When Rathna Sharad was traveling around the world a few years ago, she loved finding high quality fashion items produced by local designers and often brought them back to Seattle.
But when friends asked where she found a certain product, Sharad had trouble locating the seller online — and that’s exactly when she realized there was a problem that needed fixing.
So Sharad teamed up with enQoS founder Sherwyn Soff and his brother, Ricardo, to start runway2street, a Seattle-based online women’s boutique that sells fashion items from up-and-coming or independent luxury brands from around the world.
The seven-person startup not only helps buyers find trendy items, but also connects designers to a global online platform that can help them create awareness and directly reach the ideal customer — all without a traditional retail model.
“Our mission is to be the launchpad for emerging luxury women’s brands around the world,” said Sharad, a former Director of Product Management at Microsoft.
Founded in June 2012, runway2street offers everything from bags to boots to bracelets.
“We were created by a woman, exclusively for women, so we understand what our customers want,” Sharad said.
We caught up with Sharad to learn more about runway2street for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature presented by Comcast Business.
Inspiration hit us when: Rathna was traveling the world, discovering and falling in love with amazing local designers that produced high-quality fashion not available anywhere else. Wanting to share the gorgeous pieces she found, Rathna made sure to always bring an item home with her. However, when trying to find these designers for friends back home, it was impossible, as they either didn’t exist online or were not accessible to international markets. As she started exploring the idea of a global online platform, she found that emerging brands face a bigger problem in creating awareness and reaching their ideal customer in an increasingly competitive space.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Angel. We started with bootstrapping to kick the idea off the ground. Since then we have brought on angels to get us to the next stage.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our curation — we bring a tightly curated set of brands that cater to fashion-savvy women worldwide. Our retail model — we have created a model that enables our partner brands to increase their gross margins on all products sold through the marketplace when compared to the traditional retail model. By removing middlemen and enabling brands to sell direct to the consumer, we are able to offer the brand and the consumer a better value.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Being very mindful about the brands we feature. We have established a set of criteria that will help streamline the brand curation process. We first look at the quality and craftsmanship of pieces, then the price points. We make sure the brands we consider have a strong collection of products that tell a specific story, and we have worked very hard to keep our roster tightly curated to truly represent the marketplace we want to be.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: We’ve only just launched to the public, so it’s hard to measure the biggest mistake we have made to this point. Of course, along the way there have been some obstacles to overcome, but with any startup there is always a period of learning, growing and adjusting that needs to happen.
Our world domination strategy starts when: It starts when we become the retail launchpad for exciting brands around the world and also the first place where women go to get inspiration and discover new luxury brands.
Rivals should fear us because: Our skillset. We have a strong mix of technical prowess combined with online advertising, marketplaces, logistics/supply chain with a great a fashion/design eye. We were created by a woman, exclusively for women, so we understand what our customers want.
We are truly unique because: We are the first true e-commerce marketplace for emerging global fashion brands for women. We only work with niche and one-of-a-kind brands from around the world, allowing women to truly experience a global luxury fashion exchange with engaging stories about the brand and what they stand for. By working with up-and-coming designers, we are able to exceed the standards of mass-produced fashion, ensuring our customers a unique shopping experience each time they visit the site.
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: Tackling global logistics. It is an ongoing and very complex process to work with multiple carriers and providers in order to bring the best shipping rates and convenience to customers and our brands. The challenge arises primarily because we are pioneering this at a global scale and at this time the technology provided by the carriers does not support this global model, yet.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: You really need a strong support system — family, friends and co-founders. I am lucky to have incredible support from all three. Startups are crazy hard work and commitment. There will be highs and lows — sometimes in the same day — and you’ll rely on your support network to get through it.
GeekWire’s regular Startup Spotlight feature offers an inside look at emerging Pacific Northwest tech companies. Check out the archive of past profiles here. Do you run a standout startup in the Pacific Northwest? Apply for Startup Spotlight.