Kaelen Debuts E-Commerce

The designer talks digital design and online expansion.
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Chantal Fernandez
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The designer talks digital design and online expansion.
A screengrab from Kaelen's new site. Photo: Kaelen

A screengrab from Kaelen's new site. Photo: Kaelen

Since Kaelen Haworth launched her modern, minimalist upper-contemporary womenswear line in 2010, she has slowly but surely built a following of post-hipster, individualistic cool girls who come to her for soft shapes and distinctive fabrics, all while gradually growing her New York-based business.

A year ago, she was chosen to be part of the CFDA Fashion Incubator, a business development and mentoring program that brought even more brand awareness and growth. And on Tuesday, the brand unveiled a new website, which features e-commerce for the first time. Most of the spring collection is available now and the rest is coming within the first week. The site is currently the only direct-to-consumer model for online sales in the U.S., with the exception of pre-sale on Moda Operandi. International shipping is coming soon. 

I spoke to Haworth about the site's design, what she hopes to gain from e-commerce and how the incubator program helped push her to take this step.

How long have you been preparing to launch e-commerce?

We've always wanted to do e-commerce, for quite a while, but it started taking shape around November when we really started to focus on finding [a design partner] who could capture the aesthetic we wanted. We knew we had some time between collections and we knew we wanted to launch with spring so it's been actually quite a long process. The design part is the part that takes the most time at least on our end -- just making sure everything looks perfect.

What did you want the aesthetic of the site to be?

We wanted it to be a little bit more minimal and really strong and something that was very true to the aesthetic so that it's not something we want to be changing every couple of years. We decided to launch our e-commerce and also do an entire web rebrand too, which is nice because I didn't want to add in an e-commerce page and have it seem like it's tacked on. So it's very strong, it's very cohesive and the focus is really on the text.

The actual backbone of the site is something that transcends seasons and something that hopefully we will always respond to -- that way we can play around each season and really let the clothes and the collection that we are trying to showcase take center stage. 

A screengrab from Kaelen's new site. Photo: Kaelen

A screengrab from Kaelen's new site. Photo: Kaelen

What are some other cool new elements of the site?

The new site is going to have our collections pages, so you will be able to go back and view the four most recent collections. And then you have the shopping product page and an 'About' page -- all the stuff familiarizing people with the brand. The way the press page was designed is really lovely because when you get press sometimes you don't have control over the aesthetic of the colors that the magazine chose for its cover, or whatever it is, and it can look out of place on a site that you're very carefully curating. So we ended up using just really large standout type and a roll-over color, which I think is really beautiful. Then we have the journal page, which is sort of an aggregate inspiration type of page and all of my images that I've taken and pictures that I find inspiring. We've put sort of a pinky black and white tone that's a wash over every image, so it always looks cohesive, and you have to roll over each image to get the color.

A screengrab from Kaelen's new site. Photo: Kaelen

A screengrab from Kaelen's new site. Photo: Kaelen

Who did you hire to design the site and what was that process like?

We worked with a company called Watson and Company. I think what we liked about them is that they have a really really strong aesthetic vision, which is obviously important, but they also do their backend stuff in-house, which is appealing to us as well. It's kind of a one-stop shop and they did a really great job. They are very receptive to our ideas and comments and everything so it was a very easy relationship. I think that the hardest part when you're looking for someone to work with is finding someone that you think is going to be more collaborative as opposed to just having to battle against really strong ideas. Where they did have strong ideas, they were on the same page as us, which is great. 

Are you still going to be sold at any other online-only retailers?

No, we aren't going to right now. We are going see how it feels and how people respond to seeing us on the site. We have online retailers in the UK and that is a totally different story. It's not even really a competition because there are so many differences between currencies and shipping duties and all that sort of stuff. But it doesn't change our view of our wholesale accounts [including Oak, American Two Shot, Ron Herman and Hudson's Bay]. It will be great for us to see what our customers are buying at retail because when you have wholesale as your only point of sale, you don't really get as much information about what people actually buy once it gets to the retail floor. This is going to help us understand -- outside of wholesale and outside of the buyers -- what people are responding to and what people buy from us each season, which is something that will be incredibly helpful. 

Are you going to change your inventory numbers to support the site?

We always have a little extra inventory for stores that sell through items and want a little bit more, or even just for us to do private sales because we do the occasional private sale for friends and family with existing stock and it usually goes really well. We definitely have ideas about what people responded to in wholesale and we also have our things that got the most attention in the press. Since it's the first season we are doing this, we are going to be a little bit more conservative and just get a feel for the lay of the land first. 

Do your pre-sales on Moda Operandi help predict interest too?

Yes, it definitely does. We did our first Moda pre-sale last season for spring and it went really, really well and we got a great response. Moda is excellent about informing you about what people are buying and any kind of feedback you might get. That was another reason we thought we should be doing this, because it's such invaluable information. As much press and reviews and all this stuff you can get, you really have to have that specific feedback in order to actually grow and make the things that people want to buy. 

Has being a part of the CFDA Incubator helped you take this next step for your business?

The incubator is a business development program, so they really want you to focus on your business and focus on the strategy and think about where you want to take it in the near future. It got us thinking about e-commerce, whereas maybe it had been on the back burner two or three season ago. We have our mentors and talking to them about it and getting their opinions is also really helpful, because at this point it's sort of a no-brainer. It seems like people are really responding to the collection and we know that we are getting good sales at retail, so it just sort of seemed like now is the time to branch out and do it on our own. But I think part of that is definitely from being in the CFDA Incubator. They have talks and discussions about inventory control and logistics and all that sort of stuff, so everything helps and it all fits together. 

Do you think e-commerce is more important than opening a brick-and-mortar store? 

I think it all just helps. I think it's really hard to replace a real tangible experience at the store. It's definitely more accessible -- and by that I mean it's more accessible for the customer, but it's also more accessible for the designer because it's much less of an investment. It helps people understand your brand and it helps with your messaging, but I think a store is a different experience. 

Do you plan to offer things on the site that people can't find elsewhere? Will there be sales?

We want to explore the idea of doing exclusives. We have some fabric that maybe gets passed over for a season, it doesn't fit or it's not part of the rest of the mix, and I think it would be a really nice place to rework some of our really popular silhouettes and think more in terms of exclusives so people are excited about coming back to the site and looking at new things. We'll do the occasional sale if we have the inventory, but we are going to try to get people there with really special merchandise first.