Backed by luxury retailer Farfetch and VC firm Outlier Ventures, Dream Assembly Base Camp is one of the largest web3 accelerators in luxury fashion. Now kicking off the third part of the program, it’s providing new insight into emerging opportunities for brands around digital fashion and the metaverse.
Dream Assembly Base Camp launched in June as a joint partnership with Outlier Ventures. Previously, Farfetch ran their own accelerator called Dream Assembly that last ran in 2020. The new program welcomed 8 new startups, which were awarded with tailored mentoring, access to a wide range of mentors and advisors, and $150,000 each to refine the vision for their company. The chosen startups already had traction as web3 leaders, but required additional guidance or investment.
Startups that have previously graduated from Dream Assembly include Eon, the blockchain-reliant digital ID company that now works with Chloé and Mulberry. Outlier Ventures, which previously ran their own accelerator before the partnership, has previously invested in digital fashion house Auroboros and metaverse platform Boson Protocol. For Farfetch, the boot camp often turns out future tech partners. The online fashion retailer has enlisted the services of past cohort members including Good on You, the brand sustainability rating platform, and The Restory, a repair service that also services IRL customers at Selfridges.
“We’ve been working with these companies during the program to [set them up] for their next stage of growth,” said Carol Hilsum, senior director of product innovation at Farfetch. “For our part, we explore how their company is evolving within the industry and luxury, and how that [informs] their overarching scale strategy.”
The second iteration of the 12-week, fully-remote program started on September 26. It was led by Outlier Ventures program manager Blake Lezenski, who ran the previous OV-only boot camps. “We help teams with everything that forms a web3 startup, from community building and marketing to — if it applies to the business model — token design, distribution, ‘tokenomics,’ token architecture and potentially listing tokens in NFT exchanges,” Lezenski said. “Other things include NFT strategy and sharing legal knowledge on NFT and web3 jurisdiction.”
Farfetch’s Dream Assembly program mirrors LVMH’s “La Maison de Startups,” where up to 30 startups are accelerated each season. They work with LVMH’s houses to innovate the brands across its 75 maisons across industries. The top six startups are featured in LVMH’s booth during the VivaTech conference in Paris, with a final winner receiving the LVMH Innovation Award. 2021’s Innovation Award was livestreaming service Bambuser, which has provided livestreaming solutions to brands including Parfums Christian Dior and Make Up Forever.
The program is structured in three parts: mentoring, knowledge building and execution. Part one takes place over three weeks and serves as a feedback period, where teams meet experts from Outlier Ventures and outside mentors and use the feedback to set goals for the program. The mentor network, compiled over a number of months, includes fashion web3 company founders — this time, that includes Daria Shapovalova and Natalia Modenova from digital fashion company DressX, Farfetch executives including Richard Sullivan, director of design and creative technology, and other fashion industry experts, UX/UI designers and, most importantly, investors.
“These meetings allow for quick conversations to get to know the startups better,” said Lezenski. “If a startup wants to build their reputation and relationships with investors, they need to start off in a non-transactional way by going to them for advice and learning from their perspective. ”
Giovanna Casimiro, producer and head of Metaverse Fashion Week at virtual world Decentraland, was among included mentors for this term. “Thinking outside the box is becoming more rare among fashion companies, so I brought in various references and examples from science and other fields to get the founders out of their comfort zone,” said Casimiro. “For some, I offered ideas of future routes for collaborations, including some that could fit into Metaverse Fashion Week 2023.”
Among the new cohort is Jessie Fu, co-founder and CEO of digital fashion platform Altr, which aims to unlock the value potential of fashion brand and cultural heritage archives through digitization. Fu hopes that Altr will be used by brands and museums to digitize their collections for Gen Z and future generations in the metaverse, while contributing to the archives’ physical-world preservation. “The structured program content from Outlier Ventures has helped us establish our internal web3 strategy, including determining our token gated product and experience strategies,” said Fu. “Giovanna [Casimiro] understood our cultural heritage focus; we agree that the metaverse isn’t only for futuristic styles, but also for unlocking value from the past.”
The startup Reblium, which is building a company around enabling highly personalized avatars for creators, is also in the cohort. Its founders are Mao Lin Liao, avatar design veteran, and Adam Tati, previous head of digital at sustainable fashion brand Marine Serre. Reblium’s website tool uses a face scan to create a personalized avatar, which can be altered to reflect race, skin color, gender neutrality and even fantasy elements. “[Facilitating] avatars that represent ethnicity in a realistic way separates us from being another gimmick,” Liao said.
Reblium is currently working on proof-of-concept avatars for a number of undisclosed brands, influencers and celebrities. “Realistic avatars like Lil Miquela or the LVMH avatar are not accessible right now,” said Tati. “If you want to do something like that, you need an agency and a tech team. We are democratizing that technology by allowing every creator to have a realistic avatar, that can change poses, to use across different platforms and environments.”
According to Lezenski, there are two common challenges for web3 fashion startups: making sure their product is both streamlined and intuitive in the user experience. “We see so many great projects that have so much traction, but brand clients end up pulling them in different directions, making the product’s overall [use case] fuzzy,” said Lezenski. “That limits a product’s scalability. For web3 as a whole, there are still UX limitations and clunky aspects, so you cannot really afford to do that.”
The second phase of the program is all about web3 and luxury knowledge building, and includes workshops led by web3 and luxury experts at Farfetch and OV. “This is where the work starts,” said Lezenski. “The workshops are a diagnostic tool to see where the startup needs assistance and where that assistance is needed less.” Based on that diagnosis, the startups can start booking one-on-one consultations with provided experts, who provide tailor-made assistance into the next stage.
Finally, phase three of the program is centered on plans for execution, informed by phase one’s goals. “We also refocus those goals to make sure they’re still relevant, given market conditions and what we discovered through earlier phases,” said Lezenski. “Plans are very custom for each startup. They can be about leading them to an NFT drop or getting them to their first client and building out the MVP.”
The Dream Assembly accelerator, launched in 2018, is the only accelerator currently receiving Farfetch investment. After signing deals this year with Richemont, to gain control of Yoox Net-a-Porter, as well as with Neiman Marcus and Ferragamo, to control their online presences, the company is cutting costs in 2023. Its third-quarter results showed a 1.9% revenue increase year-over-year, to $593.4 million. However, the value of the goods sold through its platform slipped 4.9%, to $967.4 million, owed to the company’s exit from Russia and the Chinese lockdowns.
Lezenski, Hilsum and Casimiro said that, while the rest of the decentralized finance environment is suffering, web3 fashion is sufficiently well insulated. “We want to make sure that we encourage frugal behavior at this time, like being cautious about raise and launch timelines,” said Lezenski. “Despite certain conditions in the market, fashion brand entrances and adoption in web3 is not slowing down as a trend.”
“If a brand wants to be properly placed three years from now, they need to invest in the infrastructure for what is coming next, foreseeing the consumer behavior and creative directions,” Casimiro said.