Here’s the pitch: clothing is broken

Markets
By AMY LITTLEFIELD  |  September 7, 2011

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If you're one of the investors who received an invitation to Betaspring's Demo Day September 8, you might see Jamal Motlagh threatening to turn the clothing industry on its head with a blast of light.

Or something like that.

Motlagh's company, Fitted Fashion, develops custom clothing using a sort of body scanner — don't panic, the result looks more like a constellation of glowing dots than a human being. His company is one of 11 that will present at the third annual event, which gives startup companies eight minutes to pitch their ideas to more than 100 investors.

Past successes have included NuLabel, a company that markets adhesive labels that do not require backing, and which can apparently save companies lots of money. NuLabel debuted in 2009 and has already raised millions of dollars, says Allan Tear, managing partner of business incubator Betaspring.

Last year, there was GreenGoose, which develops sensors that can be placed on things like water bottles and dog collars, allowing you to keep track of how often you play with your dog, for example. By logging into a personal account, you get can rewards and play games related to your real-life activities, explains Tear.

There was also Manpacks, a company that sells men's socks, underwear, and condoms through subscriptions. Yes, seriously. A man simply picks his desired . . . parcel . . . and the essentials arrive every three months.

"It's proven to be very popular, both because it's a good idea and because they're very good marketers," says Tear.

Lots of people have great ideas. A small fraction extract tons of cash from those ideas. Getting into the latter category usually involves convincing wealthy and powerful people that you should have their money.

That's where Betaspring comes in. It's a startup accelerator, meaning it gives budding technology and industrial design companies a little money and a lot of mentorship to help them launch their products. Entrepreneurs apply and, if selected, attend a 12-week program in Providence. On Demo Day, they show their stuff in front of investors.

While there are dozens of startup accelerators in the country, Tear says Betaspring is the only one with a dedicated track for physical products — those tangible items that, like adhesive labels, exist outside the murky ether of the Internet.

Forty percent of the companies that participate in Betaspring will fail over the next two years, estimates Tear. Another third will grow quickly, and the remaining third will grow enough to survive.

I asked Motlagh why his company is not destined to fail.

There's an element of luck to it, he admits. But he also seems confident that he is onto something big. Fitted Fashion is creating a platform that could allow designers to make clothing that actually fits people, he explains.

The company is also making shopping simpler for people who do not like it or lack time to do it — but who have the money (between $150 and $200 for a pair of jeans) to buy custom clothes.

Far from being nervous about Thursday's presentation, Motlagh tells me he can't wait. "I'm like giddy about it," he says.

Betaspring mentors have helped Motlagh prepare for the eight-minute presentation. His pitch centers on the idea that "clothing is broken." And he cites one example that shakes me to my core.

"Something like 80 percent of women wear the wrong-sized underwear," he says.

  Topics: This Just In , Clothing, Fashion, Allan Tear,  More more >
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