Discount stores, invite-only sites
, Etsy and eBay
: there is hardly a reason to head to a department store anymore. Unless, of course, you still appreciate the social aspect of shopping -- getting a friend's opinion, promising to let her borrow your item, or using her to help narrow down your selections. So Ella Gorlga, a young entrepreneur based in New York, caught this discrepancy between IRL and e-retail. Sure, gals want the ease of shopping from home, but they also like the curated, refined selection that comes with the assistance of a trusted friend. What she created was not a shopper's social network -- though she says that Twitter and Facebook integration constitute a part of her site -- but instead a space for fashionistas to post their closet, and do what the modern shopper does: buy, sell, lend or swap. "I-ELLA
combines three core elements," Gorgla explains. "My love for fashion. It's really a love and a passion, something that drives me, because my background is in engineering with a focus on business. Secondly, I wanted to reshape the shopping landscape, come up with innovative ways to present retail and shopping. And lastly, and this is really important, do some work that impacts the world and non-profits, giving people a chance to get involved that is non-invasive."
What It Does:
The very basic organizing premise of I-ELLA is a user's closet, which lists, in detail, items of clothing that the seller is willing to sell, or lend to someone who needs an outfit for a week or so. In order to host a closet, Gorgla turned to the model used by invite-only sites
and street-style blogs. You have to be invited to I-ELLA, and you have to list really great things in order to be featured. "We want to create a curated eBay community," Gorgla explains. "If someone does not abide, we will remove the items. The trust element is very important when you are trying to craft a community."
Once a closet is posted, the seller ostensibly offers deals on either new or gently used belongings. If something costs, say, $300 new, I-ELLA suggests offering it at 40-percent of the price -- in this case, $120. Unlike eBay, auctions aren't allowed, but here is where I-ELLA really differentiates itself: allowing its sellers to opt for swapping or lending, instead. If an interested party wants to swap, they simply check the blue box, letting the rest of the community offer up their own goods in exchange for the item in question. The system allows you to volunteer one, two or three items per swap -- great if you want to trade a belt and pair of shoes for a dress. The third option is borrowing, which follows the 'Rent the Runway' model of allowing individuals to borrow an item, or two, for a week or a month. I-ELLA recommends that the week-long borrowing fee be 10- to 25-percent of the retail price. Of course, the site also offers insurance for the item, in case something comes back in less-than-mint condition.
What It Means:
Ella Gorgla is very clear about her intentions; she wants to imbue her love of fashion with a social conscience. So, 10-percent of every transaction, be it the $5 swap fee or the cost of a Prada dress, will go to the user's choice of three rotating charities chosen by the site. "We want to present the ability to give in a very non-invasive way," she explains. "The people who are shopping and selling are really moved by the fact they are contributing to a charity."
Additionally, I-ELLA partners with stylish celebrities (the current featured starlet being Whitney Port of 'The City') to auction off items from their own closet -- 75-percent of which goes to a foundation of the celebrity's choosing. "Hopefully, I-ELLA will provide a way for our users to get cool items they love, and celebrities can get socially involved."
How It Works:
The idea of creating a closet of the goods you want to show off, or let go of, initially seemed hard to imagine, so we figured the best way to see how it worked was to try it for ourselves. The gray-on-black design reminded us a bit of Gilt Groupe -- which may not have been accidental. "We really wanted people to see a more high-end, fashion-oriented site," Gorgla reveals. "But because it's a bazaar, essentially, we wanted the colors to stand out so people could see what they were doing." To be sure, uploading our picture and prepping our list was a snap (although we had to rearrange our photos a few times). Immediately, they appeared on the top, resized and regulated by I-ELLA, fitting alongside the rest of the goods despite our awkward photography. (Gorgla "herself" e-mailed to explain she was rotating our pictures for easier use.)
Shopping-wise, new products are constantly arriving. We love the clean picture interface, by which more specific information pops-up when you move your mouse over an item, but the organization is still a bit cluttered. While you can effectively shop by trend (which is always a tad subjective), refining by size or style is still tricky. Shopping by closet, however, is a cinch. In fact, "liking" (or hearting) someone's closet means that you now follow them, and will receive updates whenever they list new products. Another nice detail is that, before you publicly list an item, I-ELLA requires that you write about why you like the item in an allotted space, helping shoppers to get a better grasp on what they are potentially acquiring.
One editor noted that he would like to see a blog feature, focusing on great treasures or specific shoppers. Also, using all of the criteria that participants list for search -- favorite charity, location, size, style -- would be a great help, as would a more in-depth social network. (We would love to be able to comment on styles or images.) However, as a retail concept, Ella Gorgla's multifaceted project to bring style to charity is a website that we are certain will succeed.