SAN FRANCISCO Staying streamlined goes hand in hand with growth for wearable art start-up Vida.

In the 11 months since its launch in November with $1.3 million in venture funding and 75 original designs from 23 artists, the San Francisco-based start-up has increased its portfolio to some 10,000 designs from creators that hail from 500 cities in 150 countries. Each week brings an average of 500 new designs, uploaded image files from the fine artists, sculptors, painters and photographers who use the site to turn their work into garments and receive 10 percent of the net sales.

Designs and participating artists have swelled largely due to the March rollout of Vida Voices, a platform that allows artists to sign up and sell through a dedicated page on the site. Once a design receives three preorders, it goes into production and is ready in about 30 days. Vida handles the digital printing, manufacturing and order fulfillment for artists.

“We always had that vision of creating a platform where artists and creatives from all over the world can convert a vision into a design product,” founder and chief executive officer Umaimah Mendhro said.

At the same time, the 15-person company has limited its in-house e-commerce offerings to a handful of silhouettes and small, buy-now collections that showcase handpicked artists’ work and are ready to ship within 48 hours.

On Tuesday, the company will unveil silk dresses that will retail from $95 to $115. Last month, the site began selling silk Ts priced at $65. Scarves, a silk top and two knit top styles are also available. Along with limited product offerings and minimal inventory thanks to its preorder model for artists, Vida works directly with fabric suppliers, digital printers and cut-and-sew manufacturers in Mendhro’s native Pakistan, as well as in Sri Lanka and India.

Also expanding is Vida’s literacy program for workers. Set up as a pilot in Pakistan in collaboration with Literate Pakistan, the program, said Mendhro, costs the company about $15 a worker for three months of training in reading and basic math skills. Efforts to bring the same program to additional factories are under way, the company said.

“What we wanted to do is give back in a way that’s sustainable and actually has a long-term impact on their life and is empowering. From a business perspective…our literacy programs are a three-month crash course. That is a onetime expense for our company,” said Mendhro, who grew up in Pakistan with a home-schooled education before attending Cornell and, later, Harvard Business School.

As demand grows, the start-up plans to extend production into additional facilities in the United States, Latin America and Europe this year. While the company declined to comment on sales growth, revenue or how many designs go into production, Mendhro did say that online conversion rates for popular artists with established followings such as Karen Waldron can go into production within minutes of hitting the site and reach conversion rates of 35 to 40 percent.

“We’re doing it in a way that there’s no risk to the artists to participate. It’s additive to what they’re doing, there’s only the upside,” Mendhro said.





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