Dylan Uscher works mainly with independent boutiques to feature his creations, but the designer hopes his foray into crowdfunding will help elevate the profile and bottom line of his budding brand.
The self-taught American designer recently moved back to Boston after eight years in Toronto where he launched Dylanium Knits in 2010.
Uscher has partnered with Luevo — a Canadian crowdfunding platform for designers — to help pre-sell his fall collection of knitwear inspired by Florentine architecture. His online campaign ends June 15.
"It's always a struggle when you're an independent business owner because you have to work really hard to get the very little that you have," Uscher said. "This just seemed like a really great outlet to try and get some new sales."
All items in his collection featured on Luevo are 15 per cent less than the suggested retail price. And Uscher will only produce them if the products reach designated targets among customers who've pledged to purchase the designs, which include scarves, a slouch hat and cape.
"Instead of using hypothetical market research or numbers that someone else has designed, you can put your own products out there and really test ... what products are going to work and what colours work and what doesn't," Uscher said.
"I think that's the really interesting way to approach it without having to go through all of the process of producing the items yourself and hoping that they sell."
Luevo co-founder Ana Caracaleanu said the site launched with its first designers in March and plans to keep the number of labels featured in their "curated marketplace" to under 10 for now, with campaigns of 30 to 45 days.
Luevo takes a 15 per cent commission from successfully funded projects but also works to support designers in other ways such as editing news releases and producing written content, she added.
"For the designers, the value that we bring is our technology to crowdsource items that are not yet produced. They don't have to pull the inventory," Caracaleanu said. "They could use us as a step in growing their businesses or scaling up, and then taking their productions to a larger site where they may be requested to have ... the inventory to put their items there."
Christopher Charlesworth is co-founder of HiveWire, a crowdfunding and crowdsourcing solutions provider. He isn't surprised to see designers pursuing crowdfunding as capital- and buzz-building strategy.
"We think there's a really unique opportunity for not only startup entrepreneurs but specifically for fashion designers because they can present truly unique wares that are literally unavailable quite often in any other place.
"For many startup designers, they don't have access to the traditional distribution channels. Crowdfunding allows them to connect directly with a unique audience that is potentially interested in their goods."
The platform also offers the opportunity to take risks with designs they might not be able to produce when dealing with a mainstream chain, Charlesworth noted.
Sunny Fong recently reached out to online donors to expand his VAWK label.
"For me, it was an experience to see: 'Does 100 likes on one of my photos of my garments translate into ... those that would actually come and support me as a brand, as a business?"' he said.
In a video on his Indiegogo fundraising page, Fong appealed for help to stage his World MasterCard Fashion Week runway show in Toronto in March as well as aid to launch his label's first online store.
The campaign didn't pan out as hoped. Following a month-long campaign, Fong fell well short of his posted $30,000 goal, raising $4,215.
"I think having done it, I know better how to do it better," the affable designer said, laughing.
For starters, Fong said he spent only a week promoting what was initially a two-week campaign. He would have devoted more time to development and introduced a capsule collection or limited-edition product.
Charlesworth said the perceived risk for many is the harm to their brand if they don't succeed, such as not reaching their target. He sees this not as failing but rather as "an added dimension to their story."
"Crowdfunding requires individuals and organizations to have a really unique level of transparency and honesty with their customers, and we think that's a real benefit."
Darren Meister, an associate professor of business at Western University in London, Ont., said part of the challenge with the product-based crowdfunding model is that many people buying higher-end or more unique pieces tend to want to purchase them quickly.
"If you're really fashion-conscious, you may not like the fact that three or four people are buying that shirt," he said. "I think for me, that while the crowdfunding process takes place, that's going to affect the buying decision."
Meister said he thinks a bigger risk from a fashion perspective is the ability to see the designs — and potential interest from consumers — posted online for all to see. That includes major retailers who may jump on creating their own versions.
Yet Meister said he also sees the possibility of rewards for emerging designers using the platform to make their mark — and some sales in the process.
"What the crowdfunding model allows you is to try a lot more things and get more immediate feedback and get your designs better," he said. "If I'm a designer and I put up 20 designs and I see these three are the ones that are catching on, I'm probably going to focus on those three.
"That's where it's fantastic. It's really immediate feedback."