Clothia.com is the United Nations of emerging designers.
The platform’s 40 talents are based in Berlin; Naples, Italy; St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, Russia; Kazakhstan; Georgia; Madrid, Ventas del Carrizal and Alicate, Spain, and Faroese, among other places, as well as the traditional design capitals of Paris and Milan.
“A lot of designers who went to Central Saint Martins and Parsons School of Design have easier access to customers,” said Clothia.com founder and chief executive officer Elena Silenok. “We have a designer from Kazakhstan — most people don’t know where that is. For someone like that, it’s hard to cross over to the Western world. We empower amazing and talented creators and give them better access to customers and make things easier for their businesses.”
The diverse backgrounds give Clothia’s assortment a distinctive edge. Many styles have quirky details such as raffia peplum fringe on a sheath dress, $850, and beaded flower appliqués on a halter dress, $2,800, both by Juan Vidal; exaggerated mesh balloon sleeves on 404 Not Found’s body-con minidress, $1,170, and Aska’s fit and flare dress with a hand-painted swan motif at the hem, $225.
Silenok said most styles aren’t one-offs, although they seem tailor-made for women who want to stand out in a crowd. Many designers are at the start of their careers and produce limited quantities. “We ask the designers to always have a little bit of stock,” she said. “If we see a specific item is doing well, we ask them to produce more. We work with designers who have their own facilities, seamstresses and patternmakers. They need to understand how things work. They’re at a point where they may have their own workshops.
“Most designers have small production runs,” Silenok said. “Once they run out of fabric, they’re done. We had a chiffon tunic that sold out and customers keep asking, ‘Are you bringing back more?’ We work with our designers and try to communicate when there’s a limited edition. As a customer, you don’t want to be walking down the street and see the same Zara dress walking toward you.”
Silenok is vetting European designers, and looking for creators in Japan, South Korea and Africa. “We haven’t scratched the surface,” she said. “I’m focused on interesting style and high quality. We monitor designers to make sure their production is responsible, and that they don’t use child labor or outsource. We look at the seams, fabric and hardware. Everything should be finely made.”
Clothia.com’s commission structure varies from designer to designer, beginning at around 25 percent of the price of a sale in exchange for handling shipping logistics, photographing products on models, and conducting online marketing and sales optimization so designers can stick to their knitting – and sewing.
When a customer places an order, Clothia.com processes the order and verifies payment, then sends the order information to the designer, who ships the order to the customer with a tracking number. When the customer receives the ordered items, Clothia.com pays the designer. “They [designers] make money when we make money,” Silenok said.
Çlothia.com’s sales are averaging a 30 percent month-over-month increase, Silenok said, adding that consumers spend between $300 and $800. “We have a pretty high average order volume,” she said. “What’s encouraging to me is that customers keep coming back. When I see the fourth or fifth order for the same designer, I say, ‘Yes!’
The company opened a pop-up shop in SoHo last winter. “Paris or Milan would be great for a pop-up,” Silenok said. “We could do Los Angeles, and we get a lot of orders from San Francisco. A store is not the immediate priority. Right now, it’s about raising awareness and bringing more designers to the site.”
Silenok sold her software development agency before launching Clothia and developed a lot of the site’s technology in-house. The business is self-funded, but Silenok is starting to get interest from Silicon Valley and she also would consider taking on a strategic investor. So far, she’s happy with Clothia’s organic growth. “So many women are getting tired of the same mass market production,” she said. “Our designers all have their own voices. Some are colorful, some are monochrome. We want to provide smorgasbord of choices.”