There’s a power-to-the-people movement happening when it comes to funding new ideas in fashion.
This story first appeared in the October 28, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Designers have long turned to friends and family to bootstrap a first collection or a new direction, but thanks to Kickstarter, that pool of “friends” is much larger, more digital and on something of a mission.
People looking for funding on Kickstarter post videos explaining what they’re up to and promising something in return; for instance, a look from a forthcoming line. The project is only funded if the full amount requested is raised.
To hear the five-and-a-half-year-old Web site’s chief executive officer Yancey Strickler tell it, people who fund projects are looking for a better world (in addition to the chance to get in on the ground floor of something new).
“A good idea is just a good idea,” Strickler said. “This is a place where people can come with ideas… [and] people are excited about them because they think they’re cool. [Backers] are not trying to make a buck for themselves. The motivations are very different. It’s not about financial upside, it’s about creating a richer, more diverse world.”
Despite all its tech savvy, the platform also harkens back to the past.
“It’s a direct commerce happening between creators and their audiences and something that’s very close to the patronage systems that were so prevalent around the 17th and 18th centuries,” Strickler said.
To date, there have been about 75,000 successfully funded projects that have collectively raised more than $1.3 billion from around the world. A total of 2,179 fashion projects have been funded with 551,724 pledges.
Strickler pulled back the curtain on some of his platform’s operations during a panel discussion with executives at two companies that have both received funding on Kickstarter: Satya Twena, ceo of Satya Twena Fine Millinery, and Maria Pinto, founder and creative director of M2057 by Maria Pino. Leading the conversation was WWD senior fashion features editor Marc Karimzadeh.
Twena started making hats four years ago when her mother found herself in sudden need during cancer treatment. But the business ultimately needed some funds.
“When my factory went under, I had maybe two weeks to figure out what I was doing, so I turned to Kickstarter and saved one of Manhattan’s last hat factories,” Twena said.
People who funded Twena’s dream had the chance to tour the factory and see the process up close. She has raised more than $250,000 this year on Kickstarter. But it wasn’t necessarily easy, nor is the platform right for all funding needs.
“Creating a Kickstarter campaign, it’s not something that everybody should do,” Twena said. “You have to have a compelling story. You have to have a growing group of people who believe in what you do….It’s a great platform if you’re ready to tell a story. But it really does take a lot of energy, it’s not, you put your video up there and immediately have people supporting your campaign.”
She stressed the importance of having a plan to get people to support you and how to get exposure in the press.
“It can be the biggest asset for your business,” she said.
Although Twena likened her success on Kickstarter to having proof of concept for her ideas, she said retailers have been slow to engage.
Yancey was confident that stores would come around.
“Give that time,” he said. “Just wait for people to catch up. I think this is the way things are really being made. In the end, this is where retailers are looking for what’s next.”
Pinto raised more than $270,000 in 45 days for her dress line, gaining 600 customers and ultimately shipping 1,200 pieces. She said like-minded backers for her project were “basically preordering dresses.”
“It’s about consumer consciousness,” Pinto said. “People want to know what’s happening, why are you doing this? I think more and more that plays into what they’re buying.”
For instance, Pinto’s collection is waste-free, with leftover material donated to schools.
This isn’t the first foray into fashion for Pinto, who’s had a line since 1991 and sold to Neiman Marcus and elsewhere.
She has both an affinity for the fashion industry and a desire to see a new way of doing things.
“I want to respect those institutions, I want to respect the whole fashion industry,” Pinto said. “But I think there’s something that we’re all still figuring out. And that’s why I think it was an amazing opportunity to do Kickstarter.”
The platform’s already had some major hits.
The virtual reality firm Oculus Rift got its start on Kickstarter and was bought by Facebook. The price tag? Two billion dollars.
A fashion line could be next.