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Fashion Designers Cut Out The Shop

For MTDima Sher of Shtripka, a small vintage clothing boutique, photographing some of his creations in a Moscow park to post on social networking web sites.
Handbag designer Nutsa Modebadze sells in traditional boutiques but says that quantity of sales from her LiveJournal blog far surpasses what she makes on the high street.

Retailing through blogs also deepens Modebadze’s client base: Subscribers are kept updated about her latest designs, and they will often pass on interesting links to friends. In effect, blogs allow word-of-mouth to travel faster — the Russian for which (sarafannoe radio), incidentally, is related to the word for a summer dress.

“I put my new creations online, and almost immediately people begin making comments and placing orders,” said Modebadze, 27. “Altogether, about 4,000 people follow my work on Vkontakte.ru, LiveJournal and other networks.”

Modebadze is among a group of young designers who are increasingly exploiting novel marketing models, made possible by Internet communities and social networks, to sell their creations directly and avoid the overheads of traditional distribution chains.

“Little-known brands choose the Internet for promotion because they can easily formulate their desired image,” said Alexander Kulikov, editor-in-chief of online portal Fashiontime.ru.


Aaron Mulvihill / For MT
Models preparing for an outdoor photo shoot of Shripka-designed clothing.

He highlighted the example of designer Dasha Gauser, a headliner at this year’s Russian Fashion Week, who enjoys a strong online following in part thanks to the blessing of online fashion magazines.

Dima Sher, 25, and his wife, Sveta, 22, the team behind Shtripka, a small vintage clothing boutique, are typical of Moscow’s latest generation of marketing-savvy designers who promote their products almost exclusively through social networking web sites like LiveJournal and Vkontakte.ru.

They also invite their online followers to micro-exhibitions, where a handful of designers display their creations in a concept dubbed “showroomchik,” typically a friend’s apartment or a small design studio.

Sher said the trend is a recent import from St. Petersburg, where living room fashion shows are a more common, if still rare, marketing novelty.

“It’s a cross between a boutique and a house party. A small number of designers come together in an apartment to show their collections and send invites out through community web sites,” Sveta said.

At a recent showroomchik, models posing for a catalog shoot mingled off-camera with buyers, a guitarist played in the corner and in the adjoining room a calligraphy artist promoted her bespoke greeting cards. The cozy gathering took place in a city-center basement showroomchik, with the designer’s friends as models and her husband as the photographer.

By effectively cutting professionals out of the picture, an outlay of 500 rubles ($16) — mostly on champagne and snacks — sufficed to put the whole evening together and pack the venue with buyers.


community.livejournal.com/stranger_than_p
LiveJournal blog of Olga Rogovaya, organizer of the Stranger than Paradise market, showing works of participating designers.

Artisans, meanwhile, have particularly taken to online communities to market their designs. With this trend in mind, Olga Rogovaya used LiveJournal as her only marketing channel when she brought together almost 50 designers to launch a handicraft market in June. The “Stranger than Paradise” fair, whose fourth tri-weekly installment opens in Kitai-Gorod on Friday, is shielded from the economic crisis, Rogovaya said. As with the showroomchik format, overheads are minimal, and supporters of the project tend to give their time — and retail space — for free or at well below market prices.

The new venture is only the third such large-scale artisan market in Moscow, its more established competitors being Winzavod Gallery’s Art-Bazaar and Sunday Up Market, which also advertise heavily through community web sites.

Marketing exclusively on social networking sites has its downsides, Rogovaya cautioned. It is time-consuming, and online communities expect constant interaction and immediate responses. And it sometimes takes a little prodding to get tongues wagging. The participants in her market, almost all of whom operate and sell through their own blogs, are required to promote the project to their own online followers.

Concrete statistics on Internet and community marketing in the fashion industry are scarce because of the novelty of the approach. Retailers’ own use of social networks further distorts the picture. Anna Domracheva, director of Internet boutique Siam Shop, suggested a 20-30-50 model for artisan retailers: 20 percent of sales are completely offline, 30 percent are from markets that advertise through social networks and 50 percent are directly from online orders.


showroomchic.livejournal.com
LiveJournal blog with work by Oxana Hudyakova.

Riding one of the few positive waves of the economic crisis, specialized social networking web sites have appeared to cater specifically to the crafts industry and allow it to be more effectively monetized. Livemaster.ru, a kind of artisan Amazon.com, promotes a catalog of bespoke apparel and accessories, running the gamut from faux couture to winter scarves knitted by enterprising babushkas.

The return on investment from successful, niche social networking sites can be attractive. An Aug. 17 Kommersant Dengi report found that a community site with 10,000 to 15,000 unique users per month can be developed and launched for  $20,000. Scaling for future growth depends on the average revenue per user, which for social networks with a retail element is well above that of wide-reach networks. Facebook, for example, has monthly average revenue per user estimated at $1 to $3.

“The economic crisis can’t harm social networks,” Dima Sher said. “It was how new ideas traveled in the Soviet Union, around the kitchen table, and it will continue to work now, online.”

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