Moda Operandi's Founder Talks Strategy, Taylor Tomasi Hill, and Average Transaction Price Per Customer (Hint: It's Over $1000)

Moda Operandi, the online trunk show that allows shoppers to buy straight from the runway, burst onto the e-tail scene last February with plenty of buzz. It was a totally new concept in online retail--place orders for designer looks immediately after they're shown--and an answer to the flash sale sites that were on the wane. Of course, it didn't hurt that the site was founded by socialite and Voguette Lauren Santo Domingo and ex-Gilt Group exec Aslaug Magnusdottir--two women with all the fashion connections and experience you could hope for in launching a new fashion venture. And when the company closed their second round of funding with $10 million from venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, it was clear they were getting something right. In the last few weeks Moda Operandi has poached names from the top of the masthead of major fashion glossies (Marie Claire's Taylor Tomasi Hill is the site's new artistic director and Nina Garcia is a new addition to the advisory board) and established retailers (Roopal Patel of Neiman's and Bergdorf's). No question about it, Moda Operandi is growing like crazy and we wanted to know why. So we chatted with co-founder Magnusdottir to find out the site is doing, what they're planning to do with all these new hires, and why people want to shell out for designer clothes online.
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Leah Chernikoff
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Moda Operandi, the online trunk show that allows shoppers to buy straight from the runway, burst onto the e-tail scene last February with plenty of buzz. It was a totally new concept in online retail--place orders for designer looks immediately after they're shown--and an answer to the flash sale sites that were on the wane. Of course, it didn't hurt that the site was founded by socialite and Voguette Lauren Santo Domingo and ex-Gilt Group exec Aslaug Magnusdottir--two women with all the fashion connections and experience you could hope for in launching a new fashion venture. And when the company closed their second round of funding with $10 million from venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, it was clear they were getting something right. In the last few weeks Moda Operandi has poached names from the top of the masthead of major fashion glossies (Marie Claire's Taylor Tomasi Hill is the site's new artistic director and Nina Garcia is a new addition to the advisory board) and established retailers (Roopal Patel of Neiman's and Bergdorf's). No question about it, Moda Operandi is growing like crazy and we wanted to know why. So we chatted with co-founder Magnusdottir to find out the site is doing, what they're planning to do with all these new hires, and why people want to shell out for designer clothes online.
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So what's with all the new hires? What will they be doing? And will Taylor Tomasi Hill's street style prowess come into play? Roopal and Taylor are both working full time and Nina is on our advisory board. Taylor's role is quite broad: She's an artistic director, she's been at the shoots, styling the collections, so you'll start seeing some visual changes in the overall site layout and how the merchandise is displayed. We're working more and more with her on the overall look and feel of the site. She's very focused on editorial so she'll be expanding what we're creating for MO magazine and will be incorporating the street style element into the magazine. Roopal is focused on securing new brands. We work with a lot of American designers and European ones but we're looking to add more European brands and spot new upcoming talent, whether it's in New York, London, Milan or Paris.

We're stepping up the editorial team. Our model is all about giving women a choice to shop from all of the runway styles that are being produced by the designer, but in some cases women also want some guidance. So we'll continue to provide choice but we'll put more emphasis on what we think the key pieces are, more trend reports connected to collections we are featuring, and this will come out in how things are visually displayed. I'd say we have our dream team in place right now--we just brought Ashley Bryan from Net-a-Porter as our chief marketing officer. We can grow the business quite substantially with this team in place.

And what will Nina Garcia's role entail? She will be doing quite a bit for us. She'll be helping with customer acquisitions and she'll do that through promoting the site through social media on Facebook and Twitter, she'll host some events, she will attending some brand meetings where it will be helpful to have her help with outreach, and she will be contributing to our editorial as well, so she'll be providing her picks from certain designers.

How much has Moda grown exactly? How many members does the site have and how much do they spend? Our goal was to achieve 100,00 members by end of 2011 which we beat--we're a little bit over that. We launched back in February with just a few members and we'll continue to focus on growing awareness and building a base of customers that shops on the site. Throughout the year average transaction is about $1,400 which is unheard of for online. During fashion month the average transaction goes up because people buy more pieces at a time and the average price point is higher during fashion week as RTW tends to be more expensive than the shoes and accessories we sell between seasons.

Where are the customers coming from? We have pockets of great customers from all over the world. 60% of market is US but the Middle East is stepping up as a strong player and we took on a partner in Kuwait in September which helped and increased awareness and membership base in the region. We're also seeing a large base in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Brazil. Our efforts to market the brand internationally have increased awareness a lot.

In this economic climate, why do you think Moda is doing so well? Why are people willing to spend $1,400 on clothes straight off the runway? Two huge things to do with consumer behavior. First, fashion week has always generated this huge buzz and excitement but 10 years ago the customer didn't know what was going down the runway. Now you have Style.com and Vogue.com and people go and look at the collections immediately after the show. People have just become much more excited about fashion. You see all these television shows giving access to the world of fashion. The excitement of fashion week wasn't being used to sell product in any commercial way. We're capturing people when that excitement is at the peak time--when they've just seen it. People want the newest latest thing when they've just seen it -- that's what we've been able to capture and commercialize.

Additionally there's the access factor. This experience [of being able to place orders directly after the collections hit the runways] is something only a very small group of stylists and editors and socialites had before. It was a very elite insider group of people. Now we've given a much broader group of people access to this experience.

Wish list designers for the site? Well, the ultimate dream would be to get Chanel but they don't sell clothes online anywhere and Celine is another one but I think those will take some time.