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An Innovator in Fashion Wholesale, Joor Could Become a Global Network for Buyers and Designers

The startup Joor has helped move the wholesale fashion business online. It might also be the best way for retailers to discover new brands.
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Fashion Week may seem like a rush to the finish line, but when it comes to turning runway looks into consumer-ready separates, it's only the beginning of the season's activity. For brands and retailers, the next weeks are filled with appointments before the clothing — often toned down or entirely different from that shown on the runway — enters production to be sold in stores.

Wholesale buying is something of a messy process in fashion, and one still largely conducted on pen and paper. What Fashion GPS has done for digitizing the process of requesting show invites and samples, the wholesale platform Joor is hoping to accomplish for deals between brands and buyers. Beyond streamlining the technical aspects of buying, Joor is looking at a big opportunity in global retail: the chance to serve as an international, online community for brands and buyers.

Founded in 2010, Joor has been making a name for itself the fashion community for a while, raising $20.1 million in venture capital financing in the process. This season, it might have been a bit more visible to showgoers, as the startup sponsored Steven Alan's presentation last week and made iPads on which to place orders available to buyers afterward. Alan and Mona Bijoor, Joor's founder and CEO, have known each other for a while, and the designer's team often tests out products before Joor releases them.

"I think a lot of the systems are archaic," Alan says. "You're trying to buy clothes and place your orders and buy fabric, but you don't have the orders in yet."

Generally speaking, the sales process involves buyers going to a show, taking pictures of everything they like, taking a follow-up appointment with the designer, highlighting everything they want on a paper line sheet and entering that into an Excel spreadsheet or a carbon copy order form. In what was almost too obvious an upgrade, Joor took all those motions and put them on a clean online platform.

"While this isn't avant-garde in the tech industry, this is very disruptive in the fashion space. What we're doing is creating an online sales channel for wholesale, which is very necessary and innovative," says Bijoor.

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At this point, about half of the brands that show at New York Fashion Week are on the platform, along with about 20 percent of the brands that show in Europe. As with any tech company entering the fashion space, the first few years were characterized by hustling to get brands on board, but after a while buzz and word of mouth drove those acquisition costs down, Bijoor says.

On average, the 750 brands on Joor do $50 million each in annual wholesale revenue, Bijoor says, although those sales don't all take place through the platform.

Making the buying process easier is a major plus, but Joor's real business opportunity might be bigger picture than that. Technology only scratches the surface of what Joor could accomplish, says Roopal Patel, an advisor to the startup and former senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.

"[Joor] will begin to open up new markets," Patel says. "They'll become a resource tool — not only a tech company that allows vendors to receive orders."

This means that a buyer in the U.S. might be able to discover the next big thing in Australia, when she might not have otherwise. The platform could operate in the same way that LinkedIn does for job recruiting.

To that end, Bijoor's goal for 2014 is to accelerate Joor's global penetration. She's been spending a lot of time in Europe and Asia lately to sign brands in those regions. About 40 percent of sales on Joor come from Europe and 10 percent of volume comes from Australia. While Joor currently has little presence in Asia, Bijoor is looking to change that, starting with Hong Kong.

"I think in the next two to five years, Joor will have a substantial amount of the market working with them," Patel says.