Starting Thursday, fashion's most esteemed trendsetters will make their annual trek to the Big Apple for the kickoff of fall Fashion Week, where designers from Diane Von Furstenberg to Tommy Hilfiger will showcase their handiwork in front of Hollywood A-listers and eager fashionistas, alike.
But as even these icons know, the road to the runway can be a bumpy one. That's why Sam Sisakhti, founder of Boston-based UsTrendy.com, launched a business to help fashion designers break into the industry. UsTrendy lets designers upload their portfolios, sell merchandise through the site's online store and enter competitions voted on by the public.
The site, which launched in March 2008, now has more than 500,000 designs uploaded and attracts about 100,000 unique visitors a month. As all eyes focus on the big name brands gracing New York's catwalks this week, Sisakhti took some time to speak with Inc. reporter Issie Lapowsky about how UsTrendy is launching the next generation of fashion's finest.
Where'd you get the idea for UsTrendy?
I took a trip with one of my friends I went to college with, and when he showed up, he had lost like 20 lbs. He was a really talented designer, and had moved to L.A., so I thought it was an L.A. thing and didn't think much of it. But the whole trip he had no money, he couldn't book a hotel, so he slept on my floor. Finally, I sat him down and was like, 'Are you okay? What's going on?' He started telling me how tough it was in the industry, because there's so few spots within the fashion industry. At the time, I was in business school at Brandeis University, so I'm thinking to myself, ‘Wow. That sounds like a business problem.' Once I spoke with other designers, and they had the same concerns, I thought, ‘Why don't I start this company?'
How did you recruit designers in the beginning?
I started contacting students at fashion design schools and asking them if they'd be ambassadors for UsTrendy and talk to their classes about it. The next thing you know, we had 100,000 designs uploaded within a few months. We didn't even have to market our company, really, because every designer who joined the company was essentially our marketing department. We did our part, but the designers did so much for us from a marketing standpoint.
So what exactly is it that you do for the designers?
We have monthly competitions, where you enter your designs and get people to come and vote, and when the voting period is over, the winning designer will get $3,000 of funding. There's other competitions, where people enter and the winning designer will win their own runway show in a major fashion week. We sent a designer to London Fashion Week in February. Based on how people vote, we have the funding to really promote them, so we're promoting products in outlets such as Perez Hilton and Nylon magazine. That's what they appreciate most. The monetary production is nice, and they'll take it, but the bigger thing for them is getting their name out there.
How do you guys make money?
I didn't want to charge the designers anything, so the only way we make our money is off the sales transa ctions. We only get paid if they get paid. I always found myself in the same boat as these designers. We're both just trying to pursue our passions. My passion is to have my own business, and theirs is the same thing, so we're working toward the same goal.
What are your plans for the future of UsTrendy?
This year, after seeing how successful the London fashion competition was, hopefully we'll have something set up with New York, Boston, London and Paris. The major fashion weeks are really receptive to what we're doing. I am also in the works of creating a competition where winning designers will get showcased in a major fashion magazine. We try to get our designers as much exposure as possible. Often times they understand the design side very well, however the business and promotion side is not their strength. So that is really why it is a perfect marriage - they focus on what they are best at, which is designing, and then we help them with rest.