SOWEAR.COM COMBINES FASHION, EDITORIAL AND COMMERCE TO GIVE EXPOSURE TO UP-AND-COMING FIRMS.
Byline: Peter Braunstein
NEW YORK — Take the plotlines of the film “Fame” and the play “Rent,” subtract the storyline of “Coyote Ugly,” add e-commerce and online resumes, and you have the contours of upstart Web site Sowear.com, a combination fashion etailer and artistic collective.
Established in February 2000 by Jason Yang, Sowear.com’s publisher and guiding force, the site has gradually evolved from debit-card financing to become a viable networking pool and e-commerce site.
Sowear.com’s fundamental mission is to give much-needed exposure to designers, photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists and fashion stylists looking for a break in the fashion industry — most of whom realize that, unlike Coyote’s Piper Perabo, it will probably take more than two months to become world famous. While the site posts the resumes of various collective members, it most effectively exhibits their talents through “Fertile Ground,” a multimedia magazine that showcases both talent and product. Users can then click through to the Sowear shop and check out the fashions creatively exhibited in the site’s multimedia displays.
Sowear, with its meager resources, has hit on a model for ‘romancing the consumer’ that goes beyond the presentation of more established e-commerce sites, where shoppers are enticed to purchase an ostrich-print lambskin logo sports bag for $1,365 because they can watch it move in 3D. Sowear takes several steps beyond this shop-window e-commerce merchandising model, embedding all its e-tail offerings within seductive lifestyle narratives.
According to Yang, who formerly designed men’s wear under his own line, traditional retailers are beginning to understand that creative fashion e-commerce doesn’t have to mean endless shots of clothing merchandised in a decontextualized online void.
“Importers are now beginning to contact me, and we’ve had one retailer — Hanna, a store in Tokyo — who has picked up a number of our designers, including XZZXZZX, Raina and Moi et Cat,” said Yang. “Larger companies still don’t understand that I’m working with young designers, but consumers seem to get it. They like the personalized service and the fact that designers will often enclose notes to them with the items they purchase.”
Yang also addressed the nagging question posed to all struggling dot-coms: How do you make money?
“Well, my Visa card is maxed out,” said Yang. “But as of two months ago, Sowear actually started supporting itself. The store had a huge impact — it made us go into profit, and now we’re shipping internationally.”
A key step was opening an offline store last November called Frida in New York’s East Village. But Sowear’s greatest success so far has been in helping its talented members make inroads into the industry.
“The best thing that’s happened to my career is meeting Jason Yang,” said Cadillac, a makeup artist whose association with Sowear.com has netted him valuable connections and assignments. “Sometimes stylists will need someone in a hurry, and they’ll look up the site. Being on Sowear.com gives you legitimacy. I mean, word of mouth is great, but it doesn’t hold a lot of aesthetic weight: it’s better if people can see your work.”
Designer Roxi Suger has two lines of what she calls “unisexy templewear.” They are Angelrox and Dig-it, available both on the Sowear site and at her store at 18 Orchard Street. Suger also credits Sowear with broadening her horizons.
“I can’t even begin to describe how many facets of exposure Sowear has given me,” said Suger. “Apart from making contacts, I’m still getting consistent business from the site.”
Sowear’s budding reputation as a haven for the avant-garde has even attracted some celebrities, albeit off-kilter ones. The site and the Frida store are the exclusive distributors for Imitation of Imitation of Christ (IOIOC), the parody fashion collective known for its total anonymity and strange, Weathermen-style manifestos posted on the Sowear site.
IOIOC was recently filmed by a fashion television crew for a syndicated segment scheduled to air in late February on E!, in which they will dramatically re-enact their initial contact with Jason Yang via an anonymous courier. So as not to reveal their identity, IOIOC (filmed alongside their ‘lawyer’) insisted on having their faces mosaic-censored and their voices modified.