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Flash fashion sites migrate to Canada Add to ...

The electronic newsletter features a few hip though relatively obscure clothing brands laid out on a page like a slick fashion magazine.

Members of Prive’s Web-based service receive the e-mail every day, just before noon. It’s a tease built to get them excited about discount designer shopping in the middle of the day, from their computers, at work or at home.

The merchandise – marked down by as much as 70 per cent to 80 per cent – remains on the site for a few days and is then replaced with the next wave of trendy items. Prive’s goal is to constantly refresh inventory in a way that drives members back to the site to browse and buy.

Prive is what’s known as a flash-fashion site. It follows in the high-heeled footsteps of Gilt Groupe, Beyond the Rack, Ideeli, HauteLook and Rue La La. Yet with the exception of Beyond the Rack, based in Montreal, few Canadian players have joined this fast-growing niche of online retail.

But that’s beginning to change. Stylehopper, a flash-fashion site conceived by Bart Lipski and Safura Rahimi, launched out of Toronto in November. Prive, founded by Henri Chelot and Rami Atallah, went live in January. And the latest homegrown arrival, Dealuxe, features conventional online shopping and a weekly flash sale.

Prive’s co-founders, based in Montreal, have extensive experience in fashion e-commerce. For seven years they have run SSence, a regularly priced online designer retailer. They already had connections with high-end distributors of brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs and Diesel, and they have fine-tuned the logistical kinks related to processing orders and shipping.

But they argue Prive poses a different business model.

“People today are more fashion aware but they may not want to spend full price on clothing,” Mr. Chelot said. “Most important for us is the curation and availability – we need to have a good assortment of items and determine how they fit together – and then balance that out with our vision.”







Mr. Atallah would not disclose Prive’s membership size except to claim it doubles every month. The company has 15 employees with several open positions to fill.

As an emerging young designer, Chloé Gordon says she had “nothing to lose” by turning some of her unsold garments over to Prive. Until she activates e-commerce on her own site this summer, the decision allowed her label, Chloé Comme Parris, to reach customers who do not have access to the small Toronto shops where it currently sells.

“If you’re thinking globally, you need to have an online presence now,” she said.



The main drawback isn’t that items are heavily discounted – they’re from the previous season, after all – but that they’re offered on the site for only three days, which she feels may not be enough exposure.

This is why the team behind Stylehopper is taking a slightly different approach: It hosts sales only once or twice a week and leaves items posted for five days when a brand doesn’t have a big presence in Canada. A “blow-out sale” section of heavily discounted items stays up on the site for weeks at a time.

But like Prive, it makes sure that last season’s looks still hold up against the trends du jour. “Higher-end brands are protective of their image, where they sell and which brands are featured next to them. We didn’t want to just feature any off-price brand handed to us,” says Mr. Lipski, who is Stylehopper’s CEO.

In a partnership with Virgin Mobile, Stylehopper offers an additional discount and earlier access to sales for those who have signed up with the telecommunications carrier. In doing this, it expands its reach beyond hard-core fashionistas.

Stylehopper recently started introducing packages for hair removal and tanning, raising the question of whether it has enough apparel brands on board. Mr. Lipski counters that it represents brand direction. “No one is catering to high-end lifestyle services,” he said.

Members can expect deals on French Connection accessories and Loyola jewellery in the coming weeks, he added.

“Online shopping is still such a new frontier in Canada,” said Ms. Rahimi, the company’s creative director, adding that membership doubles every two weeks. Half of Stylehopper’s orders come from people in the suburbs who may not be able to find an edgy selection at their neighbourhood mall.

With Dealuxe, which launched May 2, Canadian brands make up about 15 per cent of inventory. “We’re not like the CBC where we’ve specified X amount. We’re proud of Canadian heritage and products for Canadian consumers but we’re buying the best brands for the site,” founder Joanna Track said.

“Everyone loves a deal regardless of income and spending levels; it creates impulse and urgency.”



Anne Kothawala, senior vice-president of public affairs for the Retail Council of Canada, said customers here are diverse enough in their shopping habits for all different types of experiences to co-exist.

“Will [existing retailers] change their business strategy based on these new entrants? It’s possible,” she said. “But let’s not underestimate that newer online retailers are not only competing in a global marketplace but also with bricks-and-mortar stores that have obvious advantages like the tactile experience of being able to feel fabrics and try things on.”

 

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