Gilt Cofounder Launches Project September to Make Social Media Shoppable

Project September, a mobile startup that intertwines shopping and photo-driven social media and helps social-media-using fashion lovers make money, launched today with Gilt Groupe’s cofounder Alexis Maybank at the wheel.

In an interview with the New York Business Journal, Maybank said she and and her cofounder Leah Park, the former vice president of creative at Gilt Groupe, were frustrated by the lack of easy links between social media platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram and sites like Gilt where you could shop for the same items. From a merchant’s point of view, beautiful images of clothes were essentially going to waste.

“What we’re trying to do is make the visual world shoppable, and we’re partnering with top influencers on Instagram, and Pinterest, and people with an eye for fashion and a point of view that they want to share with our platform,” Maybank said. “It’s really thrilling what is being shared, and we wanted to unlock that.”

Park is the company’s chief design officer, while a third cofounder, Dustin Whitney, is chief technology officer.

What Project September does is assemble tastemakers in fashion on its own mobile platform and have them post images of people wearing fashion items that they like, with a green dot to signify to app users that the item is shoppable. These users, dubbed “editors,” are rewarded with 5 to 15 percent commission from the sale of items purchased through their spreads, depending on the item.

To generate revenues, Project September also takes a cut, and has partnered with brands and retailers to pull in product feeds so that the data and pricing information is shared on its platform. Its retail partners for the launch include Bloomingdale’s, Coach, Lord & Taylor, Net-a-Porter, Saks Fifth Avenue, Fendi, Sam Edelman, Lacoste, Salvatore Ferragamo, Diesel, Nasty Gal, Michael Kors, Free People, among others.

Editorial directors to the startup — which was named for the start of the fashion calendar — include Nina Garcia, creative director of Marie Claire magazine, celebrity hair stylist Frederic Fekkai and supermodel and activist Christy Turlington Burns. But Maybank stresses that you don’t have to be a celebrity to be an editor for the app, which is free for download on the Apple app store. “Anyone can join Project September and anyone can unlock the power of their social media feeds,” she said. In fact, Project September is planning to use the viral nature of the pre-existing social world to drive its business. Editors can choose to work with what they’ve published on other social media platforms and simply carry it over to the platform or they can create new spreads, specific to Project September and share those spreads on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook feeds.

WME/IMG, which produces Fashion Week events around the world, participated in backing the company, for its “initial round of funding,” as did the venture capital firms Venrock, Greylock Partners, First Round Capital, Montage Ventures and others, but Maybank didn’t say how much was raised.

Venrock partner Nick Beim said the potential for impulse shoppers caught his eye.

“Project September redefines the fashion discovery experience with an elegant, social interface that harnesses the psychology of fashion buyers: browse broadly, follow those whose looks you like, and purchase on impulse,” Beim said in a statement. “It takes advantage of the rapidly growing wave of user generated fashion content to create a beautifully immersive experience that users don’t want to end.”

Maybank, a retail veteran who worked for eBay and AOL e-commerce before launching Gilt Groupe in 2007, says she left her role as chief strategy officer at Gilt about a year and a half ago, and began working on Project September in the early summer of 2015.

Department store operator Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), which owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & among others, acquired Gilt for $250 million in January, seemingly a bargain for what was once a Silicon Alley unicorn valued above $1 billion. Interest had, by then, cooled in flash-sales sites, but now Gilt boutiques are getting a physical presence within Saks Off Fifth division, the off-price chain for Saks.

Maybank said she was pleased with the Gilt deal.

“It is a great business, and a great brand, I actually think it’s a great marriage between two brands, the [founding] team couldn’t be more excited. As a founder and a founder CEO I’m really happy with how it landed,” Maybank said.

Being back at a small startup, with just “north of 12 people,” and offices in Manhattan is familiar and welcome terrain for someone who watched Gilt’s ranks grow to above 1,000 employees.

“It’s always that most formative year and a half that is the most fun,” Maybank said. “You’re watching it and learning it and doing the unexpected, waiting for challenges. It is by far the most fun and exhilarating time.”

Teresa Novellino is entrepreneurs & enterprises editor at Upstart Business Journal in New York.
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