Unsold inventory is a big issue for luxury fashion labels. While affordable and mid-range brands can make use of discounts and sales to try to get rid of excess stock, luxury brands avoid using this strategy out of fear of harming their image of exclusivity. British label Burberry has recently come under fire for burning millions of dollars worth of unsold goods in 2017. But they are far from being the only ones.
Luckily, there are startups coming up with ideas to solve this problem. FashionUnited recently spoke to Unmade, the British company offering a software that helps the fashion industry to move towards an on-demand supply chain model. But a different proposition is being offered across the pond, too. Meet Elevated Layers, a New York-based startup proposing luxury brands to offer excess stock to social media influencers, in a rotating model.
Founded by stylist Roxy Ortiz, the company offers a subscription-based service in which fashion influencers pay 2000 US dollars a year, plus an initiation fee of 95 dollars, to have access to four pieces of luxury clothing a month. That way, they can keep posting stylish pictures to their followers, without having to actually buy the clothes -- which would cost them a lot more.
This system is attractive for micro-influencers, those who do not have a massive following, but rather a small yet highly engaged audience. In a recent study by Launchmetrics with over 600 American and European marketing professionals in the fashion, luxury and beauty industries, 46 percent of surveyors said micro-influencers are the most valuable asset in order to reach a niche audience and gain real results. Even so, many luxury brands still restrict themselves to sending product samples to the biggest influencers, requiring micro-influencers to invest a great deal of their own money to be able to compete and pitch partnerships with the brands they wear. With Elevated Layers, they’d be able to “look the part” without breaking the bank or ordering products just to take a picture for social media and then return them -- a practice which is becoming more and more common.
Since Elevated Layers does not charge fashion companies to participate (they only have to make the clothes available), this allows them to kill two birds with one stone: in addition to putting unsold goods to use, labels promote their brand on social media for free. Elevated Layers will also share between 10 and 20 percent of its revenue with the brands, depending on the retail value of the items they offer, thus allowing fashion companies to earn extra money with influencer marketing.
Set to launch in the first week of September, right before New York Fashion Week, Elevated Layers has used the past few months to get prominent brands and influencers on board. For now, those who visit the company’s website can submit their email address to join a waitlist for membership.
FashionUnited spoke to Roxy Ortiz over the phone, to learn more about Elevated Layers’ business model and plans for the future.
How did this business idea come about?
I don’t think luxury brands necessarily want to destroy their products, but they do have a status to uphold. At the same time, many influencers want to make conscious fashion decisions. Elevated Layers provides them both with a solution. We give creators access to luxury in a more accessible and sustainable way, and allow brands to promote an ethical identity without having to risk their status or invest a lot of money.
But influencers do have to make an investment to join.
Yes, but they understand the value. 2000 US dollars may seem costly at the beginning, but if they were to spend 500 US dollars a month on clothing… So they do see the benefit of it. They don’t have to commit to the full value of these desirable items. In addition, they can tag the brands they wear on their social media posts, which helps them to negotiate sponsorships and partnerships with those labels. They are investing in their business.
How do you make sure subscribers’ follower count and content match the brands’ identity?
Each applicant goes through a screening process before being accepted. We ask them a series of questions about their style and business goals. Since Elevated Layers is focusing on the New York area for the moment, we can even meet many influencers personally to ask them what sustainability means to them and how our service can best serve them. It’s been great meeting them. I almost feel like some of them confide in me, they tell me things they wouldn’t say in public, such as “I hate the process of this, but I have to keep my followers happy”.
Those influencers you’ve been meeting, are they the ones who subscribed to the waitlist, or are you also pitching your company to relevant creators?
A little bit of both. We’re working with 24 influencers at the moment, 40 percent of which don’t have to pay for their subscription. I’m offering them the service for free just to get the word out.
And how many brands are you working with?
Six, including Stella McCartney, A.L.C and Helmut Lang. We aim to get it up to 25 by the next New York Fashion Week, which is set to take place in February. I think the timing is perfect: a lot of brands want to get rid of stuff after the holiday season, so we can just meet them and say ‘hello, how can we help you?’ [laughs]. We’re going for more sustainable brands which consistently do sample sales in New York. Of the brands we work with, Stella McCartney is particularly open to new entrepreneurs. Their showroom’s team is very excited about working with influencers.
You call it rotation model instead of rental. Why?
I think ‘rental’ is a dated word. It also carries a negative connotation. Even though the rental market has evolved immensely, with Rent the Runway being the biggest example of success, people still don’t want to admit they rented something. That’s why we say we rotate fashion, rather than saying we rent clothes. We also make sure to approach luxury brands by saying “we’re not a rental company, we’re an exclusive subscription service”.
How does it work in practice? Does Elevated Layers keep the clothes, or do they stay in the company’s showroom?
We don’t ask for a crazy amount of items, we ask between 30 and 50 pieces per rotation, so brands are very open to housing them in their showroom. It’s like a library. Influencers can go there and mix and match the pieces that best fit their style. We make sure to expand the offer every 180 days (when they renew their sample sales) to keep the catalogue fresh.
Brands can also earn money via commissions, right?
Yes, although it’s not meant to be a revenue source per se. It’s more of an incentive -- 10 to 20 percent, depending on retail value. They can also choose to donate their commissions to us, so we transfer the money to an environmental charity of their choice.
Basically, we’re trying to make everyone happy, and educate both companies and influencers. We’re guiding them to take steps towards sustainability.
Photos: courtesy of Elevated Layers