Last fall, I was in search of a very specific Opening Ceremony "Athena" crossbody bag. It had to be leather (not suede, which a number of "Athena" versions are made from), it had to be black and, most importantly, the hand-shaped snap-button clasp had to be matte black (not silver, another common style detail). The bag is readily available across a slew of retailers, but the version I wanted was so outdated that the chances of finding it in stock were very slim. By a rare stroke of luck, I came across the e-commerce site Garmentory, which was offering the exact bag from a small boutique in Toronto. I immediately snapped it up and in about a week, it arrived at my New York City apartment, matte black hand clasp and all.
This is a story I tell Garmentory co-founder Adele Tetangco in person during her visit from Vancouver, and it's similar to what she's heard time and time again from multiple people. "To have a place like Garmentory that really puts everything together in a one-stop-shop for you, people are able to find things that they've been looking for or couldn't find previously," she says.
The initial idea for Garmentory came to Tetangco back in 2013. After nearly a decade of working in the fashion industry, she was approached by Sunil Gowda — whose work experience involves Zillow, Expedia and Microsoft — and together, they founded and launched Garmentory a year later. The site sets itself apart among online competitors with the ability for shoppers to "Make An Offer" to the independently owned boutiques featured on the site.
"When it's the end of the season and items go on sale, whatever doesn't sell usually gets packaged up and put in the back of the store and doesn't come out until sale season again," explains Tetangco. "They're sitting on this dead stock that they could be making money off of, so there was an opportunity there."
The on-sale items are listed on Garmentory with its full price rather than its current markdown. Customers can then offer a price and the boutiques can either accept, reject or counter that offer. Not only was the concept a success when it launched, but Garmentory was also providing a global audience for these businesses, which are generally small and lacking the technological resources to expand online, while clearing out inventory and supplying shipping and return assets. By 2015, Tetangco and Gowda had decided to give their stores the opportunity to sell full-price, in-season apparel, accessories and lifestyle items as well.
"The conversions from 'Make An Offer' were tricky because if a store didn't accept an offer, then there wasn't a conversion. And selling full-price was a way to get more inventory on the site because the sale items were so limited," said Tetangco. Because of Gowda's tech experience, it was easy to pull and integrate an entire store's stock onto Garmentory's site. As a result, there was more of a selection for customers to choose from, while stores and designers had more of an opportunity to make a profit. From that business decision alone, "everything just took off," according to Tetangco.
Garmentory's partnerships have grown from 25 to more than 400 small boutiques and young designers, spanning all over the world from North America to Russia, Tel Aviv and Dubai. "I'm at this point where when I go to a trade show, I'm not even sourcing new brands because the brands and stores are coming to us," says Tetangco. "We're just curating and picking who's coming on the site because they're finding us. It's really cool." On the consumer end, traffic to the site has skyrocketed by 3,000 percent and Garmentory's customer base has expanded by 300 percent year over year.
"Our growth is a true testament for the need for a place like Garmentory," says Tetangco. "Even the fact that we got funding for something like this goes to show that this is a segment that is very underserved and we're able to give it a voice, succeed at it and do it really well. I have stores tell me that we saved their business."
With a $1.3 million seed fund from November 2015 and another $2 million of funding at the end of last year, Tetangco has been able to increase her staff from two full-time members to 16, expanding the development team and adding an art director between offices in Vancouver and Seattle. Garmentory's customer base is currently 80 percent women between the ages of 25 and 44 years old; Tetangco recently hired a a men's director to grow the site's menswear department (which just launched in January) and its male audience.
Oftentimes Garmentory is compared to online marketplace Farfetch but with a younger, more minimalist-leaning audience. Though the Garmentory customer's average income is $75K, the site still serves as an accessible entry point for millennial and Gen-Z shoppers who thrive on discovery and unique, cool purchases. Farfetch, on the other hand, has customers spending an average of $650 per online order. "[Our customers] are still luxury," says Tetangco of the comparison. "We are very supportive of our community — not that Farfetch isn't — but this is just the way we approach the business. We have marketing initiatives that are inclusive and community-driven."
It's a strategic sweet spot for Garmentory, and, moving forward, the company plans to tap into its community of influencers who regularly shop on the site, which includes Fashionista favorite Reese Blutstein (@double3xposure), as well as Sissy Sainte-Marie, who serves as Garmentory's fashion editor at large, penning a monthly column called "Sissy Says." On a six-month basis, the site rotates through a program of ambassadors, such as Lee Vosburgh, Melissa Sonico, Kirstyn König, Kaitlynn Lucas and Angela Deviatova.
Influencers are indeed a plus, but Garmentory will always champion its small businesses and designers first — as well as foster each of their distinctly unique point of views. "The segment is not driven by trends, it's very much driven by culture," says Tetangco. "I really believe in power of numbers, so by combining everybody — stores, designers, brands — and putting them together in one space, their voice is just that much louder."
This story has been updated from its original version regarding Gowda's work experience and Garmentory's funding.