid of technology! I think every designer should learn to code, and every coder should be trained in crafts, too. I really hope future generations understand each other better and we’ll build bridges between these separate worlds, between engineers, the designers and the sales people. And that should start with education.
Want to know more about Berlin’s fashion tech scene? Then pick up a copy of ModeLab today!
Title Image: Modelab