Betabeat is a sucker for a good Madonna reference, but Material Wrld, a New York-based fashion startup that launched yesterday, caught our eye for another reason. When we first met cofounder Jie Zheng–we sat next to each other at 500 Startups Demo Day last September–she was still in the corporate world, working as international director of ecommerce at J.Crew. “Sure enough, startup fever got ahold of me,” Ms. Zheng told Betabeat. Ah, it’s so rare that you’re actually present for the moment the infection sets in!
Material Wrld is a peer-to-peer ecommerce site that Ms. Zheng calls “a prettier and friendlier eBay with social features.” Like eBay, the company offers a chance to turn the back of your closet into ca$$h money, only in this case its more front-of-closet and fancy.
“It’s the most demoralizing experience to walk into a consignment store, offer your nice Rag & Bone jacket that you bought for $600 in top notch condition and they offer you $40,” Ms. Zheng added by gChat. Locals who have tried to sell designer items to Michael’s on the Upper East Side or Tokio 7, Matiell, Buffalo Exchange, and Second Time Around in the East Village might know what she’s talking about.
Although Material Wrld isn’t unveiling its beta marketplace until the Spring, yesterday they launched an online pop-up store (and “Whose closet do you want to raid?” Twitter campaign) to generate interest in the concept. During the week-long affair, shoppers have a chance to buy items from a number of stylish New Yorkers, like Leandra Medine, better known as the Man Repeller, freelance stylist Chelsa Skees (longtime girlfriend of Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley), designer Steven Alan, Danielle and Jodi Snyder, the cofounders of DANNIJO, and Fueled founder Rameet Chawla.
Like what you saw them wearing at Tom & Jerry’s the other night? Now you may be able to buy it, gently used of course.
The pop-up stores (there will be another in April) are designed to “get over the chicken and egg problem,” of populating the site with items and establishing the brand with familiar names. During the Spring launch, the site will feature “100 hand-selected sellers and slowly scale up to preserve the quality of our community and content.” After that, Ms. Zheng says she plans to scale sellers through an exclusive referral system. “We’ll have strict guidelines around types of product that can be sold. So no fast fashion (Zara, H&M, Forever 21).” Add in Urban Outfitters and sadly that eliminates 95 percent of Betabeat’s wardrobe.
The idea of curated items sounds swell in theory, but it’s hard to imagine how you can quickly grow a market one carefully vetted item at a time.
Ms. Zheng and her cofounder, Rie Yano, a former digital media marketer for Coach, both met in grad school at Harvard. “We’re riding the wave of HBS duo female-led startups,” like Gilt Groupe, Rent the Runway, Birchbox, and BaubleBar, wrote Ms. Zheng. “The fashion tech community in NYC is pretty close knit,” she explained.
“Rie and I have been bouncing around ideas since graduating from b-school,” added Ms. Zheng. “Last summer, two of our ideas converged during a trip to Montauk. My idea was a P2P marketplace for pre-owned fashion with community elements (like Etsy but not just vintage/handmade) and Rie’s idea was a platform to allow self-expression (e.g. uploading fav items and outfits).” The latter, of course, is a popular concern with New York fashion startups.
In a melding of both concepts, Material Wrld offers a suggested pricing calculator and “Netflix-style shipping” for users that want to sell their clothes, as well as the chance to upload items just to show off your taste–for those in search of some closet envy from the masses, we suppose.