This post is for all the gals out there looking for stylish clothes at a reasonable price. EnTERPreneur Academy member, Ayana Cotton, is building a fashion community that allows members to purchase clothing submitted by other users. Cotton takes a unique approach to her online shopping platform, Evlove, by not only focusing on fashion but building a system that delivers social impact. When a member of the community gives clothes to Evlove and no one acquires the clothes, those items are donated to a partner shelter for women.
This summer Cotton was one of seven EnTERPreneur Academy members to receive a $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center to evolve her startup. We recently interviewed Cotton about her progress. Take a look at where she is and where she’s going.
DCE: Where did you get the idea for Evlove?
Cotton: Almost every morning I would wake up to get dressed and get confronted with the pain of having a closet full of clothes yet feeling like I had nothing to wear. I had no time to deal with the pains of eBay or Etsy, or the disappointment associated with consignment shops and Goodwill. I knew I couldn’t be the only girl that felt this way so I decided to address what was a daily annoyance to me and probably many other habitual shoppers.
DCE: How did you come up with the name?
Cotton: Funny thing is, Evlove actually started out as a social activism blog I created as a Fashion Merchandising freshman gallivanting around New York City and resisting materialism; the irony. Evlove is evolve spelled backwards and it’s inspired by the idea of looking back and learning from our past mistakes to build for a better future. The name originally fit the mission of the blog, and it still fits the mission of our business model today only this time we’re focusing on coming up with more sustainable solutions for shopping habits.
DCE: How do you plan to use the $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center?
Cotton: The $1,000 grant from Dingman was a serious game changer for us. We were able to hire a programmer to enable us to add user’s points directly to their accounts, and he added “Buy with $” and “Use with Points” buttons. The grant enhanced our user interface and overall website usability, the site is less confusing, we were also able to stock up on necessary shipping supplies, and make smart logistical investments.
DCE: What have you been working on this summer to further your business?
Cotton: The first order of business was to improve the website’s usability, now our main focus is on user experience. We’re investing in branding efforts, anything that will add visible value for the customer, and I have access to a lot of local and NYC fashion influencers who we’re getting to try Evlove for free so they can share their experience with their followers.
DCE: Do you have any goals for Evlove that you hope to complete by the end of 2013?
Cotton: My biggest goal is to raise $10,000 before the year ends. I’ve realized our customer really needs to see the value of using our service before they jump in, and with that comes a photography budget, videographer budget, a contracted graphic designer, custom branded Evlove bags and stationary, supplies, someone to help with content and turnaround time for product listing and point rewarding, marketing budget, etc.
DCE: What has been most challenging for you?
Cotton: Financially bootstrapping this thing and convincing customers we’re not some obscure college girls trying to steal your clothes. Since the idea is so different we have a lot of people who still aren’t so sure yet.
DCE: Do you have any competitors? How do you differentiate?
Cotton: I would say our two biggest competitors are Nasty Gal and 99dresses. While Nasty Gal is simply a regular e-commerce site, they have done such an unbelievably excellent job at winning the hearts of our target consumers that they don’t mind paying their prices. But our obvious advantage is we’re way more cost efficient and we have a mission to promote social responsibility. 99dresses is pretty similar to us, only they use “buttons” instead of “points” and they are pretty similar to sites like eBay and Etsy because they make you photograph, post, and ship your items individually…our customer doesn’t want to have to deal with that.
DCE: What kinds of resources will you need next?
Cotton: Money, an Evlove generalist, money, and a mentor.
Find out more about Evlove: www.shopevlove.com
Instagram and Twitter: @shopevlove