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A Profitable Polyvore Struts Its Stuff at Fashion Week

February 16, 2012
CNBC
by Ashley Kalinske

Fashion is trending social. In a traditionally top down industry, the online fashion community Polyvore has a bottom’s up approach toward fashion.

The interactive fashion community Polyvore allows users to interact with fashion in a unique way by allowing them to curate their own style from images all over the web. The results are arranged into fashion collages, or digital mood boards, called sets.

The site, which recently ended its first profitable year, attracts 13 million unique visitors each month — a 114 percent increase since January 2011 and a reach beyond the traffic of any magazine. Its users create more than 1.5 million sets each month, although many just come to browse the sets others have created.

“Polyvore’s having an egalitarian effect on the industry,” said Polyvore CEO Jess Lee.  “What makes a magazine so special, Vogue, for example, is that they have people with amazing taste and influencers such as Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley. But there’s another generation of fashion influencers who may not have access to Vogue, but they have access to the Internet. We want to work with that generation.”

Just as blogging platforms and social media gave voice to new tastemakers and opened a door for bloggers participate in collaborations with fashion designers and to sit in the coveted front row at fashion shows, Polyvore is exerting its own force on the industry, and evidence of this was very clear at this week’s New York Fashion Week.

In this vein, Polyvore teamed up with Procter & Gamble’s [PG 65.20   0.65 (+1.01%)  ] Cover Girl to produce Polyvore Live, an event that took place during Fashion Week, a show featuring up-and-coming Fashion Institute of Technology-alum designers and fashion bloggers as models.

“Polyvore Live is our take on Fashion Week, giving fashion to the people,” explains Lee. The show was live streamed on their site and more than 15,000 people tuned in.

“We’ve shifted from being a market-driven economy to a consumer-driven economy,” said Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of Trend Forecasting at the Tobe Report, a retail trend consulting company. “We used to work in a fashion hierarchy — tastemakers on the top of the fashion pyramid and consumers on the bottom. Now consumers are the ones who are very powerful in shaping the retail landscape and shifting the retail paradigm.”

As a result, Polyvore is influencing consumers to create looks and trends versus the past practice of waiting for someone to dictate fashion.

As visitors use the Poylvore site, the company also is able to capture in-depth information regarding the tastes of its 13 million users, according to Polyvore Chief Technology Officer Pasha Sadri.

“We’re able to see apples-to-apples, fashion brands, their rankings, brand, price, high-level descriptors such as color, and materials,” Sadri said. “There’s lots of information at a granular level.”

The company shares their data with brands in a monthly published report, which can be used to help brands make business decisions about their hottest products. Polyvore even partners with brands through contests.

For designer Rebecca Minkoff’s debut at Fashion Week last February, she held a contest in which the winner designed a clutch for retail.

“My bag sold out at retail, everyone was happy with it,” Minkoff said. “I would measure the success with the exposure, the name recognition, increased fans and a bag selling out.”

“From a business perspective, it’s a huge fascinating recourse for people who work in trend forecasting and for retail analysts,” Moellering said. “The information is validation for that target consumer and the trends they participate in.”

Polyvore’s users are 74 percent women, and about 55 percent are between 18 years and 34 years old. Brands need to be cognizant of who the data reflects.

“What works for Coach [COH 74.52   -0.60 (-0.8%)  ] may not work for Talbots [TLB 3.17   0.07 (+2.26%)  ],” Moellering said. “It’s not all one size fits all.”

But Moellering said there are limitations with the information because it is based in real-time.

“In trend forecasting, we need to pay attention to the continuum of productivity,” she said. “Polyvore will be a validator. We may tell our client that in a year from now, there may be an interest in the 1920s. Polyvore may see images touching on this idea and this will be a validation of this predictor. Polyvore pulls images that have been already created for the consumer. Our clients help them design it, source it.”

Yuli Ziv, founder of the Style Coalition, an online network of 45 bloggers that reaches 3.5 million unique visitors each month, believes Poylvore already peaked and that Pinterest is the trending social media company of the moment.

“Polyvore preceded Pinterest, but they didn’t explode into the public consciousness,” Ziv said. Both Pinterest and Polyvore fall in the inspirational board category — reminding us of when designers and editors used mood boards to capture ideas which we now do in to a digital format.

However, Lee sees it differently. “Pinterest is about collecting,” she said. “Polyvore is about creating. The ‘set’ in itself is a work of art; it’s a new creation in itself. We have a great relationship; a lot of our content is shared. We see ourselves as complimentary.”

Sadri said he expects Polyvore will continue to grow in the U.S. and internationally.

To that end, Polyvore received Series C funding of $14 million last month. New investors DAG Ventures, Vivi Nevo and Goldman Sachs [GS 114.74   1.57 (+1.39%)  ] joined current investors Benchmark Capital and Matrix Partners, and increased total venture capital to $22 million.

The new funds will be used to scale infrastructure, and to grow the company’s team of engineers to work on technical challenges such pushing the JavaScript in their virtual styling tool and data-mining their style analytics.

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of people who tuned into a live stream of the Polyvore Live event. It was more than 15,000, not 25,000. Also Style Coalition reaches 3.5 million unique visitors a month, not 2.5 million visitors as originally stated. In addition, the Polyvore Live event was scheduled to coincide with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which runs from Feb. 9 to 16, but it was an independent event. An earlier version of the story implied it was part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.)

A Profitable Polyvore Struts Its Stuff at Fashion Week

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