New Year, New Buzz Words and Business Models

By | January 12, 2014

By Jane Applegate

I declare that curation and aggregation are the buzz words for 2014. One new company is doing both: curating a collection of accessories and apparel and ‘aggregating’ them to offer them for sale to big and small retailers via their new company: Modalyst.  www.modalyst.co  (not .com).

Founder and CEO Jill Sherman, has spent her career sourcing new design talent and bringing new items to fashionistas. “I worked in luxury fashion for my whole career,” said Sherman, who spent 11 years employed by the top names in fashion, including being responsible for opening new Prada boutiques throughout Asia. “It was all fantastic but not where my heart was… plus most of (the companies) were run by men at the top.”

Sherman was working at Vogue magazine, sourcing new accessories for articles and photo shoots when she decided to quit her dream job and travel around Asia with $5,000 and a backpack. While on the road, she took time to take “a deep long look at what I wanted to do next.”

While still in Asia, she was recruited by Harvey Nichols to add a line of accessories to his stores.  “It was rewarding to find the up-and-coming designers and give them an opportunity,” said Sherman, who realized she loved accessories and wanted to do something new in that area.

But, before starting her own company, she applied to graduate school to acquire more business skills.  She was the only person with a fashion background accepted into a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At MIT, she met her co-founder, Alain Miguel. Together, they researched the fashion industry and saw a big opportunity to represent independent designers who needed direct access to retail distribution.

Today, Modalyst offers designers, retails and ‘fans’ an online marketplace to access unique products produced in small batches by designers. “Jewelry is a top seller, followed by bags and then scarves. We look for a designer that can scale,” said Sherman. If several retailers order a particular item, the designer can produce a larger amount. The company also handles the payments between the designers and retailers.

Designers invited to join Modalyst are required to provide professional photos of their work. They pay a fee to post their wares on the site, but to give the designers a break, Modalyst doesn’t charge designers any commissions for the first year.

So far, Sherman said the site has attracted designers and retailers from more than 50 countries. She focuses on finding new and different accessories because retailers are always looking for the next great item to set themselves apart from the competition. “Name brands are out there and growing, but with ‘selfies’ (self-portraits taken and posted on line) we are all turning ourselves into a personal brand,” said Sherman.

At this point, her goal is to raise $1 million from private investors to expand operations. Sherman recently participated in a Springboard Enterprises program (www.sb.co) to polish her pitch to outside investors. A respected designer or a venture capital firm with a portfolio of fashion and retail companies would be ideal investors.

“We’ve been bootstrapped since the very beginning,” said Sherman, who credits the passionate of her colleagues with their initial success. “Now, we have some revenue supporting us.”

If you are a French or French-American entrepreneur under 35 years-old, read on:

Feb. 28 is the deadline to apply for the French American Entrepreneurship Award and win a package of prizes including:

  • $10,000 cash
  • Mentoring and coaching for six months by a senior executive from Club 600 (a business organization) who will provide business guidance.
  • Free office space for six months in one of the seven Corporate Suites business centers in NYC.
  • One-year free membership from Club 600
  • One-year free membership from French American Chamber of Commerce-NY
  • Media and social media exposure

The award was created to honor a French entrepreneur who died in a ski accident.

“We designed the award to promote entrepreneurship in his honor,” said Yves Coleon, founder of Transmark Partners, a branding firm. Coleon has launched new products and developed marketing campaigns for global brands including General Foods, Kraft and Haagen-Dazs where he was vice president of marketing and business development. He’s been involved in the awards program for several years.

Although ‘entrepreneur’ is a French word, starting a small business in France is very difficult. There are many regulations and once you hire someone, it is almost impossible to fire them.

“The business climate in France is very challenging,” said Coleon. “Entrepreneurs get a lot of support in the early stage, but it is difficult to raise capital. That’s why so many business owners head to America to fund their companies.”

For more information and to apply for the award visit: www.faea-us.com.

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