Hoot.com is a new online retailer with an old-school sensibility.
Rather than taking the fast-fashion approach of creating thousands of products as cheaply as possible, which usually involves overseas production, Hoot.com’s in-house designs are manufactured in New York City’s Garment District. The collection of essential pieces has a “few-of-a-kind appeal,” said Neil Rasmus, the site’s chief executive officer.
“This small-batch mentality...gives us complete control over styles and allows us to react quickly to customer feedback,” said Ian O’Brien, head of operations. “You can also experiment more.”
Special editions of signature designs will be introduced on a monthly basis.
“We have a lot of experience working with factories in the U.S. and abroad,” said Rasmus, who cofounded Izola, a Web site that aims to bring great design to everyday objects and tools. He also cofounded the Billy Farrell Agency, the stable of photographers. “We felt strongly about making the product here. The quality is amazing. We love the idea of a small batch of limited-run and limited-edition pieces. You could never do that if you were working with someone across the world,” he noted.
Hoot.com has no illusions about the Garment District. “Designers know it can be difficult,” Rasmus said. “That’s why we wanted to do the direct retail model. If we wanted to go into a wholesale model with this price point, it would be difficult. Small-run production is not for a wholesale business. I can’t imagine getting into the fashion industry at the wholesale level. We love controlling the experience and editorial slant.”
Hoot.com was envisioned as a small boutique with apparel, notebooks and candles. Now, there is also jewelry, accessories, stationery and a category called Guest House, which features hostess gifts such as a bamboo toothbrush set and happy-hour coasters. “We’re putting a strong emphasis on creative buying and purposeful merchandising,” Rasmus said. “Behind the scenes, we’re doing deep, organic, ingenious marketing.”
Hoot.com’s target customer is an intrepid woman of an unspecified age. “We figured out ways to segment the customers pretty well,” O’Brien said. “We know who we’re going after. The customer has the same ethos as the clothing. This is not so much about age but the type of woman.” Rasmus said he was inspired by Diane von Furstenberg. “I love her style,” he said. “Whatever her age, our woman is burnt out by fast fashion, and, as wonderful as online shopping is, it can be overwhelming.”
Patrik Rzepski, creative director of apparel and aesthetics, said, “We aim for a very sharp, modern aesthetic. I’m all about discreet details. If it’s not flashy, the garment itself can do the talking. I love the idea of a modern uniform, such as a crepe-de-chine shirtdress. For me, it’s the fit and silhouette.”
Prices for Hoot.com apparel range from $48 for a navy chevron T-shirt to $209 for a charcoal shirt jacket. A shirtdress in poppy or black is $189 and a side-snap sweatshirt is $89. Jewelry includes a 24-karat gold-plated brass Calder cuff for $205 and Facet hoop earrings for $154. Sunglasses are $265 to $297, Fleabag’s Alice knapsack is $345, and a ballet tote lists for $145.
Rzepski designed his own collection and worked for several fashion houses in Milan before joining Hoot.com. “Going direct and vertical, it’s amazing how little overhead we have,” he said. “We’re able to deliver at a price. The quality of the jersey fabric from Italy and everything is so high. There are certain things I have to have quality-wise. I don’t get any pushback. To have that free rein has been great.”
The name “Hoot,” which conjures up the idea of a good time, was chosen because it can travel around the world, Rasmus said. “The Hoot woman is rooted in New York City style and culture, but she will be in Tokyo, Johannesburg, Berlin and London. We want this ethos to spread across the world and be universally recognized. Our intentions for the launch may not seem grandiose, but we do mean business.” For a company with a timeless philosophy, physical stores are a must. “We all love the idea of connecting with customers in the personal way that brick-and-mortar provides. That will be a natural progression for us,” Rasmus said.
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