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Start-Up Sells Luxury Items, Minus the Branding

Do people value top end craftsmen-ship or will they buy anything with a logo on it?

We all know that markups in luxury fashion can be ridiculously high. The journey from the factory to floor, gets items to be priced at higher than they cost.

Now E-commerce site Italic is betting that removing the branding and the mark-up will prove a hit with consumers. A big bet indeed!

The start-up’s members-only marketplace, which launched last Thursday, allows manufacturers that create products for luxury brands to sell directly to consumers without the LOGOs adding markups. Shoppers who pay a $120 annual membership fee can choose from a selection of unbranded luxury goods, from bags and wallets to prescription eyewear and leather jackets, produced by the same factories that count names like Prada, Givenchy, Celine and Burberry among their clients.

The company has raised $13 million in funding, from various top end investors. Over 100,000 people joined a waiting list to be notified when membership opens, with signups initially limited to the US, said company founder Jeremy Cai.

Upon launching, the platform will have nearly 60 styles live on the site, with a view to double this number by the end of the year. However, customers won’t find unbranded versions of the Gucci Dionysus bag or any of the latest Celine creations. All products sold on Italic will be unique and exclusive to the platform to avoid infringing on brands’ intellectual property / copyrighted designs.

The start-up joins a growing number of brands, including Everlane and Warby Parker, which provide a premium-feeling, minimally branded product at relatively affordable prices. Within the luxury sector, high-end retailers, including Mr Porter, Joseph and MatchesFashion, are expanding their private label collections, which tend to be priced below standard luxury fare.

Italic goes one step further, selling items that lack even the private label branding. The marketplace will instead focus on providing the infrastructure — from marketing, design and warehousing to customer support — to enable manufacturers to sell products directly. The company will take a commission on sales.

“We essentially do everything that brands do and more, but we do it for the manufacturers,” Cai said.

For example, Italic’s merchandising team will work with factories that have product and pattern libraries to tweak existing designs so they don’t mimic products already on the market. Italic also has two designers, alumni of Armani and Calvin Klein, to work with manufacturers that don’t have in-house creative teams.

“We are very careful about every single product that we sell being originally designed, you won’t find an exact product like it in the market,” Cai said. “We want breadth and coverage of a lot of different styles.”

Branding can be a powerful tool, especially in a sector like luxury, where purchases are emotional rather than practical. That’s especially true for “statement” products, like handbags.

“People buy branded products to be reassured of the quality and style of the item and also for their projected image: they somehow communicate to other people the style, sophistication and preferences of their owner,” said Mario Ortelli, managing partner of luxury advisors Ortelli & Co. “You want to feel and show that you are part of the brand story.”

But Cai doesn’t anticipate the manufacturers on Italic’s marketplace competing head to head with luxury brands.

“For a person who is going to buy a Gucci bag, we are never going to win them over with unbranded product,” he said. “That doesn’t mean in some avenue of their life, they wouldn’t be open to switching up their sheets or maybe a shirt, or a leather jacket, where they actually don’t like a logo on there.”

As well as geographical expansion and international shipping, the platform’s short term goals include expanding into product categories like activewear and beauty. The focus will remain on luxury, Cai said.

“The reason we want to start in luxury is because we can say to the customer: we can make premium product effectively and replace a lot of your aspirational shopping,” he said.


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YouTube has a New Fashion and Beauty Partnerships Division, just like Instagram

YouTube is forming a new division dedicated to fashion and beauty content partnerships, led by Derek Blasberg. The appointment comes less than a week after Instagram launched its long-form video app, IGTV, in a clear bid to compete with the Google-owned platform.With him, YouTube has found a popular, well-connected frontman to court fashion and beauty leaders. A former columnist and editor for Style.com, Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion and lifestyle publications for over a decade, Blasberg is leaving his role as the host of CNN Style on CNN International after two years and heading to YouTube full time. He will retain a role as a contributing editor at Condé Nast’s Vanity Fair, where he was appointed the title of Our Man on the Street in 2015.

Blasberg will be based in New York and is tasked with cultivating relationships with brands and high-profile people in the industry so that they will use the platform more often, more effectively and build audiences there. A different division at YouTube will continue to focus on fashion and beauty influencers who built their followings on the platform.

Instagram hired Eva Chen, the former editor-in-chief of Lucky Magazine, in 2015 to play a similar role as head of fashion partnerships at Instagram. Since then, the platform has deepened its connection with the fashion and beauty sectors by working with designers, brands, stylists, makeup artists and influencers to ensure they get the most out of Instagram. Chen’s team assists in creating content and helps these industry players engage with their audiences.

Blasberg is a smart hire, but he has his work cut out for him. Instagram has an outsized influence in the highly visual fashion world. The platform and its fashion partnerships team have become an active part of the industry scene, most recently sponsoring a table at the Met Gala and supporting tentpole events like the CFDA Awards by installing and running Instagram-friendly photo sets. With the launch of IGTV, brands and influencers have a new outlet for vertically aligned videos for up to one hour in length, edging closer to something more typically found on YouTube.

“Vertical video is ideal for fashion and it’s a format that younger audiences are really comfortable with,” said Jim O’Neill, principal analyst at Ooyala, a video and analytics technology company. “The whole idea of up to an hour-long option is potentially really big for Instagram influencers, more so than even brands.”

YouTube has some advantages, including a larger user base — 1.8 billion unique monthly visitors to Instagram’s 1 billion — who are already trained to search for videos on the platform. On YouTube, Chanel has 1.1 million subscribers; a recent campaign video for its Bleu de Chanel Parfum was seen 3.8 million times. On Instagram, where the house has 28.5 million followers, the same commercial was viewed 250,000 times in the feed post format.

“In this newly created role, Derek will collaborate with our incredible creators and diverse portfolio of brands to achieve even more success," said Merryman in a statement.

YouTube already has some fashion trailblazers: model Karlie Kloss launched her own channel, Klossy, in 2015 and now has over 700,000 subscribers. She recently released a series sponsored by Ford as part of a partnership with her nonprofit Kode with Klossy, that features her interviewing trailblazers in science and technology.

The platform is also more popular with younger users. According to a recent Pew Center study of teens ages 13 to 17, 85 percent of teens said they use YouTube — the most commonly used platform — while 72 percent said they use Instagram. In terms of frequency of use, 35 percent of respondents said they use Snapchat more than other social media platforms, while 32 percent use YouTube the most and only 15 percent use Instagram the most.

Chriselle Lim, a fashion and beauty influencer who is often found in the front row at fashion shows around the world, said YouTube is a better platform for her tutorials and narrative videos. She’s been posting on the platform for almost 10 years and said her Instagram audience (1.1 million followers) and YouTube audience (761,000 subscribers) are completely different, with the latter being younger.

“I don’t see YouTube going away because it has such a separate audience and community there,” she said.

Lim is interested to see if Instagram users actually watch longer videos on the platform, because she knows that many users flip through Instagram Stories quickly. “We are so used to quick, bite-sized content on Instagram and YouTube really is for the long-form,” said Lim. She is going to save her more highly produced content for YouTube for now, but adds that it’s too early to say how she will approach IGTV.

Deepica Mutyala, an influencer who got her start after a YouTube beauty tutorial she posted in 2015 went viral, said her audiences on both platforms are about the same size. But her YouTube viewers are more global and younger, and brands pay higher rates for branded video on the service than on Instagram, in part because the platform is better suited for high production quality content. (She has 192,000 subscribers on YouTube and 168,000 followers on Instagram.)

“[For brands], it’s not always about getting the views,” said Mutyala, adding that this might change with the launch of IGTV. But she hopes the vertical video format, which resembles a FaceTime video call, will be a place for looser, more experimental videos. “I naturally film with my phone vertically anyways.”

“[IGTV] is sort of making [Instagram] a one-stop shop,” she continued. “You’re getting YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook all in one.”

Versace sold!

Michael Kors ( Capri Holding ) is in the process of buying Italian fashion house Versace for a value of approximately $2.12 billion, including debt, the company announced on Tuesday. That's 2.5 times the brand's current revenue. The primarily cash deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019.

In a presentation released to investors, Capri Holdings, outlined its plans for Versace, including increasing its global retail footprint from 200 stores to 300, building out e-commerce and expanding men's and women's accessories and footwear.

Under the new organisation, John D Idol will remain chairman and chief executive of Capri Holdings and also chief executive of the Michael Kors brand. Versace chief executive Jonathan Akeroyd will continue on, as will creative director Donatella Versace.

“This is a very exciting moment for Versace,” she said in a statement, adding that her brother Santo and daughter Allegra's stake in Capri "demonstrates our belief in the long-term success of Versace and commitment to this new global fashion luxury group."

“I am proud that Versace remains very strong in both fashion and modern culture. Versace is not only synonymous with its iconic and unmistakable style, but with being inclusive and embracing of diversity, as well as empowering people to express themselves," she said. "Santo, Allegra and I recognise that this next step will allow Versace to reach its full potential."

This will position the accessible the conglomerate, which acquired high-end shoemaker Jimmy Choo in July 2017 for $1.2 billion, to take a bigger slice of the high-end luxury market.

Versace is a world-famous name part of popular culture, but has been struggling to grow its business of similar scale for years. With the brand running losses from the late 1990s to 2011, the family sold a 20 percent stake to Blackstone in 2014 — a deal that valued the fashion house at $1.4 billion.


What are the New Names to Know in Mens Fashion:

New brands like GmbH in Berlin to Grace Wales Bonner and Charles Jeffrey in London, Fengchen Wang and Xander Zhou in China, and Avoc and Y/Project in Paris are fresh, diverse and without any boundaries.

Two Editors at Vogue Step Down

The two top editors of Vogue, Phyllis Posnick, the executive fashion editor of Vogue stepped down alongside fashion director Tonne Goodman last week. They are considered the two most recognisable faces at any fashion show in New York.

It was announced by Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, that both Phyllis and Tonne will leave their staff positions and become contributing editors.

The position of fashion director will be taken up by Virginia Smith.

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