Lyst comes out of the closet to open up high fashion

While the retail or ‘high street’ fashion world has been gradually populated by startups looking to create communities of fashion lovers (such as WIWT), the more rarified world of high fashion has remained largely untouched by online. This is an anomaly, because if there is one thing to be said about high fashion it’s that it has passionate followers. Done right, that ought to translate into passionate users of online services.

Lyst, a startup founded by Chris Morton, Sebastjan Trepca and Devin Hunt, is gaining traction with high fashionistas and looking to achieve just that. It’s latest enhancement – launched to coincide with London Fashion Week – is designed to allow fashion fans to be alerted as soon as clothes on the catwalk become available to purchase, usually some weeks later.

All major fashion house have runway shows these days, but you can’t by those clothes for months. So Lyst’s new Runway tracking feature will add an item to a list and as soon as an item of clothing comes on sale at a store, anywhere in the world, you’ll get an alert.

The startup raised a £950,000 seed round in November last year from Accel, SPA, Ventrex, Angels in New York and London, although the funding was not announced at the time. It’s now putting that war chest to good use with a public Beta which came out this May.

With many high fashion designers coming online, often with sites which might look good but don’t have any kindo of social feeds, users are unable to follow all the designers they want. So Lyst has scrapped these sites for information.

To create that luxurious high fashion experience, they scrape the original large images of the clothes, which are usually hidden behind badly designed Flash sites. The data is then structured it and into a taxonomy.

Out of this, and to build engagement and virility, they created something like a Twitter for fashion. People can follow people or fashion brands and that goes into a feed.

It’s all about adding context to products – people will see someone added a shirt that’s recommended by a friend, or the editor of vogue. This act of curating builds a wish list. Anything you add to your list is then tracked, telling you where to buy them or where they are available. This harvests the intent to buy as well as generating the intent to buy.

Lyst is less about gaming, and more positioned as a tool.

Whereas Netaporter tackled more mainstream fashion, Polyvore is about chatting. Lyst has technically combined the two with community and a pure affiliate model.

Lyst also has just one way of making money – on a commission basis. So if they don’t generate a sale their partners don’t pay anything. That incentisivises them to make the site as engaging as possible for users.

Users are now in the “tens of thousands” and have double in the last month, says Morton.

So it looks like Lyst has a chance of taking on the £50 billion high fashion industry, and perhaps democratising a normally impenetrable world.