Meet Sayam Kochar, Co-creator of Techpacker, the First Designer Centric, Open Source, Life Cycle Management Tool

You grew up in India, what was it like coming to New York for the first time? I came to New York in 2007 for my college and that was my first time ever in the United States. I didn’t know anyone here, didn’t have any family or friends, just arrived at JFK with 2 large bags and the address of my college dorms (FIT). It was definitely a big transition in life but I was excited. Maybe since I went to a boarding school back in India (which is considered a good thing), I was confident to get my way around, but deep inside I was still nervous since everything was completely new to me. I remember that moment very well when I sighted the skyline of New York City on my way from the airport. I think that’s when it really hit me that I am actually here, the grand New York City I grew up watching in the movies, and I realized I was very far from home. That’s when this voyage begins and along the way I was fortunate to have met people from all around the world with similar stories, and that only helped encouraging me to get going and make a place for myself here.

How did your family influence your interest in the fashion industry? My family had a big impact on why I ended up in fashion. I came to New York at first because my brother (who was here for an internship with American Eagle before I arrived) introduced me to FIT and recommended me to apply there. Also my father has a textile business so my childhood was all about hearing cotton, silk, polyester and playing hide & seek in his fabric warehouse. So in a way I grew up with that familiarity to fashion industry and all my professional paths kind of kept opening themselves in that same direction.

How did your study abroad year in Italy influence your perspective on the fashion industry? That 1-year of studying in Italy exposed me to a different form of entrepreneurship in Fashion. Our program included visits to fashion houses, suppliers and events like trade shows and fashion week, where we met with the business executives and learn more about their approach. I felt the entrepreneurs there were very expressive about their ideas and were not hesitant to incorporate their personal touch into their products. Fashion there, I felt, was very personal and all about self-expression. And the consumer too tends to connect more with the ideas of the artists first and then builds a loyalty towards their approach. Maybe that’s why the luxury fashion is still dominated by Europe. But anyhow that experience helped me to see fashion designers as artists and appreciate their ability and the courage to reflect their ideas into their work.

Tell us about Techpacker: What is the philosophy and how does it empower designers? Techpacker is the world’s first fashion life cycle management tool (PLM) that is designed for growing fashion designers and brands. Our philosophy is to build accessible and affordable design management solutions so that any designer can get quality products made from any part of the world easily. Unfortunately such technologies are still only available for larger fashion companies who can afford to use them to optimize their supply chains. But now individual brands and designers are also starting to venture out their operations and scaling both on a local and global level. We want them to also leverage on PLM technologies that are affordable, easy to use and give them full control of their supply chain and optimize their businesses.

In  the 14 months since the launch Techpacker already has 4500 users. This indicates that you are onto something important. Tell us more about how Techpacker is more accommodating to the needs of the designers than classic PDM programs? 
Fashion designers are creative people; they are artists who are always willing to adapt new methods or technologies into their work process as long as they are inspiring and comfortable to use. And that is what the classic PDM programs have failed to deliver. They are not easy to use, their interface is too serious and most of all they aren’t even affordable for any small individual brand. This is why these small companies ended up picking Excel and Illustrator for their design management purposes and molded them as per their own needs. But as business grows, managing information on these softwares also becomes a challenge. For the first time designers are now finding that ease and approachability in Techpacker to handle all these obstacles. When they realize that it’s a web based app that lets them view and organize their style developments, helps them create professional tech packs and all in a fractions of a conventional PDM price, it simply gets them to jump right on it. This is perhaps one-big reason why so many designers have joined us in such little time as we are actually solving a big problem that has not been addressed before.

Tell us a little about the other 2 founders of Techpacker: 
My brother, Saral Kochar is the CEO of the company and holding the command from our Hong Kong office. His intelligence and vast experience in product development and production with companies like Li & Fung and American Eagle Outfitters brought us the major breakthrough to make Techpacker a visual and streamlined communication platform. Apart from that he lives on a boat, walks to work, meditates and enjoys hiking. He graduated from London College of Fashion with Product Design Development degree.

Josie Tam is CTO of our company and is also based out of our Hong Kong office. She is a 3' 11" of dynamite that makes sure everything on runs smoothly. She enjoys organizing events and fixing bugs (Amazing!!). She has a masters in IT Management from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and has more than 10 years experience with senior project executive and Business Process Improvement positions at TAL Apparel limited, Maersk etc.

Techpacker is based out of New York and Hong Kong with two of the three founders in HK and you, the third, in New York. Why this split between NY and HK and what made you choose these 2 cities? I would say these two great cities chose us rather than we chose them. There are three main reasons why Techpacker is being operated from the these two cities –

a) Our Backgrounds: I went to FIT to study fashion merchandising and post graduating stayed in the city and worked in buying for a few fashion brands. Our CEO, Saral also worked in New York for a brief period until he found a great fashion production related opportunities in HK and has been living there since. He met our CTO, Josie there who’s a HK national and is also coming from the technology solutions area for fashion ERP systems.

b) Strategically Divided: It made total sense for us to capitalize on our geographical divide. As New York is the fashion capital of the world with the largest concentration of fashion designers and companies, it was important for us to be closer to our market. Whereas Hong Kong is a gateway to the manufacturing side of the world where we are closely working with fashion factories and suppliers to develop Techpacker as the most efficient PLM solution for the entire supply chain.

c) Government Grant: Under the Hong Kong government’s new initiative to bring a technology and innovation drive into the country, they backed Techpacker to be a potential game changer in the industry and boosted our venture with a very useful grant.

What are the biggest challenges of having the three of you so far apart? Are there any unexpected benefits? 
Most likely you will get an unsure answer if you ask someone how much technology has really brought people together. We humans are made up of natural senses, so obviously that natural connection with other humans is non-replicable. We do get on conference calls on a regular basis and also use all advanced technology to make our communications seamless, but at the end of the day I do feel that I could just walk up to my team and clarify things or have a conversation that is not about work. But on the brighter note, we have developed a deep understanding of our job roles and a trust that anything each of us do ultimately corresponds to the better of Techpacker. And that confidence in each other makes us work as one force that’s developing in all directions of the world.

What does sustainable mean to you? 
In broad terms, to me being sustainable means to be able to keep doing something for a long period of time. And to be more specific towards the fashion industry, I think a sustainable approach is very important towards how we uphold a business and also being mindful of its environmental implications. This means, right from the beginning young designers or start-ups should take calculative and balanced decisions in the best interest for the long-term survival of their business. Often many young talented designers who go on to start their own lines do not take scalable business decisions and pile up unnecessary overheads that ultimately force them to shut down.

Transparency is something the global fashion industry is struggling with. How does Techpackerinfluence fashion industry transparency? In all true essence, fashion is an art of individual expression and it is very important for designers to take measures to protect it from infringements and duplications. But at the same time I feel our industry is a bit too over-protective about everything and has been rusted with a mistrust amongst each other that in grand scheme of things is actually hindering the collective growth of our industry. Our CEO, Saral Kochar has written a lot about how our industry is in dire need to develop some open-mindedness towards sharing basic information with each other so we can work smartly, collectively and most importantly to help out our budding fashion designers.

At Techpacker we are pushing very hard to bring that change by building the industry’s first open source fashion library. By instigating collaboration amongst fashion designers, brands, product developers and even suppliers, to share and contribute basic resources like sketches, sewing and seam diagrams, point of measurement diagrams, materials such as fabrics, zippers, buttons etc. to this library. This way we believe we can work better for the industry together. Learn more about Explore from here. 

How Techpacker can help the designer have transparency in their supply chain? 
Techpacker is very thoughtfully designed for designers so they can easily organize and monitor their design developments with factories and teams visually. We wanted to create a fun, inspirational visual environment for them that also provides efficient supply chain management capabilities. Hence we came up with the Cards system. We broke down each style tech pack into several small components called cards, which carries its own set of related information. For example a zipper card will include a description and its image, a bill of Material (BOM) table, due date and approval status monitor and it even stores the conversations or files shared with supplies and team together in one place. This makes the entire workflow well organized and transparent for designers to keep an efficient control over their supply chain.

In regards to the open source part of techpacker, what are the challenges to getting designers to share in this way and in your opinion, why is this shift in thinking and sharing so important to the industry today? 
One of the biggest challenges is convincing designers about the benefits of open source and encouraging them to contribute to our community library. Often a designer’s first reaction to open-source is that all their work will be disclosed to the public and get copied by others. But that’s not the case. We did an internal research and found that 60% of tech pack information is actually repetitive and sharable. For instance the "How to measure" guide with sketches and description, basic silhouette flats like t-shirt or a pencil skirt, images of basic materials like button or fabric constructions, sewing diagrams and techniques, digital images of Pantone color chips, etc.. Most of this information is already available online or in textbooks, but is all scattered out. So we are constantly promoting this idea of a community resource library where they all can exchange this basic information in one place and can save time spent generating this same data for their Tech packs.

“Unless we can create an open source environment within the fashion community where we can learn more, know more, contribute more, and work smarter, we will suffer the same fate as the newspaper industry and print industry.”
— Techpacker CEO, Saral Kochar

If you ask any programmer or developer from the IT industry, they will tell you how much they benefit from belonging to an open source community. It helped them to establish reputation, gain respect and valuable experience from each other. In return the tech companies gain faster innovations. This is the level of collective approach that is also required in the fashion industry. We need to keep reinventing ourselves so our new generation of design talent can be empowered with possibilities of acquiring and making things easily and bringing about a real change in the world.

For instance a company called Coeio recently joined us on Techpacker who are building burial suits made out of mushrooms that basically turns our bodies into compost after we dye, consuming dead cells and filtering out pollutants in the process. Like them there are so many great designers and their concepts out there that can make a big difference in the world and we as an industry should be supportive to give them the basic resources they need.

How did you discover Manufacture New York. Tell us about working in this particular environment.
I learned about Manufacture New York through a friend who attended one of their events in the garment district. I researched more and found an interview by Bob in which she talked about her plans and vision for MNY and was completely amazed by it. I was simply sold on her ideas of building an eco-system that brings together the entire supply chain, including fashion technology start-ups all under one roof. It was a perfect opportunity for us to incubate in this kind of environment where we sit right in between designers and manufacturers and keep developing our technology. And that’s how it has turned out for us to be in this exclusive environment where everyone is constantly learning from each other. I think the foundation of this kind of institution actually embarks a great level of forwardness in how our fashion industry can collectively work and grow together.

You have some exciting upcoming collaborations. What can you tell us about them? 
Yes we have been very fortunate to associate ourselves with many other game changers in the industry. For instance working with Manufacture New York itself, we are strategizing on how to implement Techpacker into their product development room to streamline the entire communication process between them and their clients. Besides, we also teamed up with Brooklyn Fashion Design Accelerator and High School of Art & Design New York last month to develop their first full fashion collection for a fashion show. These young designers used Techpacker technology to put together their designs and managed Product development with BFDA for the show. Besides to develop our open source fashion community we are encouraging larger recognized brands and suppliers from all over the world to contribute resources to our library. So far we have Alvanon (a recognized grading company), Mainetti (packaging suppliers) who we have already partnered with and we are finalizing on some very big names who you will be hearing about very soon.

What are you proud of? 
I think I have been very fortunate to be around very inspiring, caring and understanding people in my life. And not for a moment do I take that for granted. My family and friends is my long-term wealth and I am proud of a good relationship that I have formed with them.

What advice do you have for fashion industry entrepreneurs? 
Just be humble to others. Everyone is fighting a battle, so try to see other's perspective and do not judge others just by their appearance. Especially the people of the fashion industry and their looks can be quite deceiving. So be respectful to other and treat everyone equally because you never know what great opportunities you could gain and miss out on.

As an entrepreneur what was the best advice that you have ever received? 
It’s not about how hard you work, it’s about how smart you work. A good and efficient use of time for work-life balance is the right way to go about long-term success in everything.

-Zoe Smythe
Originally published on Zoe's Fashion Fix

From Capsule Collections to Collaborations: How Study NY Makes It Work

Ever since the CFDA had the Boston Group study the future of fashion week with an aim to "fix" it, the industry has been abuzz with alternative ways to do things. Is the solution a "shoppable" collection? Showing off-calendar? No longer showing by gender? Most of this conversation seems to stem from issues of designer burn-out or the power of Instagram...topics that may or may not involve sustainability as a key part of the solution. But those of us committed to putting notions of sustainable and ethical fashion first have been discussing this long before it became a buzzy topic.

One of the first designer's that I've known to actually find an alternative is Tara St James, designer of Study NY.  She could be considered an early "disruptor" of the fashion system  –if you were one to call people "disruptors" – we prefer to think of her as pragmatic and clever! I first saw Tara's line, Study NY, when she showed her Fall 2011 collection at The Standard. I was completely charmed by how she combined colors and textures and it was my first time hearing of zero-waste design. I've been a fan ever since so was happy when I saw she was speaking at FIT's Summer Institute last week. She spoke at length about Study NY and how it has evolved over the years. Here are a few things worth remembering!

1. Never assume that you have it all figured out just because you've read a few books or gone to a conference on sustainable fashion.

She calls her brand Study because learning about ethical and sustainable production methods is a constant process.

"Professionally within the ethical design community there's constant change - the information we're getting may be different than the information we get next year because we're constantly learning and the information is constantly changing."

2. If you're trying to do something other than the traditional fashion calendar model of two (or more) collections a year, allow yourself to try different methodologies and then change them until you find what works for you. 

Tara started a collection of her own version of staples that she calls The Uniform Collection, that builds upon itself but it took some experimentation to find this solution. Designers need to find their own solutions/alternatives to fashion week.

"Originally when I started doing this I was trying to format something else that would make sense within the year so my first idea was I'll just put out one new style every month -that lasted about 2 months...and then I thought okay I'll put out 3 styles every 3 months...also, totally counterintuitive because it was another format and so this formulaic idea of forcing myself to be creative or forcing us - designers- to be creative within a certain timeframe was really what I was trying to work against. So now what I've adopted is basically doing collaborations, doing capsules pretty much whenever I feel like it and having this uniform collection to fall back on to sell to the stores."

3. Giving yourself permission to move beyond the traditional Fashion Calendar allows time for other creative explorations.

"The Anti-Fashion Calendar, which I named in 2012 is still a work in progress but it has allowed me to do other collaborations."

One project that this has allowed Tara to do is the Conversations In Craft: the idea of opening up the design process to allow talented artisans the freedom to interpret an original graphic element using their own craft. A recent iteration of this was to send a sweatshirt she designed to 3 artisan groups around the world along with packets of yarn and cord to use for embroidery. A fixed dollar amount was included that paid for the labor costs, and the artisans of each area (which happened to be Peru, Afghanistan and "far away Queens" -as she joked) chose how much time they would spend relative to the dollar amount. The result was both some beautifully embroidered sweatshirts and the beginning of a conversation on labor issues, artisan collaborations and the value of workmanship."

Another collaboration created with The Weaving Hand,  a weaving and healing organization based in Brooklyn, is the shirt (pictured above). They're woven overshirts created from hand-cut scraps from their Twist Dress. This allows the dress to be completely zero waste and creates another piece that would not have existed without the creativity that came from the challenge of working sustainably.

Maybe the fashion calendar can't be fixed but every designer can become motivated to move beyond it in their own way and embrace more of the community in the process.

Fashion. Forward. With the Fashion Innovation Alliance

We're thrilled to have been invited to participate in the Fashion + Tech Showcase produced by the Fashion Innovation Alliance in Washington DC on June 15th. The alliance was founded by Kenya Wiley, former counsel and senior policy adviser for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and this inaugural showcase is unique in how it's bringing together policymakers and technologists.

"We are bringing fashion tech — the latest wearables, smart apparel and fashion apps — to the United States Capitol at Fashion + Tech Showcase 2016. Our inaugural showcase is an opportunity for Washington policymakers to engage with the fashion tech community and learn more about the economic benefits and social value of fashion tech. Technology is spurring a fashion revolution and our stakeholders across the fashion tech spectrum — from start-ups to corporations, from investors to advocates, from academics to students — will all play a significant role in shaping the future of fashion tech.” -Kendra Wiley

We look forward to adding to this conversation and will do a follow up post on what we've learned!

Great Advice for Aspiring Fashion Designers From Their Peers

Shannon from Factory45 with the mic, surrounded by our design panel Sarah Valin Bloom, Jessy Syswerda, Emily Bertovich, Daniel Silverstein and Jaclyn Jordan

Shannon from Factory45 with the mic, surrounded by our design panel Sarah Valin Bloom, Jessy Syswerda, Emily Bertovich, Daniel Silverstein and Jaclyn Jordan

New York is full of creative talent in the fashion industry and many people try to make it as fashion designer's but without the proper support and guidance it can prove to be more of a challenge than first realized. One of our passions at Manufacture New York is supporting New York's incredible designers through our fashion development services and our co-working space. But even with all of this it's still easy for someone starting out in this business to feel overwhelmed. 

So last friday night we joined forces with the amazing Shannon Whitehead Lohr, of Factory45 -an online accelerator program that is another great resource for designer/entrepreneurs- and had a panel discussion with a small group of designers. It was a great opportunity for emerging fashion designers to hear about the struggles and successes of those who have worked with MNY and/or Factory45 and are actually running their own labels with commitments to sustainability as part of their businesses. 

There was a ton of great information shared - way too much for one blog post! But I will share the answers to Shannon's final question to the designers: 

What is your one piece of advice for someone interested in launching their own company?

Follow your dreams and your is way too short not to go after what you love and what you want. There is always going to be a lot to learn and there will always be another book to read, class to take, or seminar to complete. But in this business, you are going to learn by doing. Equip yourself as best as you can with information and resources, take the leap, and fake it tip you make it! Create an industry support network; whether it be through a startup accelerator, a co-working space, or an online network of fashion professionals. No matter where it's coming from, support is key! Lastly, surround yourself with people who will cheer you on and make sure that you have some of your own internal pep talks prepared and ready to go!

-Sarah Valin Bloom

Learn how to say no. You don't need to take every single opportunity that comes your way. Take only the ones you feel are important and can truly further your career or mean something to you personally. Trust your gut.

-Daniel Silverstein

Stay true to your vision and go at your own pace. 

-Emily Bertovich / Faelyn

1. Don’t go it alone. Hire wonderful people to help you do the things that are not your greatest strengths. For me that was a patternmaker and samplemaker, a web designer, a factory, a mentor and an accountant.

2. Trust your guts always. There are no rules and no right way to do things, and yet everyone around you is going to tell you how you should be doing something. Pay attention, but don’t take everyone’s word. 

3. Fear doesn’t go away. I’m terrified of being up here right now. But fear is like fog; its not really real. When you acknowledge its presence, but walk forward anyways, it begins to dissipate and you might find the most gorgeous view on the other side.

-Jessy Syswerda / EenvoudNY

Surround yourself with a person/ people who have your best interest in mind and are honest. When everyone else is  just being nice or saying what they think you want to hear, you will get the truth from them. For me, that person is my husband. He tells me when things are looking good and he lets me know when I should reevaluate. There are enough "yes men" in the world. If you want to push your brand and go far, you need to hear the truth. 

-Jaclyn Jordan

Thank you to everyone who attended!

Thank you to everyone who attended!

Bazaar: Our Event with A Green Beauty

You're invited to our biggest event yet in our Sunset Park space. In collaboration with A Green Beauty Magazine we're having an afternoon film screening of Trail of Pigment presented by Parris Jaru. This will be followed by a panel discussion with Sass Brown, Kate Black, Nica Rabinowitz, Parris Jaru and Mimi Prober. But wait! There's more! Starting at 6:30 pm we'll have a Pop Up Shop featuring several of our favorite socially/ethically conscious makers like Mikuti and LINNÉ. In addition there will be live music and an open bar. Tickets are available online and include a free digital copy of A Green Beauty Magazine #7 with purchase.  10% of ticket sales goes to WILDAID - Farm Sanctuary. 

Full schedule of events below, and you can buy your tickets here

Brooklyn Beach, Perfumera Candera, Nomadic Thread Society

Brooklyn Beach, Perfumera Candera, Nomadic Thread Society

4 pm-6 pm (Film + Panel Discussion) 
Arrival Music by Sounds of Something  + an immersive analog experience by She World live
Film screening: Trail of Pigment
Panel Discussion on the Future of Natural Dyeing + other topics
VIP Early Access Shopping

6:30-9 pm (General Admission) 
Pop Up Shop Open Bar + Bites / Music by DJ Nino Brown

7:30-8:15 pm
Live Music by Museyroom

8:15 -9:00 pm
Live Music by Museyroom

Participating brands: 2 Note,, Artemas Quibble, Artifact Textiles, Baker Structures, Brooklyn Beach, Daniel Silverstein, Dr. Cow, ELEVEN SIX, Happy Belly Hudson, Heaven, Jake Coan Design, Kelley Quan New York, LINNÉ Botanicals, Mikuti, Mimi Prober, Myak, Myer Farm Distillers, Nomadic Thread Society, Parris Jaru, Perfumera Curandera, Seek Collective, SHE WORLD, Trail of Pigment, Watsons Cabinet, Wayside Cider