Archimedes had his eureka moment in a public bath. For Jonathan Elias, president and CEO of ShopMyClothes.com, the big "Aha!" came while he was in front of a computer, looking for a way to sell some of the clothes in his overflowing closet.
"When I moved back to Toronto in 2007, I had this closet full of clothes that I had either outgrown, in terms of style, or were just more of the same of what I already owned," explains Mr. Elias, who had returned to Toronto from San Francisco, where he was a merchandiser for fashion retailer Gap Inc. "So I thought it would be pretty easy to sell them online, but found myself frustrated with the choices available to me."
That frustration sparked an idea: Why not create an online marketplace that would make it easy for fashion-forward people like him to buy and sell second-hand designer clothes, shoes and accessories?
Unlike sites such as eBay, Craigslist or Kijiji, which features vast arrays of products from categories ranging from art to travel, what Mr. Elias had in mind would be focused strictly on fashion, and it would be branded as a site for consumers with more refined tastes in apparel – not those in the market for garage-sale finds.
Last year, after about nine months of design and development, Mr. Elias and a business partner launched ShopMyClothes.com. Through the site, sellers can post their fashion pieces and potential buyers can get in touch directly to arrange a meeting where they can try on the product and, if they want, seal the deal.
"The average price of items is around $80 to $100 – about one third to one quarter of their original ticket price," says Ms. Elias. "To help maintain the quality of the products on the site, we manually curate the site and look at every single item posted.
"If there's a question about authenticity, or if an item doesn't fit our brand, then we will reach out to the seller."
Neither seller nor buyer pays a fee to use ShopMyClothes. Unlike eBay, there's no bidding; sellers name their price, which is posted alongside the photo of their item.
"The site is easy to use," says Andrew MacDonald, who joined ShopMyClothes in February as chief operating officer and business partner. "It's not cluttered like other sites, and our searching and sorting functionality is frankly better; using advanced search, you can look for a particular style of product in your size, in the brand you want, in your area, instead of having to sort through thousands of items like you would on Craigslist or eBay."
Ease of use and the no-fee structure were among the reasons why Sarah Hopgood, a Toronto clothing designer, chose ShopMyClothes when she decided to try selling some of her used clothes. Knowing she could set her price was also important to Ms. Hopgood.
"I'm not a big fan of the stress brought on by bidding and hoping you get a fair price for your stuff," she says. "Since I started posting on ShopMyClothes this summer, I've probably [made]close to $700 for three pieces of clothing – about half of what I paid for them."
Fashionistas would be impressed by the labels affixed to two of the items she sold: a Smythe Les Vestes blazer and a barely worn Mackage coat.
"I buy clothes and get tired of them, or sometimes I buy an item and realize after wearing it a couple of times that I wasn't really in love with it," says Ms. Hopgood. "So it's nice to be able to get back some of the money I spent, and it's also nice to know they're going to someone who appreciates good clothes like I do."
Matthew Zhou, a University of Toronto student who has bought and sold clothes through the site, points to a favourite function of his: the ability to follow particular sellers. Most ShopMyClothes vendors are selling clothes right out of their own closets, he says, so it makes sense to follow the sellers you like, because you already know their style and the size of clothes they wear.
"You want to be the first to know when they've posted something," says Mr. Zhou, whose sales on ShopMyClothes have added up to about $1,500 so far – a total offset by roughly $1,000 in purchases.
Mr. Macdonald says about 95 per cent of ShopMyClothes buyers and sellers are in Toronto, although the site is starting to attract visitors from other Canadian cities and parts of the United States. Ms. Hopgood's Mackage coat, for instance, sold to a woman in Boston, who went so far as to research shipping charges so Ms. Hopgood wouldn't have to.
Since it went live last year, ShopMyClothes has posted more than 5,500 items, of which about 1,000 have sold, says Mr. Elias. Since the site doesn't charge sellers or buyers, revenue comes from advertising, but Mr. Macdonald says he and his partners are careful not to overwhelm visitors with ads.
As its base of users grows, ShopMyClothes – which employs two people full-time and five part-time – will look at expanding its revenue model to include subscription fees for its bi-weekly newsletter and fees for priority listings, which are displayed right on the site's home page.
"Currently, the priority or featured listing is free, but at some point down the road that's a service we will likely start charging a small fee for," explains Mr. Macdonald.