The FashionStake Diaries is a four-part series that gives BoF readers a behind the scenes look at the crucial first months of a crowdfunding fashion startup, seen through the eyes of its founders. Today, as FashionStake goes live, the founders reveal their initial designer lineup and reflect on their journey thus far.
NEW YORK, United States — Almost one year ago to the day, we were sitting in a classroom at Harvard Business School drawing up an idea for a new fashion website. Shortly thereafter, we began the exciting, humbling and often heart-wrenching task of building a company at the intersection of fashion and technology.
Today, we are happy to launch the fruits of our labour. And in this post, we’d like to share some important lessons we learned along the way, introduce our initial designer lineup and encourage you to test drive the new site.
10 LESSONS LEARNED
Distill your vision. Our company’s vision can be expressed in two words: “Democratize fashion.” It took us weeks to come up with a meaningful yet succinct phrase, but we now use it daily when we speak to investors, customers, employees and designers.
Partner with people who act like founders. During our first round of hiring, we looked for experts in technology, web design, marketing and designer relations. But it’s their personal drive and willingness to rally around a vision that has been of greatest value.
Double your cost estimates. We were slugged with hidden cost after hidden cost: lawyers, samples, web hosting and optimization tools… The list goes on. Be prepared.
Great ideas can come from unpredictable places. Some of our best technology ideas came from our merchandising staff. An engineer suggested a new way to run our photo shoots. Our online community manager recommended a state-of-the-art accounting package. Remember, great ideas can come from anywhere.
Establish your own brand first. We received all kinds of partnership, affiliate marketing and co-branding offers, but felt strongly about forging our own brand first, and partnering later.
Go easy on paid marketing. We found that paid marketing channels, such as SEO/SEM and PR agencies, were often low-impact. Instead, we’re focused on sharp editorial, partnering with blogs and great service early on.
Face-to face meetings still rule. We always try to meet designers in person, rather than relying on a flurry of emails and phone calls. It gives us the opportunity to establish trust, and in most instances, actually saves more time than going back and forth electronically.
Soak up feedback. We asked everyone we knew for feedback on our website, business model and value proposition, then figured out whose comments made sense. It’s important to seek feedback and even more important to filter it.
Be transparent. We openly shared bad news about designers, investors and employees with relevant people inside and outside the company, as this helped us come to a solution quickly. We also regularly shared the good news!
Joie de vivre! Startup life can sometimes seem full of endless challenges, long uphill battles and uncertain outcomes. Remembering to enjoy the day’s little victories is crucial.
INTRODUCING OUR DESIGNERS
We’d like to announce our first four designers, all of whom are producing exclusive collections for FashionStake.
Nicholas K: Respected and revered for soft leather and outerwear, Nicholas K is designed by brother-sister duo Chris and Nicole Kunz, who made waves when they first showed at New York Fashion Week in Fall 2003. This season, the label will open New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center with a show that will feature pieces from their exclusive FashionStake capsule collection. The military-inspired collection features khaki and army-green jackets pared down with soft water camouflage prints. Six lucky FashionStake supporters will receive personal invitations to the show.
Lewis Cho: When Annie Lewis and Helen Cho met in the 90s while working for designer Anna Sui, they immediately bonded over their love for simple yet chic fashion — an aesthetic that has come to define their brand. In fact, the company’s runaway success all started with one simple, but unforgettable dress. It was a designer’s dream: in 2005, less than a year after the label’s launch, a “little white dress” from Lewis Cho’s collection was featured in Vogue. Since then, Lewis Cho has become a fashionista favourite.
AIRA: Launched in Fall 2008 by sisters and Parsons School of Design graduates Annie and Karen Lin, AIRA contrasts masculinity and femininity through structure and romance. Lauded by Women’s Wear Daily, ELLE and InStyle, their exclusive collection for FashionStake is inspired by the book “The Working Riviera” and features romantic dresses, shirts and cardigans with canvas and riveting details.
Yotam Solomon: Yotam Solomon debuted his first collection in October 2007 when he was just 20 years old, making him the youngest designer to ever show at LA Fashion Week. The Israeli-born designer has since become one of LA’s rising stars, known for his winning combination of eco-friendly fabrics and high fashion. Popular among celebrities and editors alike, Yotam continues to impress with his sophisticated, avant-garde designs. He was named LA’s “Top Young Designer” in 2009 by AOL’s Stylelist.
That’s all we can reveal for now. But we’ve already signed a host of designers — both contemporary and luxury ready-to-wear — and will be introducing a new designer on our website every week.
Today is the first day of what we hope will be a long and exciting journey. Now that we’re in execution mode, we’ll be focusing on a few key areas: responding to initial customer feedback, releasing exciting new additions to the website and, of course, ensuring that everyone who visits the site is treated to a great experience. In our next and final post, we’ll give you a status update on the critical first few weeks following launch and touch on our plans for the future.
Vivian Weng and Daniel Gulati are co-founders of FashionStake, a new online marketplace for fashion that launches today.