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Making Cents of Fashion

The public launch of Sense of Fashion, an online community centered on fashion expression and commerce, has been ably covered by my good friend Kfir Pravda and by TechCrunch. The company is still in early days, but I believe it has the potential to turn into something big. I’ve been following the company for a while and have a few thoughts:

  1. First off, Sense of Fashion is another example of a slick, polished, consumer-facing web start-up based in Israel but targeting a global user base from day one. The founding team is 100% in tune with the global market they are addressing and has as good a chance to succeed as any start-up based in New York or Silicon Valley. Eventually, they may choose to set up an office in the US, but it’s nice to see yet another high-quality consumer-facing start-up unafraid of launching with its roots firmly planted in Israel and its sights set on users around the world. This is good news not just for Israeli entrepreneurs but for their counterparts in India, China, Ireland, and other centers of innovation large and small. There is no denying the tremendous value of the networking that goes on in Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley, but the web has democratized geography to some extent and for an early stage web start-up with a top-notch team, location is no barrier.
  2. Second, Sense of Fashion is about much more than indie fashion e-commerce – it’s about self-expression and authentic social marketing. If the company succeeds, I expect it will end up looking much more like TripAdvisor than like Etsy. Etsy, an e-commerce site focused on home-made crafts, is a logical comparable to SoF because both sites enable small/medium manufacturers to reach a global audience on a top-notch e-commerce platform. But in my view, TripAdvisor is a much more interesting comparison. TripAdvisor is where regular people go to express themselves about their travel experiences, and the result is the web’s best source for authentic social recommendations for all things travel-related. SoF is not just a place to buy from independent fashion designers (although they are rapidly racking up an impressive list of partners). Sense of Fashion is a place where any user (whether they buy their wardrobe from the hottest shop in SoHo or at the local mall) can express themselves in a fashion-oriented context. A user can upload his/her photos in various outfits and share them with other like-minded users. If Sense of Fashion rolls out the right features, this can emerge as a very powerful tool for self-expression among people who care about fashion – and that can generate lots of traffic, lots of virality, and – potentially – lots of outbound links to apparel manufacturers both small AND large. When the coolest kid in class puts up a photo of himself or herself in his latest get-up, and that photo includes a link to American Eagle’s online store – that is the type of authentic word-of-mouth marketing that professional marketers dream about at night. These are no small potatoes: this is a big market (US online apparel sales were $18.3 billion in 2006), and Sense of Fashion just might be able to carve out a nice slice of that fashion pie – if it can translate self-expression into a targeted database of fashionable intentions.