“Allison is our unicorn,” says Brian Garrett, co-founder of Los Angeles fashion content curation startup StyleSaint. Allison, in this case, is his edgy fashionista co-founder Allison Beal. “She’s 100 percent the voice of our brand and [with more than nine years in the industry] has the business acumen and experience to back it up.”
StyleSaint is one of many companies looking to blur the lines between content and commerce. Garrett and Beal’s venture launched in beta in May of 2012 as a beautified, digital image pinning platform for women (and some men) to create fashion tear sheets around their favorite styles.
Today, the company is evolving into more of an editorial product with the launch of StyleSaint Magazine, and a companion content creation and consumption mobile app launched in partnership with Nokia and Microsoft. The moves are the final steps ahead of StyleSaint introducing a community-inspired fashion line, expected in the first quarter of 2013.
The service is a direct reflection of Beal’s passion for finding and sharing the best styles with an audience across the Internet, something she began doing by hand as a young girl, and then for the first time online while an aspiring undergraduate design student. Beal then began hand-making her favorite items for her and her friends.
As we previously wrote about the founder in our “High Tech Fashionistas” PandoList, “She didn’t have much of a choice in her profession. Based on her family history I think it’s safe to say that fashion is in her blood.”
Over the last five plus months, the company has amassed nearly 5,000 contributors that are regularly creating content on the site. Garrett describes these contributors as the “Allison” in their group of girlfriends, the person to whom others turn for fashion advice and inspiration. While the numbers are small at this early stage, StyleSaint’s audience is overwhelmingly active as creators, compared to the majority of those on other platforms, such as Pinterest and Twitter, who primarily consume.
Nearly all users create regularly, says Garrett, but the top 5 percent of Saints spend 48 minutes on the site per visit, view 88 pages per visit, and visit the site 22 times per month. In spite of the fact that they’re seemingly on the site all day long, Allison and her small team can’t even crack the list of top contributors. In total, more than 152,000 tear sheets have been created, a number that grew 400 percent between August and September of this year.
Of these uber-contributors, StyleSaint received more than 1,000 applications from would-be community editors and selected some 233 individuals who are the site’s secret weapon. In Reddit-like fashion, this volunteer labor force has a tremendous sense of ownership and pride in their position, and has created more than 4,500 magazines curated from the community tear sheets. Beal has even seen some listing the title of “Editor” on their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, as well as adding “Saint” to their Twitter handles, a la the company’s founder.
One of the secrets to this growth has been the company’s embeddable and socially enabled content creation platform – for which it has received three patents. The tool was developed to allow creators to pin StyleSaint tear sheets on their personal blogs, social media pages, and anywhere else across the web. The impact has been noticeable, even attracting celebrity style-icons such as Rachel Zoe to the platform.
“We’ve really created an industry tool,” says Beal. Unlike Pinterest and other user-generated content platforms, StyleSaint is about design above all else, allowing brands and influencers to create beautiful, professional-grade content at no cost.
The newly introduced StyleSaint magazine is a platform that allows StyleSaint’s community of contributors to identify and share upcoming trends, which will then appear in future fashion collections. When consumers do buy products from the site, they’ll receive beautiful educational and editorial content as well, helping them to best wear the new styles.
At the end of the day, StyleSaint is an aspirational fashion brand that hopes to be higher quality than the likes of Forever 21 and H&M, or their online competitors JustFab and ShoeDazzle, and more approachable than popular online 90’s punk brand Nasty Gal. Because StyleSaint is made up of contributors and community editors around the world, expect the fashion line to have a global perspective.
StyleSaint raised a $1.5 million seed round from Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst, Crosscut Venture Partners (where Garrett is a founding partner), and ShoeDazzle founder and CEO Brian Lee. The company has poured most of this into technology and is preparing to raise a Series A round to build out its fashion line.
Starting next year, the company plans to create timely capsule collections of trendsetting styles, with an average of five new items being introduced every two weeks. Items in categories, including accessories, tops, bottoms, and dresses, will range in price from approximately $30 to $200.
Beal promises that StyleSaint’s merchandise will be of higher quality than any of the well-known ecommerce companies launching in recent years – although she declined to name specific examples. One reason this is not as crazy as it sounds is that Beal and Garrett’s founding advisor is Brian Weitman, CEO of apparel supply company STC-QST, who both describe as being the No. 1 fashion manufacturer in Los Angeles.
Weitzman personally owns interests in factories in North America, South America, and Asia, meaning the company will be one of the few able to purchase directly from factories. While many manufacturers claim to purchase factory direct, the truth is that they use purchasing agents and have neither the expertise nor the connections to source the best materials and the best factories on the budgets.
What this means for StyleSaint is that the company will operate at 60 to 70 percent margins without sacrificing quality. The company also has the flexibility to produce the infamous but typically unavailable “limited runs” that other ecommerce entrepreneurs dream about.
Online brand building is about loyalty, repeat visits, and conversion. StyleSaint has built one of the stickiest and most viral platforms underlying any online fashion brand. Given Beal’s experience in the fashion industry and Garrett’s as an investor and advisor to other ecommerce companies, it’s not a stretch to see the founders continuing to pull the right levers going forward. That said, ecommerce is among the most competitive and fickle of all startup businesses. If StyleSaint succeeds, it will be largely due to the influence and power of its early community.
[Image courtesy Stylesaint]