Cortexica was delighted to take part in a recent discussion on Retail & Fashion held by women’s networking group The Kit Cat Club.

Alastair Harvey, Cortexica’s Chief Solutions Officer, joined a panel that included Victoria Stapleton, founder of luxury cashmere label Brora; Anna Murphy, Fashion Editor of The Times; and Libby Hart, founder of online retailer Libby London, which provides stylish workwear brand for professional women. Each speaker provided fascinating insights into their specialist area of retail to a 50-strong audience of Kit Cat Club members, many of whom are involved in the industry.

Brora founder Victoria explained her journey over the past few decades, from setting out as a high-end catalogue-only business to building, alongside the mail-order business, a retail network of 14 stores in the UK and US. Victoria also highlighted the Brora emphasis on quality and “slow fashion,” as exemplified by the recent campaign revolving around “a Brora for life.”

Anna Murphy of The Times focused on the anthropology of fashion, noting that the bestselling item at M&S in the pre-war years – and before women joined the workplace – was the apron. She also discussed the ‘athleisure’ perma-trend and tracked its evolution from street wear to its current status as a high fashion trend embraced by the super wealthy.

Libby Hart started her online retail business Libby London whilst holding down a demanding day job in the City in order to fund her embryonic company. She was very frank and entertaining on the realities of setting up a business from scratch and about the various paths she pursued on her journey to establishing a sustainable revenue model.

The fourth and final speaker, Cortexica’s Alastair Harvey, reviewed current technology trends in retail and what they might augur for the future of the sector – and in other disciplines – in the years ahead.

Alastair explained that Cortexica’s technology is powered by AI and mimics the working of the human cortex. The technology was developed in the laboratories of Imperial College and the business was spun out in 2008, after seven years of research.

Just recently, however, interest in the commercial benefits of visual search and image recognition have shown a notable upsurge, as the prevalence of smartphones and the popularity of services like Instagram and SnapChat has driven the dominance of the image as a key means of communication.

Alastair explained how, using Cortexica’s findSimilar technology, a consumer can search, locate and purchase an item in seconds. Using a recent article by Anna Murphy in The Times, he demonstrated how a customer can move “from catwalk to checkout” using findSimilar to locate and purchase an affordable alternative online to a high fashion, high priced item.

Alastair also described how John Lewis has incorporated findSimilar into its iPad app to allow customers to search quickly and easily for alternatives to items they are looking to purchase; and how Cortexica’s robust technology means that this can be used in a range of categories beyond fashion.

He also gave a sneak preview of the next development in the technology – the shoppable video, noting that streaming is set to become the new scrolling.

In the Q&A session that followed, Alastair fielded a number of questions related to the potential of visual search and image recognition software. One questioner, for example, asked how the technology can discern between different levels of quality in an item and its fabric. Alastair pointed out that anything the human eye can discern can also be seen by Cortexica’s technology, owing to its ability to recognise and identify images in real-life conditions.

Overall, it was a lively event featuring a distinguished panel of speakers from across the fashion and retail sector and generated a range of observations and insights about the state of the industry 2017 and into the future.