By  on November 12, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO — Vida is harnessing the power of the Internet and digital printing to democratize art through fashion.

The latest entrant into the so-called maker movement, the wearable-art e-commerce start-up, which launches on Wednesday, produces apparel featuring works by a variety of artists from around the world, including painters, sculptors and photographers. The artists  capture their work on digital files and upload them to a platform provided by Vida; then, using digital printers to transfer the scanned digital images onto fabric in 45 seconds, the company turns out tops and scarves that sell for $40 to $95. The artists receive 10 percent of the retail price when goods with their art are sold.

“We want this to be a platform where millions of designers come and make something into a real, physical product that can get in the hands of customers — and there is no risk and no cost for them to do that,” said Umaimah Mendhro, cofounder and chief executive officer of Vida. “We want that platform to be one where shoppers can come and say, ‘I am going to get something that is somebody’s original idea and vision,’ and find these beautiful products that they can feel proud of.”

At the outset, Vida has teamed up with around 200 artists. Barcelona-based watercolor artist Maria Virginia, for example, took advantage of Vida to create a $75 cashmere blend scarf with a vibrant print portraying Spanish flowers. Turkish fashion designer Cigdem Keskin transformed a drawing depicting a satellite photo of morning in Times Square into a $65 silk T-shirt. San Francisco photographer Jennifer Corrales incorporated her photograph of a historic Myanmar building into a micromodal scarf, which sells at Vida for $40.

Vida keeps prices low by cutting middle men out of the supply chain and holding little inventory, Mendhro explained. The company has partnered with the apparel brands Sania Maskatiya and FnkAsia to make its merchandise in their factories. “We start with very small quantities that we can show the customer, but we believe in manufacture per demand, meaning that we would carry no more than one to two weeks’ worth of inventory, and the rest is only produced once we know that this design is what people want,” said Mendhro, noting that Vida’s business model nets “very healthy” gross margins.

Mendhro, 36, asserted that Vida’s merchandise appeals to her peers who don’t want to feel remorse when they purchase. She said the factories Vida uses pay living wages to their employees, and Vida pledges to support literacy classes for scarf makers in Karachi for every 15 scarves they produce. Mendhro said her generation doesn’t “need more stuff in our closets. We are not trying to fill voids. We are trying to be conscious about everything we bring in.” Describing Vida’s probable customers, she continued, “They are global. They are inquisitive. They are cultured, and they love a beautiful piece that tells a story and helps them stand out.”

Mendhro, who was a director of product management at Microsoft and a managing director at West, the creative agency led by Allison Johnson, former Apple vice president of marketing communications, founded Vida with chief technology officer Cameron Preston, previously a software engineer at Stella & Dot, and Alexandra Day Golden, a former online merchandiser for Gap. Vida has raised $1.3 million in a seed round from investors such as Google Ventures, Universal Music Group, Slow Ventures, Jesse Draper, Beehive Holdings and The Valley Fund.

Doreen Lorenzo, an adviser to Vida and president of Quirky, which assists inventors in bringing their ideas to life, said Vida is an intriguing concept because it taps into an underrepresented  community and makes its work widely available while carrying out a social mission. “Without the social-good part, it can be a profitable business. With the social-good part, it adds so much more,” she said. “You have a lot of people who want to do good and don’t know how to, and this is a wonderful way to do that. You see it with Toms. There is a model out there that works, and Vida is taking it to a whole other level.”

Google Ventures partner Dave Munichiello agreed. He said, “Vida’s approach to e-commerce connects shoppers directly with designers and makers to create unique pieces, at scale. Umaimah and her team have tapped into an emerging trend where consumers favor options that allow them to feel more deeply engaged with the people who design and create the products they use every day.”

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