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Startups that aim to change the way people buy clothes: Curated Crowd

By Marjorie van Elven


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This week, FashionUnited presents five startups that aim to change the way people buy clothing and accessories. Young consumers are demonstrating a growing interest in sustainability, social justice, and personalization. At the same time, technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality are expected to reshape the fashion retail landscape. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a rising number of startups combining some of these trends are being launched around the world.

Yesterday, we featured an interview with Jessie Zeng, co-founder of Choosy, an e-commerce platform that identifies fashion trends on Instagram and manufactures new collections based on these trends every two weeks. Today, FashionUnited talks to Ada Yi Zhao, founder of Curated Crowd.

Launched in 2017 and based in London, Curated Crowd offers emerging fashion designers a platform to increase their visibility via a website that unites crowdfunding and e-commerce. A curator panel selects young designers to join the platform and once accepted, they get their own dedicated space on Curated Crowd’s website, where they can sell products directly to consumers or raise money for new collections via crowdfunding. Most items available for purchase are either limited-edition or made to order.

Ada Yi Zhao is an ex-investment banker who worked for over 10 years at banks such as Lehman Brothers and Barclays. Fashion was an interest she only dedicated her spare time to, until the difficulties of young designer friends inspired her to set up her own business.

Where did your idea for Curated Crowd come from?

"The initial idea came to me when I was helping two designer friends set up their independent label, after working for big fashion houses for years. I was surprised by the financial costs required when you set up an independent label, partly due to the old fashion merchandising system. I saw the inefficiencies and long negative cash flow circle they had to deal with, so I wanted to help change that."

"I also noticed the disruptive power digitalization has been having over the fashion industry. So many exciting brands have popped up in the last 5 years, probably more so than in the last 50 years. You can start a label in London today and be the most popular designer in Italy tomorrow. Platforms like Instagram connect people to what interests them in fashion. In addition, consumers are no longer strictly divided by luxury price-point items versus high-street priced items. The middle ground becomes more exciting each day, thanks to a surge in emerging designers that produce limited numbers of mid-range pieces."

"So, after considering all of these factors, I wanted to build a space that allows consumers to find those exciting pieces by new designers. Instagram designers exist in a silo -- I might find someone I love, but how can I find others like this person? It ends up being more about luck, and I think designers who choose to strike out independently deserve more than just luck. So I created Curated Crowd to give them a new way to launch their labels, with a lower entry level price point, as well as direct access to their customer base. Not only is it a place to find and buy from new designers, it’s also a place to learn about their history, work and future."

Curated Crowd’s about page begins with some rather strong statements. It says creative people are often treated like industrial machinery, that consumers follow the same trends blindly and that the industry is marked by insensible pricing. That’s quite critical...

"Yes, they are direct statements. We believe that you have to be bold and say what everyone is thinking in order to engender change. Fashion is the second biggest polluter in the world. We want to support people who design and produce on a small scale, as it’s less stressful for the planet, the clothes are designed to last longer and quite often the designers we work for actively promote social and environmental causes.

”The industry has only become what it is today because of us and it’s our responsibility to ensure it becomes more sustainable”

The creativity of designers is often diluted when they work for fashion houses which are predominantly dominated by the bottom line. But things don’t have to be this way. In fact, studies show that when a brand cares about its values, and the main focus isn’t about money, it ends up making more profit.

The industry has only become what it is today because of us and it's our responsibility to ensure it becomes more sustainable. Fashion is inherently a creative and interesting industry, and consumers are beginning to expect an increase in artistry and craftsmanship. They are also thinking more and more about their impact on the planet, and where their clothes come from. We have to consider what they want.

Does it work to have 52 throwaway micro trends released in shops every year, or is it better to wait until a designer unveils their latest collection? Questions about how we deal with anticipation, creativity and longevity require thought and action from the whole industry. That is why we want to be purveyors of change.”

What are the criteria used to select a designer to be featured on Curated Crowd?

"We always speak or meet with the designers to get to know them on a personal level. There is no set formula for being selected by us, but we follow the same approach an art gallery curator would use. We verify the provenance of the designers, the vision and inspiration of their designs, the price and the quality of the pieces, and the brand’s long-term growth potential. We also look at how well the brand is presenting itself visually and literally across all platforms. If we see that a designer performs strongly in certain areas, but is weak in others, we offer our consultancy service to get them ready to launch on our platform."

Why did you decide to include a crowdfunding area on the website?

"We believe in bringing back the traditional 1960’s artist-patron model into modern day fashion. So far, patrons have given relatively large sums of money so our designers can create unique pieces. Those pieces are featured in their collections later on. This way, the research and development phases are funded in their entirety, making it much easier for the designers to bring out new items."

It must be tough to compete with online giants like Asos, Zalando, Farfetch etc. What is your strategy to promote Curated Crowd in such a crowded market?

”Our business agenda is cultural: we want to disrupt an industry that has been slow to react to digitalisation over the years, in order to re-ignite the very thing that made it special 60 years ago. We aim to recreate the experience of going to a fashion house and having a designer create specific pieces just for you. But we also want this to be an affordable luxury, especially in an age where experiences are so coveted. So, in summary, we aim to be different and stay true to our vision.

Our main goals are to form strategic partnerships, and streamline current design, production and selling practices. This way, we can offer the best support to our designers, who in turn can pass on savings to their customers”

”We want to disrupt an industry that has been slow to react to digitalisation and re-ignite the very thing that made it special 60 years ago”

Curated Crowd has also organized a few events around the world. Tell us a little more about that.

"We are an online platform but fashion items are real, emotional things, and we love to see people trying them on. We’ve had 6 events in the past 6 months in London and Beijing, to bring the designers closer to their customers. We are also present at industry events such as London Fashion Week and AdWeek Tech X."

Any plans on having a pop-up store, or permanent brick and mortar store in the future?

"We should be opening our inaugural pop-up atelier this summer in London. Our plan is to do a pop-up every few months at different locations around the world, each time with a different curation of designers."

Tomorrow: Universal Standard, the plus size brand that has the customers’ back if their weight fluctuates. Stay tuned!

Pictures: courtesy of Curated Crowd

Curated Crowd