StyleSaint, the much buzzed-about fashion start-up that aims to bring content, community and commerce to its users, recently announced the close of its $4.3 million Series A round of financing (bringing the total amount invested in StyleSaint to $5.8 million), as well as the launch of its first apparel collection. Co-founded by 9-year fashion veteran Allison Beal and venture capitalist Brian Garrett, the site pulls design inspiration directly from the users of its community to create capsule collections, which are then sold on the site for between $30 and $200. The aim is to create luxury goods and sell them at about half of the average price, which StyleSaint says they can do by cutting out traditional costs like relying on third parties to sell their stock. We spoke with Beal to find out more about this cutting edge platform.
theFashionSpot: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Allison Beal: I've been in the fashion industry for almost 10 years now with a strong focus on brand. I love the process of creating a new world through design and connecting people through that shared interest. My grandmother always tells me that fashion is in my blood as her mother was an incredible designer and couturier. She opened her own shops in New York, Beverly Hills and Canada making custom gowns and clothing for socialites and starlets around the world. My mother is a plein air painter and my father is an entrepreneur, I feel really lucky to be a mix and have a passion for both.
tFS: How did you meet your co-founder Brian?
AB: Brian and I were introduced by a mutual friend and local angel investor Paige Craig. We met at a coffee shop in Brentwood for a quick meet and greet and ended up talking for hours. His ideas and thesis around the tech/fashion space were perfectly aligned with my ideas for StyleSaint so we naturally started putting some thoughts down on paper. That first meeting turned into many more meetings and by the end of it we had finished our plan and deck for the business.
tFS: How did the concept for the site come about?
AB: I've always had a strong belief that all creation is co-creation and my friends have been the sounding board/focus group for everything I’ve ever designed. That collaborative spirit fueled my passion for creating community first and foremost at StyleSaint. I would then hook those same friends up with insider, wholesale pricing on the items they inspired. Seeing how excited they were to own the clothing they had served as the muse fo—-and that they couldn’t normally afford at retail—really lit the light bulb for me. I dreamt of being able to scale that experience, so when I saw the cultural tide start to turn back towards an appreciation for locally and artisanally-made products, I knew it was time to make the move from accruing global inspiration on the website to transforming that inspiration into our first collection.
tFS: Starting a big venture like this must be overwhelming. Can you tell us about your first steps?
AB: I researched everything — from consumer changes and innovative online experiences that were driving those changes to local production cycles, anything I could to get to know our business before it was born. I also met with everyone I could in the tech/fashion space to better understand where they were planning on taking their business and what the landscape might look like in a year. I know a lot of entrepreneurs are scared about sharing their ideas before launching in fear that they may be stolen and I remember worrying about the same thing, but I needed honest feedback on my ideas and plans. One of my favorite quotes says it perfectly, "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throat," and boy is that true.
tFS: Is there something you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
AB: Hindsight is definitely 20/20 but there's a lot to be said about making mistakes and learning quickly. I have struggled a lot this past year with saying no to a lot of opportunities, potential hires and partnerships and now I know how important it was for our business to stay focused and on our own path. I'm still learning this process, but I wish I would have known that you will say no a lot more than you expected, and that that's okay.
tFS: Getting the word out and people to use the site must have been challenging. How did you go about this?
AB: It was exceptionally challenging to try and figure out how to market without spending a dime. We came up with a ton of great ideas and guerrilla campaigns, but at the end of the day we grew by personally reaching out to girls who inspired us and who we believed would love what we were building. It was as simple as taking the time to get to know others with shared interests and personally connecting with them.
tFS: Can you tell us about your design process?
AB: It's the most amazing thing to log-in every morning and have thousands of girls sharing the things that inspire them. It's a dynamic and ever-changing peek into people's minds and acts as our collaborative inspiration board for the StyleSaint Collection. I start by combing through the Tear Sheets that are most-loved within our community. I take my inspiration from the stories being told there, and then I ask myself three questions: 1) What can we do better than labels bound by retail markups? Meaning, can we create the garment in a fabric that would normally make it aspirational-only for our community? A silk maxi dress, for example, would cost upwards of 3x what we’re able to sell them for. 2) Does the item fit in the core of a girl’s closet? I’m trying to create pieces that are more classic than trend-based, so that they’ll forever remain in your closet. 3) Will the item work on a real woman’s body? Our community may love a certain photo to death, but the actual clothing pictured only looks good because it’s on a 6’ model with a 24” waist. I want to take the inspiration from that look and create something that flatters every body.
tFS: How did you come up with your price range?
AB: I knew I wanted to design and produce quality apparel. The kind of quality apparel that you fall in absolute love with at luxury boutiques and department stores until you see the price tag and cringe. So, I started there. I hired the best pattern-makers and sewers in town and got to work, draping and sewing and perfecting. Once we were done with the design process I met with factory after factory to see their working conditions and quality. When I had completed designing our first collection and found the perfect partners to manufacture it, only then did I start to talk pricing. I wanted to start with quality and craftsmanship first and see if I can make the pricing work, not the other way around. The crazy thing is, removing the retail markup and selling directly to consumers at wholesale pricing take away more than half off the cost. If I was to sell our $158 silk Augustine dress (our wholesale price) to retailers, it would retail upwards of $400. Ultimately, we're giving incredible value to our customers by delivering luxury apparel at Zara prices. I call it fashion utopia.
tFS: How often will you be introducing new designs?
AB: We will be introducing new designs every six weeks, a lofty goal that is crazy fun.
tFS: Can you tell us about some of the user-driven trends you are currently seeing emerge?
AB: Right now I'm seeing a ton of this prairie-rock look, which I love. Long sleeved, loose-fitted sheer silk chiffon dresses layered over a bodycon slip to rock it up a little. The elegant and somewhat sweet silhouette of the full dress makes it wearable for day-to-night, where the fun bodycon dress peeking through the sheer fabrics makes it a touch sexy and bring a little edge. Also, lace everything. Full lace looks with contrast lining to bring even more attention to the lace detailing.