Sam Sisakhti quit his financial training program at a major Wall Street firm after four days and hopped a flight to Las Vegas, where he met up with a designer pal, whom we’ll call Aaron. Sisakhti didn’t find the old Aaron he remembered, however. In the place of his gregarious friend was someone beaten down by the emotional and financial struggles of being a young designer. Witnessing Aaron’s difficulties gave Sisakhti the idea for UsTrendy, a Web site dedicated to independent designers.
Sisakhti in 2008 started UsTrendy with 3,000 brands and a mission to promote small designer businesses. Interest from Silicon Valley led him to relocate there, but after 150 potential investors said “no,” Sisakhti moved back home to Boston.
The site came to the attention of Tim Draper, founder of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. “He gave me a couple million dollars to start,” Sisakhti said. Fast-forward to 2016: UsTrendy features 20,000 designers from 100 countries and has 1 million social media followers. Annual sales are “in the millions,” Sisakhti said, declining to be more specific.
And Aaron? He’s now in the music industry. While he’s not a household name, Sisakhti said he’s doing OK.
Sisakhti said that he initially focused on young women and juniors because they were the most receptive to the concept. He’s now working to bring consumer personalization to the site and broaden the demographics to women. “I’m always interested in expanding out,” he said. “We’ll go older with the offerings.”
At the same time, Sisakhti has revamped the vetting process to improve customer satisfaction. “We now have designers apply and ask them to ship us samples so that we can review the quality,” he said. “We work with them on packaging and shipping. When a new store comes online, it’s frozen after the first 10 sales so that we can see how they did. It’s not that hard to get kicked off UsTrendy.”
Customers are protected because a store is not paid until the customer receives their order, Sisakhti said, adding that UsTrendy takes 20 percent of every sale. The average order is $70, with prices up to $1,350 for a wedding gown.
“The future of shopping is personalization,” Sisakhti said. “We want to sync the different brands to consumers based on past purchase history and what they’ve shown interest in.
“We’ve funded a bunch of clothing lines and we hold design competitions,” Sisakhti said. “We want UsTrendy to be more than just a place to shop.” Rochelle Corino won a recent contest, which included an all-expenses paid trip to London Fashion Week, with a time slot for a runway show.
“The fashion week contest is tricky because it only helps one designer” he said. “If we put money into marketing we can get more sales for designers on the site.”
Because dresses comprise the majority of UsTrendy’s sales, Sisakhti launched a charity program, Believe in Yourself, which donates formal dresses to girls and young women who couldn’t otherwise afford them.
After he made a donation to the Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod in Mashpee, Mass., the director told Sisakhti that a girl decided to go to her dance because she had a dress. “Body image and how you look and what you wear is such a big issue,” Sisakhti said, adding that he hopes to expand the program across the country.