NEW YORK, United States — Despite having launched her label back in 2001, Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz was an unknown name outside the country until Moda Operandi picked up the bright and feminine label in 2014. By the following year, Ortiz’s sold out off-the-shoulder blouse was impossible to miss on social media and celebrity step and repeats.
Since then, Moda Operandi — the e-commerce company that launched in 2011 and enables women to pre-order designer pieces straight off the runway, as well as offering an inventory of current season pieces — has taken an active role in guiding Johanna Ortiz’s growth. (This year, the label is projected to reach upward of $7.5 million, according to market sources; sales grew 215 percent year-over-year in 2016.) “We grew from her main collection into exclusive collections [that] really spoke to the femininity of Moda and what our best selling colors are,” says chief executive Deborah Nicodemus. “We started forecasting what her sales were going to be, by style and collection, to help her do forecasting as well."
It's a strategy Moda Operandi has implemented with other young brands over the years — to different degrees of involvement — as a way to familiarise its ultra-high net worth consumers, who spend an average $1,400 per order seven times a year, with lesser-known labels.
Now, Moda Operandi is officially bringing that hands-on approach to a new crop of brands with The Platform, a digital incubator.
The e-tailer has committed to supporting these emerging designers through marketing, and also advising on assortment planning, product development guidance, manufacturing, sales forecasting and brand development services. While participating brands can sell their wares to other brick-and-mortar retailers, they must be exclusive to Moda Operandi online.
“[The Platform] furthers positions Moda in the forefront of fashion,” says Nicodemus, adding that emerging designers represent 25 percent of the company’s current sales. “We are putting a stake in the ground for being known for [emerging brands].”
To start off, The Platform will partner with four emerging labels; Moda Operandi will work with them for a minimum of three seasons, with the hopes of supporting 25 in the next three years. The first edition includes: Markarian, a ready-to-wear collection of dresses from New York-based designer Alexandra O’Neill that launched this spring; Eleanor Balfour, who has worked with Oscar de la Renta and Adeam; Yeon Park, who launched New York in 2014 as a direct-to-consumer label; and Lake Studio, a Ukrainian label by Olesya Kononova and Anastasia Riabokon that launched in 2008 and was previously only available in Eastern Europe.
The Platform also lays the groundwork for the eventual launch of Moda Operandi’s private label, which Nicodemus says is on the roadmap for 2021. Private labels appeal to retailers because they have higher profit margins and are often accessible to more consumers. “You have to do it in stages,” says Nicodemus. “The first stage is working with the emerging talent and building out our own design network and manufacturing network… We will start with more of a key item approach and from that, have a tremendous amount of learning and move forward into full private label.”
Moda Operandi was founded by Lauren Santo Domingo and Aslaug Magnusdottir and has an estimated 2016 revenue of $106 million. The company has raised over $130 million to date from a range of investors, including a $60 million Series E in 2015, but has yet to cross over into profitability.