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Screen grab from the Blynk app. (justblynk.com)
Screen grab from the Blynk app. (justblynk.com)

Disruptors

Are you fashion challenged? Tinder-style app can help Add to ...

A new season, a new interface concept.

When Pinterest burst onto the scene, its “pinboard” metaphor became a popular way of connecting people with visual designs and fashions. Now, Toronto startup Blynk has applied an even more contemporary approach to style-hunting: swipe-left, swipe-right.

The swiping, of course, comes to us by way of Tinder, the dating app that encourages users to swipe left to discard a potential match, and swipe right to indicate approval. Blynk takes this idea and applies it to figuring out what kinds of styles you like, then recommends products for you. Up pop an endless supply of glossy images of well-dressed models – users merely swipe left if they don’t like the outfits, or swipe right if they do.

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The app also encourages you to drop a star or an X-mark over specific parts of an outfit you like or dislike. Every 20 swipes, the app surfaces a set of four recommended clothing purchases that correspond to what it’s learned about your tastes. The recommendations link directly to merchants’ online shopping pages.

But the Tinder-style interface isn’t just there as a sop to fashion: it’s a way to help people determine what styles they like, even if they can’t quite articulate it themselves.

“A lot of people don’t know what their style is, or can’t put a label on what their style is,” says Jaclyn Ling, Blynk’s CEO and co-founder.

The app’s algorithms help with this. One of them groups users together based on their likes and dislikes. Another correlates individual clothing items to deduce which work well together, according to users’ tastes.

The first 100 pictures the app shows a user are specially chosen to calibrate taste to a set of style criteria, while subsequent swipes help position a user’s tastes relative to other users. From there, the app’s recommendations are influenced by the choices made by users with similar tastes.

Launched just six weeks ago, Blynk is the product of The Next 36 startup program, which is notable for accepting young entrepreneurs who don’t have a business idea in hand, and challenging them to meet a partner and create a venture on the fly.

Ling, who has a business degree from McGill University, met her partner and Blynk’s CTO, Shums Kassam, in the program. As she tells it, Kassam, a University of Toronto engineering student, wasn’t immediately enthralled with the idea of a fashion app, until – trying to make a point – Ling prevailed upon him to let her take him shopping for outfits. The result was a degree of style that was perhaps not usually seen in the halls of the U of T engineering department. “Every single day he gets all these compliments he’s never got before,” Ling says.

Kassam came around. Their challenge became automating the process. “How could we recreate the process of fashion styling to make it free and accessible for everyone?”

Over the course of the summer, they’ve won $100,000 in funding at the International Startup Festival in Montreal, and they are looking to close a larger funding round in the next 90 days.

In the meantime, the startup is busy building out its social-networking side, which includes letting users built their own outfits and share creations among themselves. At the end of the day, everything users do helps inform Blynk’s algorithms about which styles work, based on the choices of other users.

“Basically what we’re doing is, if we know the activity you did, we’re matching you to someone very similar.”

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