Alexandra Van Houtte, the CEO and founder of TAGWALK, is making her mark on the fashion industry one hashtag at a time. The 27-year-old Parisian entrepreneur founded the self-proclaimed “fashion search engine” after becoming frustrated with the time-consuming nature of fashion research. Spending countless hours tracking down runway looks while interning and working as a fashion assistant, she was desperate to find an easier way.
“If you want food quickly, you order Deliveroo; if you want a car quickly, you Uber. There are a million examples of how we use technology to make life easier. In fashion, we have collections showing twice a year with hundreds of designers, so there is an enormous amount of information and nothing was sorting it out,” says Alexandra. Living in the digital world, she realised a gap in the market and launched her website in April last year.
Harnessing the power of hashtags, TAGWALK allows users to search archives of catwalk collections, street style and trends by specific keywords. A seemingly trivial task to the masses is game-changing technology for industry insiders.
“If I’m completely honest, I didn’t have a strategy when I launched the site. I could see people becoming interested in the idea and I just felt I needed to hurry up and get it out there. In the first few months [after launch], I took the time to ask people what they liked and what didn’t work for them, and what else they wanted to see. That collaborative effort really helped shape the website into what it is today.”
“They automatically think if you’re a woman and you work in fashion and you have a website, it’s going to be something about you wearing clothes.”
Adding menswear, models, and street-style to the agenda, Alexandra created a comprehensive platform through this constructive criticism. “The more negative feedback we get, the more it helps us to grow,” she says earnestly. Recently awarded the Best Innovation Pitch at Salon Traffic, a trade show for fashion business services, Alexandra has navigated her way in FashTech, demanding attention for her bold ideas and innovative spirit.
“People really have a problem understanding that the site is not a blog. They automatically think if you’re a woman and you work in fashion and you have a website, it’s going to be something about you wearing clothes. But once people understand that you’re serious and you have a really smart idea, they’re more willing to help. You just have to prove it to them first,” she says.
Asking for help is a necessary aspect of any business venture, but Alexandra advocates the power of trusting your gut. “I think it’s really important to have a few people you really trust and who you can ask advice. But when you have a problem, always follow your instincts. When I launched the site, so many people were feeding me so many different things and I got kind of lost and didn’t know where to go at times,” she recalls.
In a similar vein, Alexandra believes trusting her team is an attribute of TAGWALK’s success. “Just because you’re the CEO doesn’t mean you’re the only decisionary in the company. We’re eight people now and it’s all about communication. Everyone has different strengths so I think it’s important to stay open-minded.”
Financial instability is an inevitable aspect of startups, however raising funds creates a quandary for Alexandra. “I think you need to raise money for the right reasons and only if you know exactly what you’re going to do with that money. Don’t be pressured with investors. Take the time to speak to investors and analyse why they want to help you, learn if you can trust them, and determine if they are going to help you succeed,” she advises.
Continued success is the ultimate goal, but Alexandra sees the value of supporting industry rookies along the way. “We have realised that TAGWALK is a platform that can really help young designers and emerging talents to be recognised by the industry. We see the impact that [the site] has on stylists, journalists and buyers and merchandisers, and now we’re really kind of pushing that in a different direction.”
Alexandra is quick to identify the platform as a resource, not a recommendation. “The site is really neutral. It’s not my job to judge or discriminate what I think is good or not so good. I just want to provide the information for the industry to do their job better. Being free is really important to me because as an assistant and a student I would have never paid for it,” she says.