As a runway-model-turned-MBA grad who had thrown herself into the world of e-commerce, Ana Caracaleanu saw what she describes as a gap in the fashion market.
Fashion Weeks like the ones in Toronto and cities across America can be great venues for small designers to get publicity for their wares. However, it can take a full season for those clothes to find their way into boutiques. What's more, the journey there can be fraught. Without feedback from the marketplace, designers have to take a wild stab at how many to items to have manufactured, knowing that if they make too many of the wrong size or the wrong item, boutiques will simply send unsold items back.
In 2010, when the financial crisis had worked its way around to small fashion designers and the boutiques that sell their work, Ms. Caracaleanu visited the apartment of one of her designer friends, only to find it piled high with unsold clothing that had been returned to its maker. "She had rooms full of merchandise that had been pushed back," she says. "It broke my heart. There must be a way for you as an emerging designer to know how much to produce before you produce it."
So, along with co-founder Mihnea Stoian, Ms. Caracaleanu launched Luevo, a fashion-buying platform that lets consumers pre-order fashions they see on the runway, so they can get their hands on them sooner, and fashion designers can get immediate feedback from the marketplace.
The company, which is currently working with the Digital Media Zone incubator at Ryerson University in Toronto, has spent the last year working with fashion weeks in American centres like San Diego, Portland, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Dallas, letting organizers offer a value-added service for participants.
Ms. Caracaleanu says that connecting designers to buyers is especially relevant, since fashion weeks tend to be better-attended by journalists and bloggers than by actual industry players like buyers and retailers, who gravitate to pricey, lower-profile trade shows.
"Right now, the way it works, these fashion weeks are really great places for designers to get buzz, word of mouth, and exposure in the media. But not as many buyers are coming to these events as actual customers," she says.
Designers who put products on Luevo commit to finalizing pre-orders starting their production runs within 30 days. Customers are only charged when production begins; that way, designers have both a solid idea of how many items to manufacture, and the money in-hand to finance it. Luevo is aiming at independent designers who are typically manufacturing small runs of 25-50 pieces. (Designer can cap their pre-orders if they wish to make only a limited edition.)
Customers receive their orders within 60 days of production directly. Luevo is strictly a pre-ordering and marketing platform; it doesn't deal in merchandise directly, leaving that between designers and buyers.
Ms. Caracaleanu has stayed behind her computer, as her product has gone into service around the continent (more in the U.S. than in Canada, she notes). The company is now looking at targeting not just bigger fashion weeks, but with larger designers who are trying to get a sense of consumer interest for designs fresh off the runway, just like independent creators.
"We've spoken with reps from bigger brands, and I know they're going through these same process," she says. "It's a guessing game."