In today’s noisy, overpopulated world, we often talk about the art of curation in terms of the process of selection, narrowing down and choosing objects fit for presentation. When we think of curators we think of gallery owners, DJs, Michelin starred chefs and boutique clothing stores.
Curiously, the word curate stems from the Latin “crtus” meaning spiritual change and refers to a cleric, especially one who has charge of a parish. The word has traveled quite a long ways since its original meaning, but those who consider curation a primary focus of their job can relate to its commanding origins. To learn more about the importance of curation in today’s fashion industry, we spoke to 5 American girls who run 3 emerging fashions startups in New York City and Los Angeles.
“This event was off the charts”
Gary Vaynerchuk was so impressed with TNW Conference 2016 he paused mid-talk to applaud us.
Material Wrld is a New York City fashion startup founded by eager entrepreneurs Jie Zheng and Rie Yano. This past week, the two women launched their online pop-up store’s second edition, which included a handful of clothing items on sale from the closets of notable fashion icons in New York City. Super-posh sellers include Paris-based fashion blogger Denni Elias, DJ Mia Moretti, blogger Natsu and stylist and blogger Chelsa Skees.
“In Manhattan, we all have really small closets so we see this as an option to refresh your wardrobe,” explains Rie, who has personally recruited 100 sellers to the platform. “We’re bringing together a creative and stylish community from around the world so users can easily discover, explore, and shop each others’ closets. We want Material Wrld to be a destination for people who say, ‘I like her style and I want a piece of it.”
Material Wrld focuses on fashion bloggers, creative professionals, and style enthusiasts spanning college students, young professionals and new moms. “The ideal Material Wrld user is already showing off their style online through their blog, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites/apps,” says Rie.
When asked how the company planned to scale, Rie replies that they will grow slowly and carefully to preserve quality. To initially monetize, the girls take a cut from each transaction. This summer, the company will launch an international marketplace with two different services — a full-service concierge model where users mail them fashion items to list on their page and a self-service model where sellers list items using their mobile app or site. For both services, Material Wrld will earn money from a revenue share.
Of a Kind
We covered Of a Kind’s launch as “The world’s first Tumblr store” in November 2010. Since then, the NYC fashion startup has been bringing high-end, exclusive fashion to the masses. Inspired by sites like 20×200, Of a Kind combines storytelling and exclusivity to launch 3 new items in limited editions each week.
“We never made a pro and con list for a brick and mortar store. We always knew we’d be online,” explains Erica Cerulo, one of Of A Kind’s two co-founders. “At the time, we were really inspired by the way the Internet had opened up different possibilities in commerce. Having both grown up in really small towns, we appreciated how the Internet provides everyone with access to boutique shopping.”
When asked how they find designers to feature on their platform, founders Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo say it’s like the indie music scene. “Once you dig in, you start hearing the same people’s names over and over again,” says Claire. “It’s also like the tech space in NYC, you talk to one entrepreneur and they tell you about 5 of their friends.” And now, after nearly 2 years in the business, more and more designers are reaching out to them.
“Every time we travel, we make an effort to check out all the boutiques in different cities and meet with local designers,” Claire continues. “We try hard to find designers outside of NYC and LA. We loved Austin, and we loved, loved shopping in Austin. We’ve also found a lot of emerging designers coming out of Minneapolis and San Francisco.”
When asked how the girls stay abreast of fashion trends, Claire cites 3 sources: The Business of Fashion newsletter, a daily roundup of everything happening in the fashion space; Uncommon Update, which curates news from the luxury, interactive, and media industries; and the EDITD blog, which pulls together a ton of data from the fashion industry.
Today, Of a Kind has sold its products to consumers in 47 states and 30 countries including faraway places like Thailand, Austria and Russia. New this year, Of a Kind will introduce a marketplace for their designers separate from their weekly, limited edition sales.
To accompany its sales, Of a Kind provides exciting editorials for its users. One of my favorite weekly columns is the “In Character” blog, which taps into pop culture, shows, movies and icons and ties it back into fashion. Each week the blog features in real life styles from stars like Angelika Pickles, Sally Draper, Kim Jong Il and my favorite — Rainbow Brite.
“Our users are early adopters, the kind of individuals that have to be the first to know, whether it’s a restaurant or a band — but not in a pretentious, snooty way. Our users are the type who love to share that information with people; they’re evangelizers,” says Claire. “The fashion on our site is so driven by our personal tastes. We like everything on there and at least one of us would wear every item. We have items that are 2 ticks to the left of classic and stuff that’s really special and different.”
While the two founders have been best friends for years, they each have their own unique sense of fashion. “Erica’s style is really simple and minimal, but always with a bold piece like a statement necklace or big, crazy shoes,” says Claire.
“And Claire is like that crazy great-aunt who just happens to be 28 and likes Chambéry shirts,” says Erica laughing.
One seemingly dismal day, Elizabeth Kott, a fashion-forward, media magnate found herself laid off from a talent agency in Los Angeles. She returned home and looked at her overflowing closet as a way to make extra cash. “I realized I’m so closet rich, I need to sell my clothes to make money!” she says.
Now, Elizabeth is the founder of the super cool site Closet Rich, which features amazing curated vintage finds from the closet rich fortunates in Hollywood. The former fashion PR rep and Zoe Report staffer now goes into her Closet Rich clients’ homes — the majority of which work in the fashion and entertainment space as designers, editors, actresses, etc. — and digs through their racks for re-sellable items like dresses, shoes, bags and more.
“It’s very curated; I don’t want site visitors to have to shuffle through junk or nonsense,” says Elizabeth. “I love really interesting pieces, dresses or jackets with a wow factor but basics also sell really well.” The items that don’t end up on her site are donated to various charities.
Unlike the aforementioned Material Wrld, anonymity is important to both Elizabeth and her clients. When asked about the number of her customers, she says she’s lost count! Elizabeth splits the revenue 50/50 with her clients.
Read next: First look at Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs