December 29, 2014

Style + Tech: ModCloth Snags Velvet Brigade, Launches Cool Design Contest

In style + tech news: San Francisco-based ModCloth announced yesterday that it has acquired Velvet Brigade, a company that caught our eye earlier this year with its cool crowdsourcing platform for emerging fashion designers. So what does this mean for you – and for independent fashion?

Now that ModCloth has hired the team behind Velvet Brigade, i.e. co-founders Lindsay McConnon and Jena Wang, the independent fashion juggernaut is going to incorporate the startup’s fashion design contests into its own offerings and bring a more targeted social media push to the competition.

For those interested in style and technology, what it means is that the Velvet Brigade co-founders were on to something: crowdsourced fashion is definitely a trend to continue watching. The trick, of course, will be getting enough people to submit designs and actively promote them via social media for the contests to have a meaningful level of participation.

But given ModCloth’s popularity and avid fan base (they’ve got 400,000 Facebook fans and counting), we’re optimistic about the potential for success here – and actual sales of items designed based on submitted sketches.

If you’re an aspiring designer, you can submit a sketch of a design based on ModCloth founder Susan’s moodboard above. She’ll pick her favorites, which will then be voted on via Facebook. The designers behind the five winning sketches will win $500, see the design produced and sold on ModCloth and have their names printed on the labels. Complete contest details are here.

More fashion and technology news

SF Startup with Small Designers in Mind: Stitch Labs

When it comes to success in a creative field, there’s no question that ‘ole Edison’s one percent inspiration vs. 99 percent perspiration maxim applies. Hoping to wipe some of the sweat off designers’ furrowed brows is San Francisco-based startup Stitch Labs and its web-based platform for managing product lines, inventory and sales.

Launched by Brandon Levey (who earned his chops founding and growing Bay Area label Naked Cotton), Jake Gasaway and Michelle Laham earlier this year, the company has steadily attracted small apparel and accessories businesses looking to streamline the cumbersome processes involved in running their businesses.

In the past, small apparel companies mainly sold wholesale or in retail stores. Now, it’s not uncommon for a single designer to sell her creations in five or more different ways.

“They sell consignment, they sell wholesale, they have a web store, but they don’t just have a web store, they have an etsy shop,” says Gasaway.

And that’s to say nothing of selling at trunk shows, pop-up shops or other shopping events. Due out in the coming weeks, the company is also launching automated tools for managing and updating product in etsy shops – a boon for designers with numerous listings and steady sales.

For designers, the allure is clear: a practical way to manage multiple sales channels and automate what can easily become a cumbersome tangle of competing spreadsheets.

But for the rest of us? Why should the average consumer care? It’s actually quite simple for fans of independent fashion and design. Innovative, web-based, cost-effective tools for independent businesses mean more opportunity for emerging and small labels to compete – and, we’d hope, succeed – in the crowded fashion landscape.

It’s also only the latest example of fashion and technology colliding for a net positive in the Bay Area.

For more on Stitch Labs and its tools for designers, you can hear Brandon Levey speak Thursday during the free TechShop event Bazaar Bizarre SF Presents: Effective Apps to Manage Your Business.

Your Name on a Label? Velvet Brigade Can Make it Happen

Want to see your name on a fashion label? Read on. It could happen, thanks to new crowdsourcing startup Velvet Brigade, a company from two Bay Area apparel industry vets that produces original pieces based on sketches from emerging designers who amass the most votes.

While the idea of offering garments based on customer votes and preferences is not new – UsTrendy does it, as does ModCloth, albeit in different ways – the company caught our eye with its seasonal style challenges and focus on independent, emerging designers.

Founded by Jena Wang and Lindsay McConnon, who met and honed their considerable style skills as buyers for Macy’s, the company launched its ecommerce platform last month and, more recently, an autumn-themed style contest dubbed the Fall Layering Piece Challenge. Want to see your piece produced and sold to shoppers? Here’s how it works: submit a sketch of your ideal fall layering piece, then promote your idea. The top-voted design will then move from sketch to style reality and become available for purchase in the online store. Winning designers receive a cut of the sales, a copy of the garment and their name on the label.

The fall contest runs through Oct. 31. Ready to join the competition? Submit your sketch.

Illustrations courtesy of for WCharles24 and Lacmr57 for Velvet Brigade

Pretty in Pink: Alyssa Nicole Spring 2010

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What do cupcakes, fixed gear-riding hipsters, punk rock and the color pink have in common? On the face of it, not much. But in the mind of 18-year-old San Francisco designer Alyssa Casares, they’re altogether fitting friends. Each was a source of inspiration in the spring 2010 collection of pretty skirts and party dresses Casares creates under the label Alyssa Nicole.

“It’s edgy and sweet,” she says of her latest designs’ look.

With a recent WWD mention and a bevy of new looks in her online shop, Casares balances work, school and her burgeoning business as stylishly as she can. The new spring offerings comprise the sixth collection from Casares, who began sewing as a tween and never looked back.

“When I was 16 I designed my first collection and when people started to notice what I could do, they would ask me to design for them. When I began to sell custom dresses, I received a lot of positive feedback and realized it didn’t have to be just a hobby,” she tell us.

Along with custom designs upon request, Casares makes each dress she sells online according to customers’ measurements. Garments take between one and three weeks to complete. Prices range from $25 for a simple halter-neck sundress to $250 for the party dresses with full tulle skirts available in the Alyssa Nicole etsy shop.

Photography by Brandon Biggs and Caitlin Nascimento

Meet Stars + Ravens

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Need sartorial evidence that opposites attract? Look no further than San Francisco designer Sarah Borruso’s just-launched line Stars + Ravens, which made its debut during a trunk show at the Silverman Gallery last week.

“I’m inspired by contrasts: old and new, light and dark, understated and outspoken,” Borruso tells us.

It’s no accident, then, that the emerging local designer settled upon the seemingly disparate notions of flirtatious, twinkling stars and ominous, Poe-born ravens to name her label.

As for the clothes themselves, the San Francisco native turned to historic moments in the City’s past for inspiration.

“I’ve also realized how much San Francisco history and culture has influenced me. I’ve taken inspiration from historical events like the 1906 earthquake and the Summer of Love. It’s amazing and haunting to see the old photos of people walking around after the ’06 earthquake in those incredibly ornate clothes, for example, and how they stand out in such sharp contrast to the destruction and rubble all around them. Those are the kinds of contrasts that strike me,” she says.

Along with contrast, Borruso is also a fan of handcrafted construction. Many of her pieces feature hand-finished hems and hand-stitched details.

The result is a small collection of ethereal, romantic pieces such as a tie-waist halter dress in silk charmeuse and a cotton jersey dress with side flutter detailing and asymmetrical sleeves alongside darker pieces like a wool “East Meets West” Cape that can be worn cinched at the waist or tied loosely at the sides.

“I like the idea of giving people choices so they can wear something their own way or transform it into different looks,” says Borruso.

Borruso’s work will be available via the Stars + Ravens web site in the future. In the meantime, contact info (at) starsandravens (dot) com for more information and custom orders.

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[Credits: Photographer: Lauren Stocker; Model: Robin Ayers; Hair: Mai Ling Meyers; Make-up: Veronica Sjoen; Stylist: Carrie Vawter. Clothing design: Sarah Borruso for Stars + Ravens]