Wet Seal is jumping back into the retail space, this time as an e-tailer incorporating crowdsourcing to evolve it into the first crowdsourced fast-fashion model.
Ramez Toubassy, president of the brands division at global advisory firm Gordon Brothers Group, said the new web site will be operational next week, and will be targeting the same 13- to 24-year-old consumer as before the company filed its Chapter 11 petition for bankruptcy court protection. Toubassy joined Gordon Brothers in May 2016 when the company acquired Blast-Off Brands, which he cofounded. Gordon Brothers, which is primarily known as a liquidator, acquired Wet Seal in March at a bankruptcy auction for $3 million.
According to Toubassy, “We are starting online first because that’s where we can best engage with the consumer. Once we re-establish the brand and have proven our business model, then we can go to the wholesale [market] with certain categories, and later on [consider] opening stores.”
The first order of business is to build that dialogue with the consumer, and the company will do that through crowdsourcing. “We will take our best customers – the ‘Seal Squad’ – and have them preview a selection of the upcoming designs for the line. Based on their feedback and purchases, we will decide on what goes on the broader web site. Consumers want to be engaged in the process. They want to feel a sense of ownership,” the brand president said. The expectation is that it will take about four weeks to complete production for the crowdsourced design feedback before it can be posted on the Wet Seal e-commerce site.
The company plans to introduce a minimum of 100 styles every week for crowdsourced feedback. And since the consumers are also shopping for experience and entertainment, the company plans to engage with influencers and celebrities to help tell different stories each week, Toubassy said. He explained that while the plan is to incorporate the wholesale model at some point, the current business model can exist separately and is not dependent on the wholesale component. He expects that the first category that might test out the wholesale market would be Wet Seal’s fragrance.
Gordon Brothers is partnering with Ösom, one of the largest fashion companies in Mexico, for the Wet Seal business.
Arian Gonzalez, chief executive officer of Ösom, said his company has a few apparel brands that are sold in Mexico. There is a separate business that does the e-commerce business for more than 15 brands — including Levi Strauss, Steve Madden, Guess and Express — entering the Mexican marketplace. There is also a smaller component that works with designers to crowdsource their collections, but that business is mostly in Europe, Gonzalez said. He added that Wet Seal is Ösom’s first foray into the U.S. market. Gonzalez’s company is setting up a U.S. subsidiary to work solely on the Wet Seal business, and the group will handle all the sourcing and production details of the merchandise on Wet Seal’s site.