I can’t say I know a whole lot about fashion. But, having accidentally walked into a few boutiques over the years, I’ve gathered one thing: it’s expensive. And I’m told it’s also a very competitive market — designers vie to have their products manufactured by clothiers, who in turn have the question of whether consumers will actually buy their products looming large. These clothing companies do have outlets like Gilt Groupe in case they wind up with excess inventory, but there’s always significant risk involved whenever a new item is produced.
Now Y Combinator-funded startup Fabricly wants to reverse and improve the model, by crowdsourcing designs and using a voting process to only manufacture pieces that people actually want, all while saving customers a bundle. The company also has some funding news to announce: it’s recently raised a seed round of $400,000 from Atomico Ventures.
Here’s how it works: first, designers submit their product ideas to the site; depending on the product, it will either become part of a ‘competition’ where users vote on which item they like best, or it will go straight to a ‘pre-order’ stage. Note that it doesn’t simply go on sale — there’s a pre-order process that acts a bit like Groupon’s deals. When you place a pre-order the site will take down your credit card information, but you’ll only get charged if a certain number of people also pre-order the item, at which point Fabricly has it manufactured. If this threshold is not met, then the order is canceled.
Assuming the tipping point is reached, Fabricly then works with factories in Los Angeles and New York to have their items produced (founder Ari Helgason says you can expect to get something you’ve ordered within a few weeks). Because these goods are being produced on demand, Fabricly doesn’t have excess inventory to deal with, and Helgason says that users can also expect steep discounts, because it doesn’t have to maintain any retail outlets either. Each time a designer’s item is purchased, they receive a 5-15% commission. And Helgason says this model opens the doors to tapping into undiscovered talent:
The unwillingness of buyers (retailers) to take risks means that many great designs never get produced. In my experience going around fashion trade shows over the years buyers wait for a few seasons before placing orders to see if the designer stays in business and can consistently deliver on time, even when their products are great and likely to sell. Often designers give up before they get a chance to prove themselves.
This model could potentially be disruptive, but it’ll need to attract both designers and customers, which, as always, is no given. It’s still much too early to tell how much traction Fabricly will get— Helgason says that the site currently has nine items available for pre-order, but they won’t ship til late December. After that things will pick up, and it has a handful of designers that will be added in January.