Monday, March 15, 2010

Interview with Helen Brown, Director of Catwalk Genius

I recently interviewed Helen Brown, Director of Catwalk Genius, an online store where consumers can buy directly from designers and invest in emerging designers' new collections. The Dublin-based site has already made quite an impression- Catwalk Genius has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and British Vogue, and Helen was named one of the Online Fashion 100.

What was the inspiration behind Catwalk Genius?

I studied Psychology and have always been interested in consumer behaviour. When our team decided to set up a business, we researched a variety of interactive tech ideas across different sectors. We settled on Catwalk Genius because fashion seemed to have the most opportunity; standard retail online is still pretty passive and we thought we could make it more exciting.

Catwalk Genius has a few interesting elements that make it stand out from other sites that promote new designers. What features do you think make Catwalk Genius unique?
It's still pretty rare to be able to buy direct from design labels and converse with them, but our unique feature is our Back a Designer scheme. If you love a brand, you can buy a share in their next collection. Once a target number of shares have sold, they produce the clothing and everyone takes an equal share in the revenues. Supporters can also get perks in return for their help - so everyone benefits.

How do you select your designers?
We work with Sarah Bunter, an amazing Creative Consultant who puts us in touch with strong UK design brands. She looks for strong design, wearable clothes and very high quality production. At the same time designers come to us directly by submitting product adverts every day. Then, we're still looking for high quality products as well as good quality imagery and appropriate pricing.

Can you talk about the “back a designer” scheme?
As I mentioned, it's about investing in a fashion collection in return for the opportunity for profits and perks. We're about to introduce a flexible funding target, which the designer will choose. You can switch or withdraw shares at any point up until the designer reaches their target and we're also adding a community where you can exchange messages with your favourite designers and other supporters. We've got a really exciting designer collaboration lined up to launch these extra features, so check back in mid-April to see what's going on.

What are your favorite pieces for Spring/Summer?
I've got a lot of weddings to go to this year, so Deibe Rondon's grown-up glamour has definitely caught my eye. Minna always produces the most lovely feminine pieces. All of her work is responsibly produced and she was named as one of the highlights of London Fashion Week's Esthetica exhibition last month. Shorts are still working over tights and I love the check on these, just in from pitchouguina.

How have you been promoting the site? Which social media tools do you use to spread the word about Catwalk Genius?
Social media's big for us because it involves the same kind of interaction that Catwalk Genius is all about. We do like Facebook and have the obligatory fan page, but I have the most fun with the folk who we follow on Twitter. Fashion tweeters are a fascinating and funny demographic!

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