FASHION CROWDFUNDING INSIGHTS: CURATED CROWD
Founded and helmed by Ada Y. Zhao, Curated Crowd is a brand new online platform merging crowdfunding and e-commerce, dedicated to help emerging designers raise funds and successfully launch their brands. This is possible through their newly introduced designer-patron model: Curated Crowd has eliminated the traditional middleman, allowing fashion patrons to directly connect with designers and buy their collections. In exchange for their financial support, patrons enjoy benefits, such as previews, access to purchase limited-edition items and preordering.
Besides sales, the platform has also incorporated consultancy services, like business planning, omnichannel strategy, production, sourcing, expansion to China, and investment sourcing. Today, the company works with a number of consultants with first-hand experience in the industry – see Marianna Satanas, vice president of e-commerce at DKNY and former head of e-commerce at Mr Porter and Michelle De Conto, business support adviser at the British Fashion Council, among others; We caught up with the founder, who is also a member of the BFC Fashion Trust, to discuss their young venture, as they prefer for their official launch.
Tell us a few words about your background and what you were doing before launching Curated Crowd.
I started my career in investment banking with Lehman Brothers in 2005. Having spent 11 years after that, I realized that something was missing, as my passion and interests were about fashion and collaborating different networks together. The idea of Curated Crowd formed over two years, when I saw huge technological changes in the finance and other industries. Companies, including SoundCloud and Airbnb, disrupted the industry through a digital movement, and I wondered what else and where else can this be done. From there, I founded Curated Crowd in March 2016, and launched in January 2017.
Have you built up an “ideal-candidate” profile – both for designers and patrons?
For designers, we have been working closely with British Fashion Council and Central St Martins. But we want to be open and inclusive to everyone which is why our online platform (www.curated-crowd.com) is open for application to all designers around the globe. For us, it’s the unique brand stories and authenticity which interests us – whether it is the designer, product or project – for instance, what is the cause, is it truly unique and does it make an impact on society? These are the designer candidates we’re looking to work with.
For our fashion patrons, it’s important that they know we’ve used the word “patron” deliberately. It doesn’t need to be someone with deep pockets; it can be anyone who is passionate about fashion, beyond the simple meaning of a commodity – they believe fashion is a median through which people can express their view about the world! With their desire and love for fashion, fashion patrons can give back to the most important player in the industry – the emerging designers – by financially supporting them through crowdfunding. By cutting out the traditional middleman, Curated Crowd enables designers to access more direct funding and engage with their end consumers. At the same time, fashion patrons will no longer need to pay the traditional high mark up, as they get to know brands and designers personally.
Could you please discuss how your platform marries e-commerce and crowdfunding?
We do reward-based crowdfunding, which means for every penny put in, the patron get something back. Then, as soon as the project is successful (the funds have been raised), the designer will sell on our online “showroom,” i.e. the marketplace part of our site. For those who don’t reach their target, they will still have the chance to sell, because we want to give everyone a chance and opportunity to succeed.
I believe you are the first to introduce the idea of “fashion patrons,” who will provide the funds in order for collections to go live, but how can you ensure that the products will be successful with the wider public, as well? Is that aspect important to you?
The definition of our “fashion patrons” is not the traditional concept of patrons (which refers to wealth). Ours is a concept of inclusion – everyone can be a patron, because the more that is invested to the designers the higher chance they have to be successful. That power lies with the public and patrons, so, yes, it is hugely dependant on the wider public. This is very important, as, for us, as a brand it’s all about inclusion, diversity and the user “fashion patron” experience and journey.
You currently work with a group of renowned advisers. How hard was bringing together a qualified team and how did you convince them to be part of a young endeavor?
It was really hard work to get this far; there is no secret behind that. But I have learnt through experience, and this time the most important thing is to be humble and genuine towards people, and don’t miss any opportunity to reach out. No matter who they are, people will always have time for you – whether it’s five minutes or an hour. But do your research beforehand, find out how they can help you and how you can approach them from a unique angle. Ultimately, people who believe in you and the idea will want to be part of the journey.
Tell us about spreading the word out about Curated Crowd and attracting partnerships in the beginning. Were you the ones to reach out to the designers at first?
In the beginning, we did everything ourselves. At the time, I was also helping out two designers who were starting up; I told them about Curated Crowd, and they loved the idea and concept, so spread the word. Now, we have social media, networking and outreach through our connections, marketing and PR, as well as our online platform which is open for designers to submit their projects direct to us. But everything is all down to hard work and a lot of effort, of course!
Which aspects of your project are you focusing on while preparing for your official launch?
I can’t pinpoint one, but the most important aspect to me when starting up any business is the people. It’s so important to have the right team and support them, show them the progress, celebrating the highs and working together on the lows. We wouldn’t be where we are without the team we have.
Crowdfunding has been a very popular trend during the last years, favored particularly by young designers trying to make it in the industry. Do you believe that ultimately there is room for all of them?
Crowdfunding is a concept with no end, which has grown so much in the last ten years. From young to old, every business is run on a tight cash flow, especially in the fashion industry where the traditional systems and values are being challenged constantly – from the surging direct-to-consumer emerging fashion brands to the appointment of Edward Enninful at British Vogue, you can just feel that revolution is in the air!
Curated Crowd is here to disrupt the old system by cutting out the middlemen with the power of digitalization and social media; so no matter at which stage a designer’s business is at, we can always help them connect with the end-consumer, i.e. just like the golden days of fashion, where designers connect with the fashion patrons directly. This was the gap in the market we saw.
I do believe that by leveraging on the power of social media and the democratic funding model – e.g. crowdfunding – emerging designers are empowered more than ever before to launch their own brand and to reach the world audience. So, yes, I do believe there is room for a lot more emerging designers than ever before!
I feel that in London everyone is supportive of young talent. Will you take your project globally?
Absolutely! London is definitely the place for emerging designers, but it doesn’t mean we won’t take Curated Crowd globally. The great thing about a digital platform is that it can always be global, and I’d like to think we are already global – we are receiving designer applications from all over the world every day, and so are our patron signups! Ultimately, Curated Crowd is about the power of the people worldwide.
What are your future plans within the industry?
Images © Curated Crowd