A commenter on my Boutiques.com post bought up a very salient point that beyond pure functionality, breadth and the ability to sell ‘everything under the sun’, consumers were surely after a more curated experience with extra value added content to get a better grasp of what the retailer is trying to do. This I suppose is the internet echo of what has been going on in bricks and mortars stores since the concept of a ‘shop’ was invented – that there are huge department stores that sell everything except the kitchen sink or supermarkets that offer an abundance choice coexisting with small independent stores that lure you in with character and personality.
Whilst Google will of course carry on carving out its own web of fashion-based search to cater to masses, at the other end of the scale, product presented with a discerning customer in mind who wants to do more than just click and buy gets a completely different experience. I sort of love that there’s this diversification where e-store (by e-stores, I’m talking about standalone websites with no bricks and mortar store attached) isn’t just one big umbrella term and that you could feasibly find e-stores that mirror the real life independent stores that people grow so fond of and thus making the internet shopping experience more like its physical counterpart.
Therefore I give you two stores that have set out purposely NOT to have everything under the sun for good reason…
Founders and Followers was set up by Alicia Rodriguez and Aurelia Mikles and I think is fairly recent in its set up. They tie fashion and art together into the site whilst keeping the selection tight. What brings it all to life though are their editorial images where ambience and mood far more important than simply pushing product. F&F also do a very fine and indepth job of delving into their stocked designers with studio visits and their inspirations in their 'Atelier' section.
How do you feel about the rise of the ‘curated’ boutique – stores that sell itself not on quantity but on selection?
We believe stores that sell based on a curated selection fulfill a special niche that is growing here in the United States. We think this growth represents a more knowledgeable customer and one that seeks a different online experience from what’s currently out there. The fundamental concept behind Founders & Followers was that of having a selection based on designers’ inspiration rather than just merchandised quantities based on the formulas used by larger, more mainstream websites. Our hope is that the viewer will be able to recognize this, thus building the credibility we are aiming for. We’ve always thought that most fashion e-commerce sites were solely focused on a retail perspective and we wanted to deviate from this typical retail format and give birth to a more creative shopping experience in which we showcase each designers’ creative processes
when designing each collection. We want the viewer to feel like they are entering into an intimate and carefully curated store where they’ll get to know who the designers are and where they got their inspiration from as well as having access to highly coveted images of their work that they don’t share elsewhere. That’s why we thought it was important to create a section called ‘Atelier’ where we tour the designers’ studios to gain an inside perspective of their original creative world by being able to see their seasonal inspiration boards and understanding their philosophy of design.
Does the internet free or limit the way you run your retail venture?
The possibilities that open with the use of the web are basically endless. With the internet we can reach out to a wide range of populations from diverse geographical areas. We also like that because of our mix of art and fashion, designers and fashion illustrators get shared exposure on our site. Not having a physical store challenges you to display the product in the most precise way possible. Therefore, we pay special attention to craftsmanship and details when we make our buying selection so we can display them prominently on the site. Also, because our customers cannot try the actual clothing on before they buy, we try to be as descriptive as we can about the fits. E-commerce sites are continually growing in their diversity and complexity which makes keeping our identity and our uniqueness that much more important - our content has to be original, interesting, and refreshed often. It should quickly capture one’s attention because if it doesn’t the viewer will simply move on to another site. It is our hope that our approach of highlighting the creative world of young designers and offering limited fashion artworks and exclusive series sets us apart from the competition.
Even within a tight selection, I’ve still found much to love and that’s probably because they were one of the few that took a chance on Risto’s A/W 10-11 shaggy knitwear…
Bodkin’s coat is one to add to the winter hibernation cocoon list…actually that would be the first to add because it’s really only just gotten cold enough in the UK to warrant a hibernation cocoon….
French duo Devastee also gets a rare nod and the pieces seem to look entirely different from the catwalk pics.... I never picked up on how cute this print is for example...
The second site is Of a Kind, which made headlines of sorts for being the first store to be hosted on Tumblr. Whilst slow old me is just on the verge of toying with the idea of starting a Tumblr, some people have made giant leaping steps on it as far as setting up e-stores.
Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur‘s Tumblr is treat enough pointing out things with wit and showing me that Tumblr’s aren’t in fact just image-based stream of consciousness. They went a step further though by choosing to work with designers to create a special edition product that will be released each week in limited runs. The selection is thus even tighter on Of a Kind but ensures that their products are unique to them. In addition designers are featured in formats of thoughtful content that isn’t yer’ usual Q&A (oh the irony of my Q&As shoved here…) and are fun to read. Not many are of course going to gobble up a 3,000 word profile online in their tea breaks so editorial content is kept digestible and light-hearted. It helps that thus far, all designers featured on Of a Kind seem genuinely funny and nice.
Why is it important for the website to have editorial content in addition to product?
Erica: We think the people behind the designs we're offering are really compelling, and knowing their stories make us appreciate their work even more. When you learn how involved the sourcing process is for every tiny little bead in a Lizzie Fortunato Jewels necklace, you can’t help but think, “Wow, these girls are passionate about what they do and are devoted to making things they are tremendously proud of.” We also think that people are tired of consuming things just for the sake of it and accumulating large piles of stuff—or at least we are. We want to put out special, unique products that people can get excited about buying. Becoming familiar with the stories behind the designers and their pieces lends something more meaningful to the objects we're selling—almost as if you know the person who designed them. Hence our tagline: know and own.
Does the internet free or limit the way you run your retail venture?
Erica: It frees us! We get to reach people everywhere, which is really important to us. Claire grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, and I grew up in Peoria, Illinois. We didn’t have access to interesting fashion and always found it frustrating to read about cool designers in magazines and not to be able to track down their wares. The internet has changed all that, and it never once occurred to us to open a brick-and-mortar store. We also would never be able to integrate the stories with the products so effectively if we weren't on the internet. The medium is incredibly conducive to what we're trying to do. What’s equally exciting is that we get to be part of the rabid fashion community on Tumblr. We’ve really loved following fashion bloggers who are on Tumblr like Sara Zucker, Bianca Rocks Out, Julia Bunny, Textbook, Cali Vintage, Except for This One, and Tavi, and we hope that people who come to our site feel the same way about us. And since no one has ever built an e-commerce site on the Tumblr platform, we're very excited to be the first.
(Mandy Coon’s inspiration imagery)
(Lizzie Fortunato’s lookbook imagery and tag for their necklace for Of a Kind)
I wanted this Mandy Coon bunny bag in black leather but with added sequins, I’m even more sold on the notion of earnestly clutching a bunny-shaped bag around town…
It's actually been a real pleasure learning more about Lizzie Fortunato's work through Of a Kind, who launched this necklace as their second edition...
Their latest product is Symmetry Goods’ scarg or barf. Hmmm…let’s stick with ‘scarg’ – a scarf that doubles up as a tote or vice versa. This ACTUALLY works properly as both scarf and bag as opposed to fulfilling one function in a lame way. I’m not sure which I prefer it as.