How This Indie Retailer Is Winning Over Zara Die-Hards
A few years ago, if you wanted to buy a ripped-from-the-runway trend—say, a banana-printed skirt inspired by Prada’s Spring 2011 collection—you basically had two options: one, go straight to the source and shell out upwards of several hundred dollars, or wait for Zara, Top shop, or H&M to come up with their own interpretation, which you’d then surely see others wearing within the week.
Today, however, a new wave of online retailers is carving out a space for to-the-minute fashion produced quickly, merchandised savvily, and priced at an affordable, though not dirt-cheap, price point. One of the names at the forefront of the so-called “indie fast fashion” movement is Genuine People, a two-year-old e-commerce site based out of Shanghai and San Francisco, founded by husband-and-wife duo Sharona Cohen and Nave Avimor. Considering the relative newness of the operation (they’ve been building the business since 2014, but only officially launched to the press this past June), they’ve already made a splash among the fashion crowd, with editors, bloggers, and stylists snapping up their reasonably-priced, on-trend pieces soon after they hit the site.
“I guess it’s part of the culture—everything here is emerging and happening at such a fast pace, people really want the runway looks ASAP,” she says. Unlike, say, Zara, Genuine People doesn’t design or manufacture merchandise in-house, but rather Cohen sources product at trade shows from factories, independent designers, and other standalone vendors on regular trips to Korea, China, Singapore, and Japan. In that way, she says, the site is more like a Shopbop or a Revolve than a mass retailer like H&M, though it takes a savvy eye to realize which pieces come from the same manufacturer, since they do away with brand names and price points tend to be fairly uniform across the board, with most pieces coming in around the $100-200 mark.
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The only telltale sign is the slight hodgepodge of photography on the site—some pieces are shot on-model, lookbook style, while others are shot flat or on a hanger. The scale of the vendors varies dramatically, however, says Cohen, which is one reason she resists the “fast fashion” label. “The things that we buy, especially from these young designers, they make three pieces of each item … and they sew that themselves in their own studio, so how can that be fast fashion? But on the other hand, when you go to trade shows and you buy silky bomber jackets and their prices are relatively low—$50, $60—yeah, I assume a factory made thousands of units.”
The prices on Genuine People are also decidedly higher than what you’ll find at Forever 21 or even Mango—one oversized leather jacket, for instance, costs $739—which is reflective of higher quality materials, as well as the fact that China isn’t the hotbed of cheap manufacturing that it once was. (Today, retailers that traffic in $20 jeans have moved production to places like Bangladesh and Cambodia, as recent tragedies like Rana Plaza have brought to the fore.) And while there are definite parallels with the fast-fashion business model—including pieces that seem precariously close to knockoff territory, like a pair of slip-on loafers that bear more than a passing resemblance to the hit Gucci style, and several faux-leather handbags that take liberal inspiration from Mansur Gavriel’s much-copied repertoire—ultimately, Cohen says they hope to fill a niche more in line with brands like Everlane or Need Supply Co., but for a younger, more trend-attuned customer.
From a team of two—Cohen handling merchandising and Avimore building the website from the ground up—they’ve grown to a team of 20 split between San Francisco and Shanghai. Eventually, she says, they’d like to curate a wider selection of lifestyle goods—housewares, books, music—aimed at their demographic sweet spot, which so far has been style-conscious professionals in their 20s to early 30s, about 90 percent of whom are US-based. This also, probably not coincidentally, describes Cohen herself: “I feel our customers are like me and my husband—people who can’t necessarily afford luxury brands, but we’re all young creative professionals and we just want good stuff. We have high standards and we like to travel and we like to wear nice clothes … and if you can buy a cashmere maxi jacket for less than $200, then why not?”
It’s still early days for the company—so Zara founder Amancio Ortega and his $77 billion fortune probably doesn’t have anything to worry about quite yet—but for shoppers, it’s another opportunity to snap up wallet- (and Instagram-) friendly pieces your friends don’t already own.