Sam Sisakhti didn’t like his corporate finance job. So, he quit.
Instead, he wanted to be an entrepreneur. After hearing about a friend’s struggles while trying to make a living as a designer, Sisakhti came up with an idea. If it was so hard to break onto the scene as a fashion designer, there had to be some sort of solution. Running off of that belief, he started a business.
UsTrendy is now the world’s largest online indie fashion marketplace, which houses items from 16,000 different designers from 100 different countries, and sees over one million visitors a month. Shoppers can buy clothing directly off of the site from the independent designers, vote for their favorite items, and provide feedback on what they did and did not like about the product. UsTrendy serves as the virtual store for designers who otherwise would have to operate through their own, less trafficked, personal websites.
Sisakhti, now 30, graduated from Brandeis and decided to start his company in Boston, rather than somewhere with a more booming fashion scene like New York or California. Citing Boston’s smart college population as an advantage of building a new business in the city, he launched a college ambassador program when UsTrendy was first getting started in order to have students represent the business on different campuses. Designers began to hear about the opportunity, and three years ago, UsTrendy partnered with London Fashion Week, where Sisakhti ran design contests with a runway show as the prize. The ball has been rolling ever since, and Sisakhti never felt the need to fully relocate to a different city.
“We’ve had so much success being based out of Boston,” says Sisakhti. We’re starting to create a prototype for fashion tech, and being a large indie fashion company based in Boston will make people realize you can do this in Boston. There’s a growing scene.”
UsTrendy’s success is not only setting examples for Boston’s fashion tech and startup scenes, but for independent fashion marketplaces and retailers as well. With online shopping becoming a go-to for customers, they’ve started looking elsewhere than the usual stores one can find in a shopping mall.
“Anytime you’re a new kid on the block, you face a lot of challenges, but look at your growth,” says Sisakhti, who started UsTrendy in 2008. “There are disadvantages to overcome – it’s hard to sell indie clothing lines, because there are brand shoppers out there.”
According to Sisakhti, he built his site by getting the designers to sign on first, and then getting the customers to buy from them, and it was difficult to keep the designers engaged. But, the advantages seemed to outweigh the disadvantages.
From a production standpoint, the open market style of the site allows designers to know what customers want before the produce massive amounts of it. They can also spot the trends and react to the changing climate well before other retailers catch on and act. From a consumer standpoint, UsTrendy provides options.
“If you look at the clothes on the site, it’s one of a kind stuff from all over the world. You can shop thousands of clothing lines from your living room,” says Sisakhti. “People want to look unique, not have a dress that anyone can just go to the mall and have. That’s what carried us to where we are now.”
As of now, UsTrendy has around thirty employees working either in their Brookline office, in New York or California, or virtually. To Sisakhti, that’s the “beauty” of having the store online: the ability to reach so many people. And their top site designers’ sales have accumulated, which Sisakhti uses as a measure of the site’s success.
Going forward, UsTrendy will be running a new design contest, which designers can enter through the Contest page on the website.
As for Boston, Sisakhti has faith both in the city’s stylish population (which he says exists, but the unstylish population is who claims our reputation) and graduating students interested in innovation, particularly fashion innovation.
“So many students have great ideas for retail,” says Sisakhti. The fact that I stayed in Boston and did this shows them they can do it, too. There are bright, smart people with ideas here, and they can stay here.”