You could call 2010 the year of concept-driven online retailers. It seems like every other week, a new e-commerce site or social networking platform pops up on the interwebs. But if you thought every possible permutation of fashion/tech start-up had launched by now, think again.
A new one called Fabricly soft launched last week and sure, some parts of it sound familiar–like selling only exclusives from a curated selection of emerging designers and adding editorial content (Of a Kind), allowing users to give feedback (Desquval and others), and being an overall platform to boost the careers of young designers who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources (FashionStake, Style Trek, and FarFetch). But Fabricly has one pretty major component that none of these other sites have: They provide start-to-finish support for emerging designers, including sample-making, sourcing, production, and if desired, additional wholesale assistance, all with the additional benefit of Fabricly’s full marketing and public relations resources. And all at no cost to the designer.
It’s certainly an ambitious project, so I spoke to co-founder Ari Helgason to get some more insight. For starters, I asked him why so many online fashion/retail concepts have popped up over the last year. “Fashion has traditionally been a fairly traditional industry in terms of technology and it’s only quite recently that people have been figuring out ways that fashion can be sold in a more engaging, more fun way online,” he explained.
Ari, who studied International Relations at the London School of Economics, got into fashion somewhat recently through his brother, designer Ostwald Helgason (who happens to be Fabricly’s first featured designer), whose business he helped grow in London. They sought out software that could help them run their business more efficiently and found that there wasn’t really anything out there for fashion designers. So he teamed up with his now-business partner Tom Riley about two and a half years ago to found the UK-based site World on Hanger, an online-based production management software for fashion companies, which is still going strong.
It was while working on World on a Hanger that Ari and Tom got the idea for Fabricly. “We saw all these fashion designers who were spending 90% of their time working out the logistics of what they were doing,” he told us, “They were always one bad season away from going out of business and that’s really where the idea for Fabricly was born, to take all of those problems off the designers’ hands and leave the designers free to create and tell their stories and just come up with great product.”
I realized Ari had basically just described the problem plaguing every one of our How I’m Making It panelists. Obviously, creating a company with the capability to solve these problems would require quite a bit of funding, which Ari spoke about freely. They started out working with a backer called Y-coordinator, a “tech incubator” in silicon valley. “That process was really straightforward. It was just an application process. You go up there for an interview and either you get accepted or you don’t, but it’s quite tough, I mean I think they accept something like 1% of start-ups that apply to them.” Once they were accepted, they were given some funding and trained on how to pitch their ideas to other backers. “By the end, we had a whole bunch of offers from various venture capitalists and investors.” They decided to go with a feed round given to them by Atomico Ventures, a venture fund that was started by the founders of Skype.
So how do the fashion designers factor in? “The whole idea is the designer does not take any risk,” Ari explained. “The model is if that product sells, then they get paid out a royalty based on the sales, so they just get a percentage. I guess the best analogy for this kind of business would be a record label.”
Think of Fabricly like the “anti-Gilt.” Ari explained, “Gilt exists because there’s this sort of excess of product out there, although I know that more designers are making stuff especially for Gilt, but essentially it’s an overstock sale site because there’s too much product and we want to turn that model on its head and only actually produce things that people actually want to buy and that people actually care about.” Producing only what the customer wants is a big part of Fabricly, facilitated by the fact that they produce everything themselves. “Because we have very short lead time we can produce stuff almost on demand and everything is produced domestically in the U.S. in L.A. We produce small batches at a time and that way we can really feel out the market and the demand, and if we get a sense that something is selling well we can reorder it.”
I asked Ari how they scout designers and it turns out they’ve had a lot of designers contacting them. And who wouldn’t want their clothes produced, sold and marketed at no cost or risk? Soon, however, Fabricly will be turning over some of the scouting process to its users. “What we will be moving into doing fairly soon is to do a sort of collaborative buying process with our community, so that we’ll show our users samples of products and styles that we’re thinking of putting into production and then people can sort of tell us what they think before we do it.”
So what’s next for Fabricly? In January, they will launch Mono Lake, the first collection by Cynthia Vincent protégé and former Barlow designer Molly Girard Coonan. They plan to eventually expand into accessories and, further down the line, menswear. Also, it turns out e-commerce is only the beginning for the company’s sales component. In addition to selling online, they’ll be opening up showrooms to push the collections to other retailers.
So, whether you want to pre-order OH! by Ostwald Helgason’s adorable, affordable, Twiggy-esque collection, submit your own sketches in hopes of having them produced and sold, or spend an hour perusing a very entertaining blog, let us direct you to Fabricly.com. It might seem strange at first, but Ari suggests we get used to it: “This is a new way of doing fashion and we’re confident it’s the way of the future.”