File this one under: it was only a matter of time. After the proliferation of Pinterest-like sites inviting users to curate their own little corner of the Web, StyleSaint, an LA-based fashion platform, is taking all those tear sheets to the next level. “We are taking content from our community to turn into products that didn’t exist,” co-founder Allison Beal tells FORBES.
Starting in August, StyleSaint will trot out the first twelve pieces of its new apparel brand designed by Beal and drawn from the trends surfaced by its loyal community. Look for dreamy watercolor prints and swishy silhouettes to flatter a variety of figures. Beal and co-founder Brian Garrett contend this collection will completely break with the standard business model, as well as slash the cost, and speed up the cycle from design to purchase –all without sacrificing quality.
“StyleSaint uses the same pre-production team, sourcing, pattern-making, and samples as The Row,” says Beal, referring to the luxury label designed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. The difference? A maxi dress (of jersey) from The Row will set you back nearly 600 clams. StyleSaint’s silk alternative will only cost $139, thanks in part to Brian Weitmanhe company’s manufacturing partner, Weitman is also the CEO of STC/QST and president of WTS Los Angeles, which produces the Olsen’s runway collection among others.Pandodaily reported that Weitzman personally owns interests in factories in North America, South America, and Asia which will allow StyleSaint to purchase directly from factories, thereby boosting the profit margin (between 60-70 percent) while keeping the retail prices down. Finishing garments will take place “right in our backyard,” says Beal, ”The labels will say ‘Made with Love in LA.’”
“Four yards of Italian sourced silk should cost $700 at retail,” Beal contends, a price that would send most die-hard fashionistas quickly into deep debt. Yet, one thing she observed over the two years since StyleSaint’s launch is that community members are quick share a bevvy of beautiful items that are both unaffordable and impractical. “There is no way to back that up with real product,” she says. Yet as tear sheets and resulting Stylebooks piled up on the site –and got shared via social media and embedded on blogs– Beal sharpened a particularly useful industry tool, a trendspotter that she first used to create the site’s overarching editorial.
Now scouring hashtags and images led to the first collection that will be followed by new designs approximately every month. Brand loyalty to buy the items is baked in, says cofounder Brian Garrett, because the community’s been groomed for the past two years.
Unlike Pinterest and Polyvore that don’t have a way to generate commerce, or sites such as Refinery29 and Sugar that depend on affiliate links to generate revenue from retail sales, StyleSaint can continue grow organically, with lower risk. “We made a decision to not get ahead of ourselves and get stuck in inventory issues,” he says. StyleSaint’s collections will buck the tradition retail model which requires stores to buy without knowing demand and then market to consumers. “With a built in audience and forecasting you can make reasonable assumptions about how many pieces you’ll need,” he observes, “We hope this will be more capital efficient.”
Though Garrett points out that he invested in subscription footwear site ShoeDazzle, subscription commerce is also tough on the bottom line. “You spend a lot of money to get customers in and then they churn out,” when they reach maximum saturation with the products.
According to Garrett, scaling authentically with a loyal group of users is the sustainable path for future fashion commerce. Just don’t call it crowdsourcing. “That’s a bad word in this office,” he says. Instead he posits, StyleSaint, “Is a unique way for members to engage and be a part of the process. Then they turn around and evangelize on your behalf.”