Fashion Is Not Frothy: The One Where Fashion Meets Numbers

Posted by priyanka agarwal
May 3, 2017

Self-Published

Uptownie 101 is an up and coming e-commerce fashion company that is making waves in the Indian online fashion world. Hear from its founder – Priyanka Agarwal – on her journey as a fashion entrepreneur and a number-crunching girl boss!

‘I graduated Duke University with a double major in Mathematics and Economics. My first love is numbers. People invariably look puzzled everytime I  reveal that  I am heading a high street fashion company. As a person who feels most at home with carefully calculated numbers but cannot help but play with fabrics and styles and stare lovingly at brightly lit store windows, fashion seemed like an obvious choice. While my inner nerd rejoiced at the thousands of graphs and numbers that I had to study to sell successfully online, my fashion loving self felt contentment in the developing glamour of painstakingly produced, brightly colored dresses, tops and bottoms.

Have you ever thought of why you bought the super cute blue Aztec print cutout shoulder dress the other day? Was it because you like cutout shoulders or the pattern or the colour? What was going through your mind while buying it? Was it a picture of Deepika Padukone wearing something similar? Were the pictures in Vogue screaming out of the pages asking you to find a perfect match in the store? What if I told you Anna Wintour, sitting in her sunbathed office cabin on the Upper East Side, directed you to make the purchase? You may turn around and exclaim, who is Anna Wintour? Why should I listen to her? I found it cute and pretty! I love the pattern and I think it’s really wearable – in fact I’m thinking of wearing it for  brunch tomorrow. This is my personal style, you insist, but then again, is it?

More often than not, fashion is associated with blurry lines and a whimsical persona but that is far from reality. The industry is deeply rooted in a language in which nothing is indefinite, or fuzzy or vague but one in which everything can be proven, thus eliminating any form of ambiguity, i.e. the language of numbers. Numbers and fashion  on the surface  seem like an odd couple but are a match made in heaven. At every stage I see myself turning to the familiar environment of numbers and find all questions answered there from the inception of designs to the processing, execution and finally the positioning of the product in front of the right person at the right place and time – it is all a numbers game.

Identifying a trend is analogous to looking for an algorithm, a thread of commonality in a large and cluttered data set. Past data and trends can be studied to extrapolate the upcoming trends. Trend forecasting is a creative loop that is constantly growing. What you will wear tomorrow for the brunch you are so excited for has been picked out by the fashion elite seasons in advance. It is then funnelled down different channels  from the  temples of fashion to the high streets, brought to you by clever subliminal marketing and added to your lust list. So even though it seems like a completely independent decision with no variables influencing your sartorial wants that is an illusion.

Once the trends have been cherry picked for the season comes the actual execution.  Which sizes are demanded most? Which colours will catch the customer’s eye? Should the inseam measurement of this jumpsuit be 34” or closer to 34.5”? How are these questions answered? Can my seemingly flippant and frivolous personal fashion experiences answer these questions with accuracy? The answer lies in numbers, which manifests itself in the form of Big Data. As surprising as it may sound every decision  is process based and data driven and is  founded deep in Aryabhatta’s teachings.

To me, working in a fashion company armed with mathematics tools this seems like the most natural thing in the world. Designs and art inspire and enthuse me but I always  tend to look for patterns and lines and symmetry. I am not trying to completely de-romanticize and remove every element of creativity from fashion. Instead, I want to use the synergy between fashion and numbers , self-expression and discipline to create a successful Indian fashion label. So the cute blue dress you are going to effortlessly slide into tomorrow – did you pick it out  or did we armed with a massive bag of numbers?

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