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An Inside Look at Fashion Start-up Sketch Street

Always on the lookout for interesting new start-ups in the fashion world, especially those that are doing something to shake up the industry a bit,  I was looking forward to the opportunity of speaking with Anthony Chan from the new fashion start-up Sketch Street, a brand that is rethinking the fashion cycle around the community.

Sketch Street

StUF:  How did Sketch Street begin?

AC: The idea really stemmed from an ordinary fashion lover’s desire to buy high-quality, unique designs without burning big holes in one’s pocket. I love high-street, love their trendy pieces and love them being affordable to young people like me. However, I slowly got frustrated by seeing the same fashion pieces, in the same chains across the globe.

Fashion is a statement of personal taste, a showcase of individual style. Of course, for some privileged individuals, they can afford to buy customized clothes, or high-end designer limited edition clothes. But I believe that fashion should be enjoyed by ALL. It is a simple pursuit of beauty. So why can’t we have unique designs that are high quality and yet affordable? We definitely should – that is what we are trying to live up to at Sketch Street.

A second important propelling force behind the Sketch Street idea is to disrupt the hierarchical nature of the fashion world. For emerging designers, it can take years before they see their own designs been made and sold. Worse still, many of them may never see that day.  The film “Eleven Minutes”, depicts well the difficulties faced by young designers such as Jay McCarroll (winner of Project Runway). The difficulties faced by emerging talents are at best understated!

We want to establish ourselves as a platform, a jumping board for these [emerging] talents. We finance the sampling and the production. We want to allow these designers to focus on what they do the best – design. For designers, participating in Sketch Street is a sure-win with no downside risk.

Powered by these two beliefs – bringing unique and affordable designs to fashion lovers + supporting emerging talents to produce great designs, Sketch Street was born.

StUF: What types of fashion do you allow? Restrictions?

AC: All products are designed by the community via our design campaigns. Each design campaign has a brief and some campaigns can specify a specific fashion type – for example, our current ‘Classic Tweed’ campaign is restricted to Jackets only. However, for Sketch Street as a whole, we aim to offer a complete shopping experience so you will find all types of fashion as we fill out our store in the future.

Sketch Street Designs

StUF: What’s Sketch Street’s target audience?

AC: Sketch Street invites all fashion lovers worldwide to join our community – to design, to vote, and to shop. For example, our design campaigns are not restricted to only professional and student designers – we encourage all fashion lovers to participate and showcase their style. For those who are not as gifted in drawing, we offer an illustration service to help bring your ideas to paper. We also run guest campaigns with fashion bloggers and illustrators. So we really try to enable all talents in the fashion community! We believe that great designs come from real people.

In terms of our products, we also keep the mass market in mind. We make conscious efforts to ensure that our products are affordable to all. At the same time, we keep our products unique by limiting each design to 500 pieces globally.

StUF: What makes Sketch Street unique?

AC: Sketch Street is unique in that we are a 100% community-driven clothing label. The community designs, the community votes, and the community decides what gets into our shop via pre-ordering.

All of this is transparent and open to our users to participate. It is a new experience for the community to create and consume fashion. Never before has the community been so empowered to express their style and have their say in fashion. Indeed, it is the diversity of our community that makes Sketch Street unique. Fashion designers, bloggers, illustrators, shoppers come together at Sketch Street, collaborate and make great styles together.

StUF: What sets Sketch Street apart from competitors like Threadless?

AC: Sketch Street is similar to Threadless in that we are both community-driven companies. However, I see Sketch Street and Threadless tapping into different crowds – Threadless is more into graphic design and art whereas Sketch Street is about fashion.

The production complexity is also vastly different between t-shirt printing and fashion garments. Turning a fashion design into real garment is a complex process – from fabric selection to pattern making to sampling. It requires great attention to detail and patience to produce a fashion piece that is wonderful and wearable.

StUF: Can you provide some details on the UGC experience; what it means for the fashion industry?

AC: User-generated content definitely plays a critical role in fashion. Fashion blogging is a great example. As more and more fashion lovers shop online, the influence of fashion bloggers is on par with, if not greater than, that of magazine editors and stylists.

Bloggers now regularly take front row seats at the most prestigious fashion weeks. UGC also plays a key role in product curation. With sites such as Pinterest and Polyvore, ordinary people are becoming taste-makers and offering styling advice.

Fashion is inherently social and there is now increasingly more ways for bottom-up feedback from the community, rather than top-down dictation.

UGC is at the core of Sketch Street as we try to foster active engagement from the community. At Sketch Street, users submit design sketches, give feedback, exchange ideas, vote, pre-order and kickstart production. All of these are all user-generated and Sketch Street is really about empowering the fashion masses.

Sketch Street community

StUF: Thoughts on a Pop up shop or sticking to an only online experience?

AC: Yes a pop up shop is a very interesting idea. It is a great way for our shoppers to touch, try on our products, and feel our difference.  However, the Sketch Street pop up shop will not be a conventional one. Sketch Street is all about the community and connecting the designers with the shopper – and our physical shop will reflect this. It’ll be more like ‘experience-shopping’.

Therefore, shopping at Sketch Street will be primarily an online experience. After all, one big reason why we can offer great quality at affordable prices is that we don’t have brick-and-mortar stores!

StUF: What’s next – new updates?

AC: We will be soon releasing our first ever blogger collaboration collection with London-based Amy He from DollsAreUnited. Also we have some fantastic social media design campaigns lined up and further partnerships with bloggers and illustrators – stay tuned!

Fashion Business Advice

Recap of Gilt Groupe Discussion with Alexis Maybank

Last week I attended one of those exciting opportunities that always seem to take place in New York City.  In this case it was a talk by Alexis Maybank, co-founder of Gilt Groupe in an intimate setting that fostered more of a discussion-friendly environment  than say a keynote situation.

Gilt Groupe Discussion NYC

Ms. Maybank discussed a little about the founding of Gilt Groupe from idea to execution which, by the way was only a four month period, to current and future digital and mobile initiatives for the discount-based luxury e-commerce platform.

Admittedly, I wasn’t fixed on tedious note taking as I wanted to enjoy the setting and soak up the lessons learned and insights shared.  With that said, here is a list of interesting points, smart lessons, and things to think about from the brain of one of Gilt Groupe’s innovative founders:

  • When developing your website, you must give people a reason to come back every day.
  • Learn to tell a story with your imagery.  People have a much stronger respond to images than to text. Usually.
  • Styling is key when it comes to website imagery.  Editor’s Note: as independent labels, you may not have a big budget for shoots and stylists.  But you need to figure out a way to work with people who are maybe new to the industry but still creative and talented and won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
  • Always focus on the mindset of your customer. What are they doing and where are they when they make purchases.
  • Every product should be pinn-able, tweet-able, like-able, stumble-able, you get the point.
  • Never just have a product; merge editorial and commerce.
  • Click through always needs to be easy. No more than two clicks to purchase or you’re risking losing them.
  • The store is migrating to the pocket. Think mobile from the start.
  • It is becoming increasingly difficult to standout among all the noise.  You must really know your customer.  Remember when it comes to customers, less is more.  They tell you ” this is who I am and this is what i stand for”… you just need to listen to them.
  • Learn to anticipate what your customer wants before they tell you, and you’re half way there.
Sales

Up & Wear, The Ecommerce Site for NY Emerging Fashion Designers

When Jennifer Aesque began thinking about her own fashion company, she knew that she wanted to create a brand that could impact and influence people’s lives. She also wanted to leverage the expertise that she and her husband, and now partner, built together over the years as a web developer and accountant working in the online fashion space.

Up and Wear - StartUp Fashion

After doing some market research, she realized that there wasn’t a site solely dedicated to emerging New York designers and this was a void that could be filled. Being in the fashion capital, she knew these young and talented designers were out there, especially those that came out of the top design schools like Parsons and FIT. That’s when the wheels started turning and Up & Wear came to life.

Only a few months old, the sleek and inviting site consists of up-and-coming accessory and handbag designers that are unknown to the masses, but offer products that have a bit of edge and offer something fresh to the marketplace, and of course, put quality first. With a couple of clicks through the site, you’ll see just that. Case and point, Jess Rizzuti’s Fiona cork baguette or Briana Fano’s jewelry collection made of lucite that’s contemporary yet playful.

The mission of the brand is to connect designers and consumers, ultimately giving them a platform to grow their brand. For the designer, there are many benefits to the site that makes it less of a balancing act. Up & Wear creates customized boutiques for designers that compliment their own brand image and aesthetic. Designers can share press, lookbooks, videos and provide their story for the world to see. Plus, they handle operations such as orders, payment and customer service along with the marketing and social media, all great features that help make the selling process easier.

What’s Next?

Up & Wear is launching one designer a week and has big plans for the future. This includes more categories such as apparel and shoes, social commerce integration and more tools and features like videos for designer interviews and fashion shows.

Interested in the new ecommerce site that’s putting the spotlight on New York designers?  You can always show your website or lookbook to become a part of the Up & Wear community. P.S. Don’t forget your elevator pitch!

Check out the site at Up & Wear.

Fashion Marketing Sales

Choosing an E-Commerce Platform for Your Emerging Fashion Brand

Today’s statement from Captain Obvious: E-commerce is absolutely necessary for building and marketing your brand. But it can be difficult to set up your own all-encompassing, social shopping experience when the majority of your focus (and money!) always seems to go towards creating a beautiful and saleable collection. The monetary commitment of hosting a full-scale, top of the line shopping cart system, is usually only something that major brands can pull off.

e-commerce for emerging fashion
UsTrendy.com

As an emerging luxury brand your sort of stuck, right? You understand the importance of selling online but, due to time and budget issues, you really aren’t sure you can pull it off the way it needs to be done. So seeking out a third party digital commerce platform seems like the best option. And, you’re right, it is a good option but one bit of advice: do your homework.

Finding an online shopping outlet shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Let’s face it, they’re everywhere. From craft-based to high-end luxury, the options seem endless. But be careful.  There are a few key factors to make sure that you have in place:

  • Is the site’s audience made up of your market?
  • How long has the site been around?  Does it even have an audience?
  • Does it truly understand how to create a comprehensive and cohesive online shopping experience?
  • Are all of its social media platforms run with creativity and proper execution?
  • What other designers do they sell?  Is their work very similar to yours?

It’s imperative that you take the time to do your research because the shopping outlets that you choose to associate with, will be representing your brand.  Before you make your final decision on which one(s) you want to use, do a few things that can help make that decision a little easier.

  • Buy something from the site; truly understand the shoppers experience on the site i.e. ease of transaction, ability to share with friends on social platforms, timely shipping, the state of the package when it arrives.  Did you feel special when it got it in the mail?
  • Spend time interacting with them socially; leave a comment on the site’s Facebook page.  Was it responded to? Re-tweet them, did you get a thank you?
  • Email some of the other designers who sell on the site; ask about their experience.

By doing this, you will really start to understand how consumers will feel when purchasing products, namely yours, when shopping these online sites.

Looking for a few places to start your search?  Well, we haven’t worked directly with any of these sites so this is by no means a recommendation for definite collaboration but here are a few that seem to pop up a lot in our everyday fashion lives: FashionStake, FABLOGUE, Style Trek, Sense Of FashionUS trendy, OTTE

Happy hunting!

Fashion Marketing Fashion Trade Shows Sales

WWD MAGIC Keynote: Gilt Groupe- Innovation in E-Commerce

Gilt Group- WWD MAGIC

I was very fortunate to attend a keynote speech by Kevin Ryan, the CEO of Gilt Groupe at WWD MAGIC last month.  If you pay even the slightest attention to what’s happening in e-commerce, you have heard of Gilt Groupe.  If you are consumer in today’s digital world, you’ve heard of Gilt Groupe.  If you live under a rock, you’ve heard of Gilt Groupe.

Now that we established that you’ve heard of them, here is a little background. Gilt started out launching flash sales in the women’s apparel realm with a few employees, and has since branched out to include men’s wear, accessories, home, and travel and is currently moving five football fields of merchandise daily with the help of six hundred employees.  They have around 100,000 people waiting for the noon sales to start each day. That’s pretty impressive.

Why are brands participating? Gilt has positioned itself as a hybrid of a store and the media.  As a brand you want to reach hundreds of thousands of people, right?  Well Gilt can do this for you and it’s not just people they are reaching but people who are obsessed with fashion; people whose friends come to them when they want to know what to wear and what to buy. If you really think about it, labels are not truly committing the time and energy to creating an amazing shopping experience, are they?  They can’t. And it’s for no other reason than they don’t have 600 people focused on creating the best possible shopping experience available.

And it’s not just through flash sales anymore, either.  Consider this; Brooks Brothers actually launched its full price collection through Gilt, showing that the platform does not need to only be utilized at the end of the cycle when brands are trying to move overstocked inventory.  Brands can access, at an early stage, Gilt’s passionate followers who all equate its site with luxury.

The majority of this keynote was about digital trends and the importance of properly implementing them into your venture.  Kevin Ryan made some excellent points and shared real-life ways of execution.

Digital Trends and Fundamentals of E-Commerce:

Online spending– More money is being spent online than ever before; never underestimate what people will buy  online while in the comfort of their own homes.

Social Media– are you creating a place for people to interact?  If so, are you doing a much better job at it than everyone else?  Keep in mind that the number of followers you have doesn’t matter as much you may think. What does matter is how many people are visiting and engaging on your page.

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile– 10% of Gilt’s revenue is coming from mobile. The site actually sold a $24,000 non-returnable watch on an iPad; showing that it’s amazing what people will buy electronically.  The idea of purchasing something online that costs more than some people make in a year, but not seeing or holding it in person, is remarkable.

Some other things to consider in the mobile area: People with money to spend are often sitting in conference meetings, attending keynotes, and getting lost in other large audience situations and feeling a little, shall we say, bored.  They can (and have been) shopping when they are supposed to be listening.  No judgment here, just an interesting thing to remember when considering how important your mobile app actually is to your company.

Additionally, a lot of companies actually ban their employees from going on ecommerce sites during the work day.  This however, does not keep said employees from online purchasing on a Tuesday at 3:30pm.  Instead, they pull out their mobile phones or tablets and click through to purchase.

Flash Sales- increasingly popular and something consumers are starting to expect; whether your site is exclusively made up of this style of shopping or it’s simply an aspect of what you do.

Personalization– probably one of the most important aspects of online shopping; second only to technology, personalizing the shopping experience is key.  How do you do this? By creating clusters, adjusting your email to the interests of each particular consumer based on the views and clicks (Gilt currently sends out 2,000 versions of theirs), and even by going as far as to create a landing page or home page that is customized to the consumer’s interests.

One example is Gilt’s ability to offer a customer a sale on a Thursday that originally ran on Monday.  If the merchandise was not sold out on Monday, and Gilt notices that consumers who generally purchase items in that category did not log in on Monday, then they show that same sale to them on Thursday.  Another example is weather targeting, making sure you’re not sending winter coat sales to people in Miami.

Additionally, Gilt’s top 4,000 customers spent $50,000 last year on the site and the company goes out of its way to give these top buyers great service and special incentives. They will see something different than other consumers when visiting their homepages and emails; additional tabs, special deals, wine tasting invitations, etc.

The site also personalizes the experience for the brands they sell.  A men’s suiting brand may say- I don’t think I want to offer such an amazing sale to such a large scope of people; we can’t afford to do that.  So Gilt says- ok, how about we show your sale to 25,000 men who purchased a thousand dollars worth of suiting from your competitors, not just clothes, but suiting.  Excellent.

Technology– this is how you achieve all the personalization that goes into an amazing shopping experience.   Hiring the CTO should be the first thing a new venture does. Pay for quality because unbelievable technology is absolutely key.

Here are some other facts and words of wisdom from a man who clearly knows what he’s talking about:

  • Facebook is amazing- They are estimating 2 billion in profits this year and will probably be the first trillion dollar company in the U.S.
  • If you can’t complete your online objective in 2 to 5 minutes, you’ve just found a business opportunity
  • When analyzing your email marketing reach, keep in mind that a lot of your best customers will be turning off email because they access the site everyday through Facebook, RSS feeds, and twitter.
  • The early bird gets the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.  It’s all about execution; do a better job than the first one on the scene and success will be yours.

This keynote was one of the most informative and impressive I’ve ever been to. What I leaned most is that at the end of the day, execution is the most important aspect of building a business.  You will always have competitors but the key lies in doing a better job. You must move quickly, take some risks, understand the core trends, and get great people.

Fashion Industry Resources Fashion Marketing

Q&A w/ FashionStake Co-Founder Vivian Weng

Recently we reported on an event in New York with panel speaker Vivian Weng, co-creator of FashionStake.com. Well, we managed to catch up this jetsetting entrepreneur to learn more about Fashion Stake’s mission to be an innovative and unique bridge between designers and consumers.

FashionStake on StartUp FASHION1. Please tell us a bit about yourself, how and why you started FashionStake.

My business partner Daniel and I saw huge changes in the industry over the last few years – namely, that the fashion industry was opening up (e.g., fashion shows being streamed online, bloggers gaining prominence/importance in the industry) and that customers were craving an opportunity to somehow be a part of the creative process.  We saw fashion morphing to a two-way dialogue; and we were excited by the idea of crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding.  I had previously worked with emerging designers and knew how much designers struggled with marketing their collections and finding their target consumers.  And from a consumer standpoint, I didn’t know of a single place on the internet where I could discover the newest, up-and-coming talent.

2. What is FashionStake’s mission?

Our mission is to connect designers and consumers in a way that hasn’t been done before.  We aim to “democratize fashion” by taking the decision-making power and handing it over to the crowds.  It’s exciting because our community (which is open, so anyone can join) determines which designers and styles we sell on our site.  Our goal is to become the premiere online destination to discover and engage with the best emerging talent in fashion.

3. What makes FashionStake different from other online marketplaces for emerging designers?

FashionStake is different than other online marketplaces because we are fully crowd-curated.  That means that we carry designers and styles that have already been vetted by your peers, so you know that we’re carrying great quality products with great design.  Effectively, our Voting Booth sets the bar for new items that we carry on our site.

4. Tell us a bit about the Voting Booth.  What made you implement this feature to the site?

The idea of a Voting Booth came from our first consumers.  We actually started as a site that allowed users to invest directly in designers; and we got feedback that users wanted to be able to be part of the creative process in a less committed way.  The Voting Booth allows everyone to have a voice in the decision-making process, and it helps us effectively build an engaged community of fashionistas on our site.

5. Other than excellent craftsmanship, which I can only assume is high on your list of criteria, what else do you look for when deciding to work with a designer?

Yes, we look for excellent craftsmanship/product and also an aesthetic and price point that fits with our brand.  We also do extensive reference checking (with suppliers and other retail customers) to ensure that designers delivery on-time, etc.  However, we leave the traditional “buying process” to the customers because our community is the decision-maker in deciding whether FashionStake works with a particular designer or not.

6. Other than an e-commerce platform, what benefits can a designer expect to receive if they are welcomed onto the site?

Given my experience with working with emerging designers, we are really a designer-friendly site.  Designers can expect immediate exposure to their target market, in addition to marketing and publicity support.  Because we aggregate many designers’ collections on our site, we have the resources to market our designers – both collectively and individually – through our email campaigns, social media, search engine, etc.

7. When becoming part of the FashionStake family, what can a designer expect in terms of responsibility on their part?  What cut does FashionStake require?

We don’t discuss our terms publicly, but a designer basically should expect to work with FashionStake as a long-term partner.  Once he/she is voted onto our site, we really act as a best-in-class ecommerce platform for them.  Designers need to deliver their product and also do their part to promote their collections.

8. Roughly how many designers currently sell on FashionStake?  Do you have a goal in place for how many you would like to reach in a given time? Say 1 year.

We currently have 50 designers who are selling on FashionStake.  We aim to rotate these designers, so that we have a constantly refreshed site where users can discover new pieces and brands.  We like to bring out 1-3 new designers per week through our Voting Booth.

9. Are there any exciting plans for the future of FashionStake that you are able to share with us?

There’s so much more we want to do!  We’d love to make the site even more interactive by bringing the designers and customers into direct dialogue with each other, and allow users to really become engaged with the Voting Booth.  Stay tuned – we’ll be rolling out many new features in the coming year!

10. What excites you most about emerging and independent fashion?

I love independent fashion because I think there is so much new talent coming out every year – more than traditional department stores can embrace.  That’s what creates opportunity for us: that our target customer doesn’t want to be wearing the same thing as the woman next to her.  And I think new talent is often untarnished and full of creativity, and the clothes reflect that boldness.

Thanks Vivian for an informative and exciting interview!

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