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It's a frustration every fashionista knows all too well: You see a photo of a celebrity wearing an amazing jacket or glimpse another commuter rocking must-have shoes, but it's next to impossible to find your holy grail online without critical information like the name of the designer or retailer. A Google search for the phrase "blue hoodie," for example, yields a mind-boggling 70 million results.
The fundamental problem is that text-based search queries don't work for fashion, says Daniela Cecilio. Her free iPhone app ASAP54 posits a more intuitive approach: visual-recognition technology, bolstered by the human touch. The app matches users' photos of apparel and accessories to identical or similar product images stored in the ASAP54 database, and it connects shoppers to a global network of fellow fashion mavens and a team of in-house stylists trained to help them source that perfect black cocktail dress.
"Most people don't know what to search for," says Cecilio, founder and CEO of the London-based company. "The human eye is always better than the computer. But everyone else who tried to solve this problem in the past came from a technology background. They knew nothing about fashion."
Fashion is Cecilio's forte. The São Paulo, Brazil, native originally moved to London to study fashion design, later serving as COO at Farfetch alongside husband Jos? Neves, the online boutique portal's founder and CEO. Cecilio launched ASAP54 in April 2013 to address her own dissatisfaction with searching for products online, collaborating with image-recognition specialist Daniel Heesch and more than a dozen engineers to create an algorithm-based system that compares and matches items based on visual factors like texture and design.
The ASAP54 database now encompasses more than 1 million products from an expanding roster of retail partners, including Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York, Net-A-Porter, J.Crew, Topshop and Forever 21. A stylist team searches for matches on behalf of the app's users and offers tailored recommendations; ASAP54 claims an average 5 percent commission on all purchases completed through the app. Consumers may also follow other ASAP54 community members and style influencers, post comments and likes and explore the most popular searches across the network.
ASAP54 has raised $3.75 million in financing from investors that include e.ventures and Ceyuan. Cecilio says the company will leverage the funding to build new features for its existing iPhone app and to develop an Android version. ASAP54 is also mulling the addition of subscription and advertising services.
Most important, Cecilio is exploring avenues for increasing ASAP54's international user base, with an emphasis on localization efforts. "The beauty is having people all over the world with a very high knowledge of fashion," she says. "My aim is to build a community that is more effective than any technology will ever be."
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