NEW YORK, United States — Today, The Cools, a curated marketplace that connects approximately 50,000 active users with independent fashion and lifestyle brands, is opening to the public after almost two years as a members-only platform.
"[We decided to open the site] to offer more exposure to our designers and brands, while allowing more users to search and discover brands, designers and content available on the site," said the company's founder and CEO, Olivier van Themsche, a French entrepreneur whose previous business ventures include an electronic music label and a video game development studio.
In response to market feedback, the site has also shifted its overall strategy. First launched in June 2011 as a marketplace for independent sellers, brands and retailers, The Cools has refocused solely on providing young brands — many of which lack their own e-commerce presence — with a direct-to-consumer sales channel.
"While there are more and more marketplaces for individuals to sell their goods, no one has really mastered the formula for a fully integrated social commerce marketplace that empowers brands," said van Themsche.
"Curation platforms like Svpply, The Fancy or Nuji allow users to share products, but there is no connection with the brands," he continued. "Here you have a curated marketplace that provides direct consumer-to-brand interaction, allowing the customer more inside knowledge about the products they are shopping and the brands direct feedback from demographics they are targeting."
The platform, which also includes a shopable magazine, enables participating brands to create and manage their own stores, publish content to attract and engage consumers, and, critically, sell direct-to-consumer at full retail prices.
The Cools takes a 12 percent commission on sales (plus an additional 3 percent for transaction fees). For brands, "this means making 4 to 5 times more profit on each item they sell compared to what they make when they sell [via traditional stockists]," said van Themsche.
As part of the strategy shift, The Cools has also become much more selective about the brands it works with and, true to name, features a number of cool young labels, including Public School and InAisce, that are not widely distributed.
"In January 2013, we were a marketplace of thousands of sellers and we then swept the site leaving only 100 relevant brands," said van Themsche. "Our team has spent the last four months on-boarding brands we feel fit the environment we have created. We still refuse 90 percent of brands that apply to join our site, because we want to give consumers a platform with only leading fashion and lifestyle brands. Currently, we have 300 brands on the site with 50 to 100 more joining each month."
Importantly, The Cools is also curated by a layer of trendy tastemakers, including Dree Hemingway and Erin Fetherston, whose product selections users can see and follow. The concept helps to differentiate the experience from more mass social curation sites like Pinterest, as well as sites like Not Just a Label, which also provide a direct-to-consumer sales channel for independent fashion brands. But according to current follower counts on the site, engagement levels remain low. Dree Hemingway, for example, has only attracted 127 followers.