The race to be the next Gilt Groupe is on — or at least, to have a hugely successful online fashion venture in the largely untapped, scary digital world. The website Fashion Stake began as a forum where regular fashion-inclined people like you could invest small amounts of money in fashion labels. Founded by Harvard Business School students Vivian Weng and Daniel Gulati (who are about to graduate, mazel!), the site launched in September of last year but has become very different. Now, rather than asking people to go to the bother of investing, it serves as a marketplace for independent designers chosen by Fashion Stake's buyers. So it's kind of like Etsy.
Roughly every day, a new set of three items by three different designers is put to the public for a vote on what they think will be the most popular in the store. The item with the most votes lands in the "crowd favorites" section of the site. All designers chosen to participate in voting, even if they don't win the most votes, get to put their items up for sale on the Fashion Stake (all items must be approved). The site has attracted a slew of investors, including Battery Ventures (who also invest in Groupon), Forerunner Ventures, and Gilt Groupe co-founder and HBS alum Alexis Maybank.
Fashion Stake hopes to serve as a discovery platform for new designers, and it consistently fields calls from fashion journalists inquiring about new talent. "We get tons of applications for designers to be on the site," co-founder and CEO Gulati explains, though only some are approved. "You've got to be really smart with curation. We didn't just want to put any old independent designer up there." The designer-relations team — the group responsible for sourcing new talent — finds designers at trade shows or through fashion-news outlets. They're experienced retail professionals — not HBS students.
A lot on the site won't blow your mind, but that's not necessarily the point — Fashion Stake is not trying to sell, or discover, the next Lanvin. Items are accessibly priced between $20 and $500, with the most popular pieces running from $100 to $200. There are distinct bright spots in the selection, which at times can feel like a sea of bad draping that desperately wants to be Ann Demeulemeester. Nicholas K even designed an exclusive collection for the site, which — though the label is pretty big for an independent-designer categorization — will surely raise Fashion Stake's profile. While a name you will recognize on the site is rare, some unknown Fashion Stake designers come aboard with feathers in their caps, having sold to Barneys or other department stores, for example. Fashion Stake's founders hope to help these up-and-comers blow up — which, they are aware, is very rare in fashion generally.
As a marketplace, Fashion Stake doesn't buy inventory — designers are responsible for adding new products to their store and shipping products to consumers. "Their incentive is to keep uploading new stuff because why wouldn't you want your friends to see your latest collection?" Gulati says. Well, hopefully more than just their friends are looking.
Fashion Stake [Official Site]