A professional with production and buying savvy and a pro-cyclist-turned-e-commerce-whiz seem an unlikely pairing to found a contemporary online boutique.
However, Sharona Cohen and Nave Avimor have been building their online boutique Genuine People since its launch in 2014, drawing inspiration from their visits to Shanghai, Seoul, Beijing and Hong Kong. They’re now turning their focus to growth in the U.S. market.
“We really like that combination of old world meets new world — the very clean lines, with a sharp sophistication and a little bit of edginess,” Cohen said of the company’s inventory mix. “It’s very ready-to-wear street style.”
Cohen worked in China and Hong Kong prior to the company’s launch, developing mostly accessories and some apparel for other companies.
Brands carried include Snidel, Monday Edition, Salondeju, M Et Toi and Audrey Wang. The company’s also set to add Beijing brand Gao and midpriced label Mo & Co. The brands round out the company’s private-label offering, which accounts for 70 percent of the overall product mix ranging from dresses, tops and jackets to jewelry, bags and sunglasses. They’ll delve into makeup, skin care and bath this fall.
The company got its start in Shanghai, where it still retains an office of 15, handling operations, logistics, sourcing and quality control. Last year, they expanded and opened a San Francisco office, which now counts four workers, to more easily pad its tech workforce but also to be closer to venture capital. Avimor, the pro-cyclist-turned-developer, said he is also more familiar with San Francisco’s tech industry than that of New York, which had also been considered for a U.S. office. The founders, after having bootstrapped the company, are now mulling a potential capital raise.
“It’s an industry [where] if you don’t raise capital, you’re not in the game,” Avimor said. “Fast-growing brands, like Nasty Gal, it’s all based on [venture capital].”
The company realized a profit last year, but declined to provide revenue information other than to say the business grew 162 percent from 2014 and is projecting growth of 200 percent this calendar year.
The move also makes sense with more than 90 percent of Genuine People’s customers coming from the United States, in markets such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Houston and Seattle.
They’re targeting 23- to 34-year-old urban dwellers, with their customer base representing annual household incomes of $70,000 to $120,000.
“Our customers are mostly young professionals. They have a little bit of money, but they don’t have enough to spend on luxury brands,” Cohen said. “I feel Asia and the places we’ve been have such high quality [materials]. They have amazing leathers and wools and cashmeres that they produce there. I really wanted to bring that out to a younger crowd and say, ‘Hey, you can have a wool maxi jacket and a leather bag for less than $300.’ ”
It’s that focus — at least for right now — on the East Asian emerging designers that Genuine People’s founders think will be the site’s main point of differentiation in the U.S. market, to stand out against the likes of Nasty Gal, Revolve and Shopbop, Cohen said. She added, “We’re focused on a certain style that is more Asian than Western, and that’s what really separates us from the style that’s already here.”