Thursday, June 16, 2016

New York Fashion Cool-Aid ®

Nineteenth Amendment: A Fashion Tech Startup that Gives Shoppers the Vote


As a woman with fashion in her blood, Amanda Curtis, whose aunt was VP at Priscilla of Boston, realized there was something inherently wrong with the current industry business model.  Even more impressive --rather than bemoan her plight, she set about fixing it, becoming what I'd like to call a "Fashion Nerd." With degrees from both Boston University and Parson's School of Design, Ms. Curtis created a line of RTW and showed her designs at both Lincoln Center and at London Fashion Week. Despite accolades from Diane von Furstenberg and Richie Rich she found, like so many others, that talent was not enough to sustain a viable business model, leaving her unable to support herself.


Faced with the usual garment industry problems of scale in manufacturing, holding inventory, and raising capital she decided that by using technology she could pave the way and be instrumental in helping other designers in this dilemma. "I flipped the business model," Curtis explained. "I came up with the idea to sell direct to the consumer who would pay up front thereby eliminating the need to hold inventory."

Amanda Curtis & Gemma Sole

She returned to her native Boston and joined the tech startup scene in order to find out how to launch a tech startup that would represent independent established designers looking to make a name, while gaining access to a wider reach of customers. She met Gemma Sole and together they co-founded Nineteenth Amendment (nineteenthamendment.com), so named after a woman's right to vote and have a say. In this case, the consumer would decide which garments actually get produced.

"The fashions are the candidates and everyone has a voice -- you're voting with your wallet," says Curtis.  New designers are added every week and all manufacturing is done here in the U.S. After pre-sales are made, each garment arrives in about a month, although that can be sped up for an additional charge. "The consumer involvement is new," says Curtis. "It's fashion as an experience. It's all about discovery. We send out notifications letting you know how your garment is progressing.  That way people are invested," which Curtis believes is a factor in the low (4%) return rate.

Nineteenth Amendment at Macy's 

Curtis and Sole returned to the Big Apple joining the "New York Fashion Tech Lab" in 2014. They received venture funding, introduced their Beta model in 2015 and entered into a limited partnership with Macy's which features a Nineteenth Amendment section on their website (macys.com/nineteenthamendment), an accomplishment that Curtis considers her biggest success to date. "We are the first startup to partner with Macy's and through that partnership we got four of our independent designers into Macy's Herald Square during fashion week. That moment was validation that our business, as a launch platform, works on the larger scale."

Macy's sales floor

Nineteenth Amendment is currently a four person team managing about a dozen manufacturers and featuring 400 small brands from around the world. Luckily they have some good advisors looking out for them including former dean of Parson's Simon Collins (who initially thought they were crazy, yet recently came on board), as well as none other than Nina Garcia of Marie Claire and Project Runway fame.

When I ask Curtis if she has any thoughts of adding a self-designed collection to the site she says "Never say never", although where she would find the time is the bigger question. Right now she is mostly intent on using her creativity to benefit the business. I always find it fascinating when a designer can swim in the waters of the tech world. Believe me, while listening to her I'm drowning in the buzzwords and am only barely kept afloat due to my current favorite TV show "Silicon Valley."

As you may expect, Curtis identifies finding funding as the biggest challenge that Nineteenth Amendment currently experiences. "Fashion tech is relatively new, especially for VC's (venture capitalists)," she said in an email. "We have learned to identify angel investors in the fashion industry who have a deep understanding of fashion and the problem we are solving."

This month, Nineteenth Amendment opened up their "white-label" version to established brands thereby enabling these brands to make their runways shoppable while also being able to test products directly with shoppers without spending on inventory. "It's the wild, wild west out there," exclaims Curtis, remarking on how quickly everything in the digital world moves and changes. That sounds like it's squarely in her (wagon) wheelhouse since she comes across as a very adaptive pioneer.



- Laurel Marcus

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