Polyvore featured in NYTimes.com: “Site Wins Fashion Fans by Letting Them Design”July 26, 2009
By Claire Cain Miller
July 26, 2009
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — The fashion magazines Vogue, InStyle and Lucky may rule the newsstand racks. But online, they are also-rans, overlooked by the fashion-conscious in favor of Polyvore, an upstart Web site far from Fifth Avenue.
Polyvore is a user-generated fashion magazine filled with user-generated ads. The people who go to it play fashion editor and create collages featuring pictures of clothes, accessories and models from across the Web. Readers view the collages, which the site calls “sets,” and if they click on a dress or necklace, they are taken to the Web site that sells it.
Founded by three ex-Yahoo engineers, Polyvore has been focused on getting people to visit the site. It seems to be working. Polyvore had more than 835,000 unique visitors in June, almost 25 percent more than the traffic to Style.com, run by Vogue, and InStyle.com, according to Compete, a Web analytics firm. It is also far bigger than the Web sites of Lucky and Harper’s Bazaar. While other fashion magazine sites have been struggling to hold an online audience, Polyvore has tripled its traffic in the last year.
Now it is shifting its focus to making money. It runs ads, like the magazine sites do. But it also earns a commission when users click on or purchase clothes from certain e-commerce sites, though only about a quarter of outbound clicks make money for Polyvore. The company is now trying to forge relationships with clothing and accessories sites in return for uploading their product catalogues to the site.
“To compete with the Vogues and InStyles, it’s not just about transacting and maximizing the dollars per page view,” said Peter Fenton, a partner at Benchmark Capital, which invested $2.5 million in Polyvore. “There’s this aspirational side and entertainment side, which none of the sites up until now have done a good job at tapping into.”
At the same time, Polyvore is giving stale e-commerce sites a much-needed jolt of inspiration. “Online retail started around digital cameras. Now, sites are using the same engines to sell shirts, but that’s not the way they should be sold,” said Pasha Sadri, co-founder and chief executive of Polyvore. “Clothing is much more visual.” And unlike cameras or books, clothes and accessories are bought as part of a whole outfit, though many sites still show pieces of clothing individually.
Mr. Sadri, a corduroy-wearer who is not particularly fashion-forward himself, conceived the idea for Polyvore in 2007, while working at Yahoo. He was the software engineer behind Yahoo Pipes, a tool that allows people to pull together content from across the Web, similar to what Polyvore does.
When Polyvore users surf the Web, they use a tool called the Clipper, downloaded and saved on the toolbar, to select images and save them to Polyvore, where anyone can use them in a collage.
Brands and e-commerce sites can also upload their items to Polyvore, though today 95 percent of the images come from users. Polyvore attributes images with a hyperlink to the original site. (It gets about five requests a week, usually from photographers or painters, to remove images.)
To create a set, users drag and drop images and manipulate them. Polyvore also offers fonts for text, and audio clips from Amazon. Its 928,000 registered users create 28,000 new sets a day. A set inspired by Blake Lively, the “Gossip Girl” actress, includes a picture of her with a leather jacket similar to the one she is wearing, available on the Zadig & Voltaire Web site for $840. It also features accessories for the outfit, like Coach boots, Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses and a T-Mobile Sidekick.
On a blog called Boutonnieres & Bow Ties, brides-to-be submit photos of their wedding dresses. Samantha Shih, owner of a menswear company called 9Tailors, uses Polyvore to create the groom’s outfit, complete with tie and cuff links, and uploads it to her blog.
To increase revenue, Polyvore is engaging fashion companies to sponsor content on the site. Tory Burch promoted its summer collection, which was inspired by Venice, by running a contest on Polyvore that asked users to create Venetian-themed sets using the new Tory Burch pieces.
Lori’s Shoes, a boutique in Chicago and online, recently noticed a surge of traffic coming from Polyvore, which John Coyle Steinbrunner, the company’s creative director, had not heard of.
Now Lori’s Shoes wants to advertise on Polyvore. “It just gets us a better customer than banner ads or cost-per-click ads, they’re just instantly more loyal,” Mr. Steinbrunner said. “As opposed to just being a customer, they get to help determine what the look and aesthetic of the shoe is.”
Some online retailers, including Charlotte Russe and Torrid, license Polyvore’s technology to use on their own sites. Sucharita Mulpuru, an e-commerce analyst at Forrester Research, says she thinks licensing is the most promising use for Polyvore and competitors like Kaboodle.
“On the retail sites themselves, people are looking to be inspired and are down the funnel of the purchase process,” she said. But while using Polyvore’s site, “people are in a different mind-set, they’re looking to browse, they might not be looking to buy.”
Polyvore also plans to sell data on customer preferences it compiles on the site. It could potentially tell a retailer that a type of shoe is more popular in Manhattan than Los Angeles, so it would know where to stock the shoe. Or designers could upload images of new items before deciding to produce them to get input from fashion-savvy users.
It could also give buyers information about trends in real-time, faster than monthly magazines, said Jess Lee, Polyvore’s product manager. This fall, for example, watch for recent trends bubbling up on the site: exposed zippers, fingerless gloves and butterfly prints.