How do you take the fashion tastes and preferences of consumers, and harness that to create your own, collaborative fashion brand? Allison Beal and Brian Garrett are trying to figure that out with their new, Los Angeles startup, StyleSaint (www.stylesaint.com). Garrett was most recently a venture capitalist at Crosscut Ventures, who helped identify and fund ShoeDazzle--co-founded the company with Beal, a fashion industry insider who was introduced to Garrett by prolific Los Angeles angel investor Paige Craig. The two sat down with us to explain the idea behind the company.
Explain the idea behind StyleSaint?
Allison Beal: StyleSaint is a collaborative fashion brand. We will design and manufacture an apparel brand based on the inspiration of collective editors. Right now, we have this incredible power publishing tool, which allows girls to publish their own stylebooks and digital magazines. You can subscribe to different bloggers, stylists, photographers, and people whose style you really like. You can participate and be editor-in-chief of your own digital stylebook as well. We then take that information and find trends and metadata, and all that content and sharing, and use it to drive e-commerce, and to design and manufacture apparel products.
What's your background and how did you get into this?
Allison Beal: I've been in fashion design and manufacturing for about nine years. I started with a men's apparel brand doing marketing, creative, and branding, and worked on everything from production to design and manufacturing. I've done the same for a Scandavian design house focused on female fashion, doing creative design, branding, marketing, to design and manufacturing. However, I actually started StyleSaint a long time ago, when I was just a little girl. I'd make my own style books in my bedroom, and post them on my bedroom walls, and editorialize my own stories and content. As I grew older, I kept on doing the same things in fashion. A lot of the time in fashion, the actual stories behind the products aren't marketed anymore. They're checked out in the design studio, but they're never broadcast out. So, instead of hearing about the inspiration behind a design, you show up at Nordstrom, Bloomingdale, and you start looking like every other brand on the floor. My friends had been begging me to help them make stylebooks, so I'd ask them for their 25 favorite images and make a style book for them. Each one took six hours to make. I'd include them in the process of design, and would design a new dress and take their inspiration and content, and go off and design and manufacture what their interests were, and we'd often get that line picked up. We'd make 500 samples, and about 150 would be picked up by consumers, who became huge evangelists for the brand. I fell in love with that process, and after doing that for six or seven seasons, thought why not do this online.
Brian, how did you connect with Allison, and how does that relate to Crosscut?
Brian Garrett: We were introduced through Paige Craig. Who introduced Allison to me because of my background with Crosscut, having invested in ShoeDazzle, and seeing all of the social, commerce, and apparel opportunities here arise. I had some theories about ways to innovate, and we started working on those ideas to start the company. Paige suggested that I sit down with Allison, who he knew was one of the most knowledgeable and authentic people here trying to innovate in that market. We hit it off, and had a shared vision for the company we wanted to build. It all came together in the fall of last year, and we technically started the company in October of 2011. While we just announced our financing, we actually raised our seed round back in October of last year.
What's your role now at Crosscut?
Brian Garrett: I'm now full time with StyleSaint. I'm still a co-founder with CrossCut Ventures, and am now active more in an operating partner role. Although I continue to look at investments on behalf of Crosscut, I've joined full time with my co-founder, Allison, and we're now spending way too many hours with her building the company.
What's the business model here, and will your fashions end up in the usual retailers?
Brian Garrett: The way I describe it, is it's a fashion, media, and commerce company. Allison made the statement earlier, which is that we will design and manufacture the first, collaborative brand of apparel. We intend to sell through direct to consumers using an e-commerce model. The model is not to have traditional retail distribution. We're disrupting the inefficiencies in the apparel industry today. Right now, most of the brands and most apparel design is done in a top down way. There's not a lot of true customer demand at any point in that process, to figure out what is on-trend and what is stylish. They're designing in a glass tower, and pushing that through a traditional wholesale and retail channel, and hoping to create demand from advertising. We're looking to flip that model on the head, and leverage the input and inspiration of consumers buying the product, and who you want to build brand loyalty from. They'll participate in trend identification and inspirations, which will lead to our designs.
Allison, how did you end up at the intersection of fashion and technology?
Allison Beal: I got obsessed with technology five years ago, and saw how people were building incredible companies out of non-tangible products. I also saw the first wave of e-commerce and fashion brand online. At first, it was--hey, this is fantastic, they have no retail and real estate issues, and this lets them sell much better options to consumers. But, what happened is there ended up wit hundreds and hundreds of SKUs, which overwhelmed online shoppers, and online shopping became cluttered. The next wave with the first baby steps in social shopping, like Gilt and other flash sales, ShoeMint, ShoeDazzle, the other Mint sites, subscription models. Those were all the first wave of social shopping. I think we're at a most exciting time, because the female fashion consumer is now spending a huge amount of time online. They're busy identifying and curating, and talking about and broadcasting their designers. It's the first time you could build something like StyleSant, where you can leverage that engagement online, and take it into something collaborative and driven from the bottom up.
Finally, what's next for your company?
Brian Garrett: We launched at Disrupt in New York, with what we call our media product. That's using us as a digital newsstand for style, and tapping into a global, contributing editorial base of people, who are building their own, digital stylebooks and magazines through our newsstand. We're now working on partnership, and consumer adoption of our media. We'll be focused on that for the next few months, until the next phase, which is the commerce site. Once we get the media up and running, and the audience participating, we'll use that to design our first product lines and collections under the StyleSaint brand. We'll also be announcing some interesting distrbution and mobile partnerships, to help us make this more global, before we drive the commerce side of this in the fall.