Oh look, another marketplace for used clothing. Here's why Forewillow is different

By Erin Griffith , written on November 15, 2012

From The News Desk

Good god there are a lot of people trying to disrupt Craigslist. But not many of them have succeeded in building the near-impossible -- a liquid online marketplace. Structuring one to serve the needs of both buyers and sellers is a very careful, tricky process. Marketplaces focused on secondhand apparel in particular are many, with a new site for buying and selling clothes online launching every week, it seems. Threadflip, Material Wrld, Refashioner, have all launched this year to serve their various target audiences. You'd think I'd get sick of writing about them.

Today you can add another one to the list: Forewillow. The site, targeting college-aged ladies, is not the best-designed of the crew, but it's got an innovative idea that might help it catch on. Instead of selling individual used articles of clothing, shoppers on Forewillow sell clothing by the bundle.

The company realizes that in the era of fast fashion, most women don't expect to make much money off their used clothing. How could they, on a $20 shirt from Forever21? They've only worn it once, but still. It's not exactly worth the trouble of photographing, describing, listing, selling and shipping on an individual basis. But surely someone out there might like it, so why not gather five or ten of them together and ship them to someone desiring a wardrobe refresh?

Users pay for the bundles in Forewillow's virtual currency, "pins," to make the process feel like less of a cold transaction and more like a freewheeling marketingplace. Pins, which equal around ten cents, can be cashed out at any time, founder Christina Moser says. Forewillow has a pricing calculator to help determine the cost of boxes; they're around $50 for five items or $70 for seven. The company takes a rich 17 percent cut of each transaction (for comparison, Threadflip takes 20 percent and Etsy takes 3.5 percent).

What I appreciate about the site is that it fosters more of a clothes sharing community than a transactional buyer-seller relationship. With social features built in, users can find their kindred clothing spirit and essentially swap clothes with her.

I saw this philosophy in action at an IRL clothing swap over the weekend. For several years now, a friend has hosted clothing swaps as a way for 10 or so of us girls to unload clothes we never wear and walk away with a few new (used) items. I realized that each of the dresses I'd picked from the giant pile of clothing came from my friend Monika's closet. That was the case last year, and the year prior, too. It makes sense: we're about the same size and I like her style. Different pairs of ladies have done the same thing over the years, too. We joked that we should streamline the process and just arrange for one-on-one closet raids between the most compatible pairs.

That's essentially what Forewillow does with its built-in social features. Users can "fave" each other to track new items posted. If I like (and fit into) one or two items from someone, I'm likely to like her whole closet. It's an interest graph bond, which is, according to the all-knowing social media gurus, stronger than the bonds we make with people we know IRL.

There's no stopping the other sites from adding a feature like this. Many of them have tried to build a community to take away the cold transactional feeling of a marketplace. Threadflip has "hearts," Material Wrld allows a curated set of users to post everything in their closets, regardless of whether its on sale. Refashioner allows users to tell a story about the couture they're selling.

But since they're all focused on single-item sales, they've largely ignored the voracious consumers of fast fashion. If there is a market for college ladies trading Forever21 shirts online, Forewillow will be the one to capture it.

Columbus, Ohio-based Forewillow is bootstrapped by Moser and a team of developers who've built it as a labor of love in their spare time.