Very late last year, we had the opportunity to sit down with Claire Mazur (pictured, right) and Erica Cerulo (and left), the comely, hyper-articulate entrepreneurs behind Of a Kind. The site–which launched to fanfare on the same day as Google Boutiques–is the kind of project we love, so let’s refresh:
Each week, Of A Kind will feature one new designer, covering them Monday till Wednesday at 1:00, at which point the designer’s sale will begin. All items sold will be made exclusively for the site. The pieces will be released in microbatches, (anywhere from five to fifty pieces), with prices starting around $50 and capping around $500. Best of all, Of A Kind will actually be bankrolling the production, offering a low-risk opportunity for up-and-comers.
Basically, everybody wins: emerging designers get exposure and online shoppers get unique, cool, X-small number “of a kind” pieces. We began by discussing any intimidation they may have felt starting a project like this one in New York City, where fashion starts with a capital F and is pronounced “exclusive as fuck.”
Trying to break into fashion is intimidating! Did you guys feel like outsiders?
Claire Mazur: We had a certain insecurity about being in the fashion world and particularly this city, knowing what the fashion culture is here. …It can become very trivialized.
Erica Cerulo: [But] there are tons and tons of smart people in the fashion industry! They don’t get credit for being as smart as they are, like Sally Singer is obviously brilliant. It’s hard to be taken seriously.
CM: We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we can do this project but not be fashion… that fashion culture we don’t like, what [we] try to stay away from. We feel like this is a thoughtful project and something unique, though we are about clothes and we don’t want to [position ourselves] as anti-fashion. But what gets stigmatized about the fashion world is that it’s so exclusive.
Yeah it is. Did you feel embraced initially?
CM: I feel like we took a backdoor! We made our way in through the tech world. The tech community here is so supportive, not insular, very welcoming. We got our footing that way. I think if we had said, ‘We have to go out and meet all of these fashion people,’ going to fashion parties, having to network that way, it would have been a different story.
EC: But to be fair, when we reached out to designers, we were just two girls starting a thing. [laughter] We’re still two girls starting a thing.
CM: But we didn’t have a website. We had nothing.
EC: We were just cold e-mailing from our personal e-mail accounts. The number of people who said they’d take a meeting with us and how many [eventually] got on board was… shocking.
How did you find that initial round of designers?
CM: It’s funny, Mandy Coon (she of the famous bunny bag) was joking, ‘I had this meeting with you guys and I had no idea what it was going to become.’ We had just e-mailed her from our Gmail account and she was far and away the biggest name we got but also so cooperative and easy and enthusiastic right out of the gate. I credit her with so much because–by having her on board–other people took us more seriously. Within two seasons, she’s gotten on the radar of every major fashion editor, gotten in Vogue, so to have her was a huge stroke of luck. Well, it actually wasn’t… she loved the idea.
How long did it take before people started pitching you?
EC: Even a couple weeks before launch [people started]. That was one of our milestones.
How involved are you two? Completely hands off? Is there any input?
CM: We set out [a few] parameters. We want it to be indicative of [a designer’s] aesthetic. We’re all for designers trying new things but in this setting, we want to feel like we’re introducing you and your signature aesthetic to our audience and we want people to get a sense of who you are. We want it to be a showcase, so something [wildly] different from what you regularly do… doesn’t make sense.
So you do edit the collection in some capacity.
CM: A lot of times, by the time you’ve gotten to meet with the designer, they [already have] a really solid idea, because it’s a pretty unique opportunity for them. They [encounter] so many restrictions in their regular collections–saleability, production timelines and availability–so [with us] they can do a limited run of something. For example, if there’s a fabric they want to work with, but couldn’t use it enough to justify it in regular collections, why not try it out with us?
[Continued after the jump…]
Speaking of fabric, do you see Of a Kind as being something that’s ultimately apparel-focused or do you want to do an equal mix of accessories and apparel?
CM: We want to grow into apparel, for sure. Accessories are limiting because, for a lot of these designers, their specialty is clothing.
Yeah, but do people have an easier time buying accessories online as opposed to spending a few hundred dollars on something they can’t try on? And is the cost of apparel limiting in itself?
EC: Every consumption decision now feels like it should be more considered. You should be thinking about what you’re buying. In a down economy, when you don’t have a lot of funds, you could buy five dresses that are $30 each that you feel nothing about [and fall apart] or… do you want to buy something that you can feel good about? You’re not just buying something, you’re supporting someone in a specific way, [as in] this is something I believe in, this is something I think is cool, and I can wear this proudly. We want the things we sell to be collectible.
CM: We haven’t seen much negativity [about price]. There will always be that, there will always people who will question high-priced fashion, that’s just a problem of retraining consumers. My response—and it’s not like I think our stuff is particularly high-priced—is: this is just how much it costs to make things. [We don’t do] the volume that H&M is doing… but people get it as soon as you say, ‘Well, somebody has to make the fabric and sell the fabric and that person has to set a mark-up, the fabric has to be shipped, somebody has to sell it, and then they have to send it to us…’ In addition to all the material costs, the shipping costs, there’s labor, and yeah, a profit… all these people have to make money, not just at cost.
EC: There’s so much cost just to make things. You have to pay a certain amount of money to get something made. That’s how it works. But… nobody’s making a lot of money! Nobody’s walking away being like [folds hands villainously] ‘Ahhhh… finally.’
You’re really interested in the idea of ‘narrative’ in fashion. What about that interests you?
CM: Our number one goal and challenge was, can we successfully combine retail and editorial?
Why do you think they enhance each other?
EC: When you’re an emerging designer, so often you get the same little eighty words, hundred and fifty words, and it hits the same notes. But these are people that have really interesting lives and interesting stories and the more you can connect with them, the more you can feel like you understand their work and you understand where they’re coming from. Maybe you like the same bands, maybe you grew up in the same town. The more you know, the more you feel like this is a person you are supporting. …I mean, these people are all way more accessible than they seem.
CM: One of the reasons we really like working with emerging designers is, they’re at this point in their career working and designing for themselves, and so you really see their personalities in the pieces they create. And to draw that out in a narrative is really easy and also really enhances the product. …. [Of a Kind provides] a more personal experience in what it is an inherently anonymous transaction.
So you’re trying to provide as much of a platform for up-and-comers as possible.
CM: Without sounding naively altruistic about it–as if fashion designers are this marginalized, disadvantaged group–it is a difficult industry to succeed in as an independent, emerging designer. We try in every way we structure the business to [consider] the designer first as much as we can.
Do you see the integration of editorial and retail as more a benefit to the designer than it is to the consumer?
EC: Both, but it’s tricky. I think for a lot of designers it’s been an exciting [opportunity] because they do have stories to tell and different things they want to get across. Nobody’s asking most of these designers for real access to their lives… they want a ten minute phone interview.
Unfortunately, there will still be some really out-there misinterpretations of the project, which is odd because you seem so actively engaged.
ER: There were a couple articles that cited Claire as the CEO of Tumblr…
CM: [laughter] That was the most drastic, but a lot of people said Tumblr launched us. [But] yeah, the tech angle is where people have gotten confused. So, we launched on Tumblr, which I’m so glad we did, just in terms of our target demographic, the community building, the viral spread of things, and it being a very visual site. So it made a lot of sense. We [also] happened to launch on the same day as Google Boutiques, which meant a lot of joint articles…
EC: But we felt lucky being compared to Google boutiques!
CM: Yeah, it was great to get that sort of press. But now that we’ve been out for a while and people are getting the concept, we’re seeing more press that’s focused on the actual concept. I feel like the initial press was much more, [quaintly] ‘A store on Tumblr!’
Why don’t we end on that note: clearing up any lingering misconceptions. Explain Of a Kind in one sentence!
CM: Our goal is to introduce a new online retail experience that serves as a support for emerging fashion designers.