The Hub Cool News

Macy’s Block

macys-heraldMacy’s Herald Square "now encompasses nearly an entire city block," reports Natasha Singer in The New York Times (11/3/14). This means the store "occupies a singular place in American retailing," and the intent is to offer "a vast array of goods at prices so varied that everyone can afford to buy something." Tourists, especially: "Because of its location a block from the Empire State Building, the store attracts roughly six million tourists a year, several million of them from outside the United States."

Tourists from "Brazil, China and other emerging-market nations with growing middle and upper classes" are "hungry for luxury logos." This factored heavily into the four-year, $400 million overhaul of Macy’s flagship, spearheaded by CEO Terry Lundgren. Once completed, next year, the renovation will add "100,000 square feet of selling space" and will be poised to set a new standard relative to Selfridges in London, Isetan in Tokyo, Galeries Lafayette in Paris and El Corte Ingles in Madrid, for example.

In part this involves installing luxury boutiques from Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Burberry, as well as a new upscale cafe serving Starbucks Reserve coffee. "It’s more of a European style for you to relax during the day," says Terry. The store will also be easier to navigate — the original layout actually was designed to cause people to lose their way, in hopes they would spend more time and money. Macy’s has also streamlined its logistics for timely merchandising, and armed associates with iPads to improve internal communications and customer service.

Animalistic Vanilla

vanilla-beanRaw vanilla beans smell of "castoreum, a secretion from a beaver," reports Ellen Byron in The Wall Street Journal (10/22/14). Vanilla’s "animalistic" note became apparent to Ann Gottlieb, a fragrance developer, while touring "the tiny, rudimentary farms where vanilla is usually grown," after "handling beans before and after processing … The discovery is influencing fragrance projects now under way, including a number of men’s fragrances that will combine animalistic vanilla notes with its warm and creamy ones."

This is but one example of vanilla’s many possibilities now under development — testament to the aroma’s enduring popularity. "Vanilla will never die," says Ann. "It’s probably the most acceptable note of anything there is in a fragrance … Everyone has a vanilla memory whether you realize it or not." Experts say such memory begins "before birth, helped by mothers using and eating so many things that contain it … Vanilla can be found in amniotic fluid and in breast milk … Babies often recognize, or orient their faces toward, a vanilla flavor or scent."

No question but that vanilla is big business: "Since its opening in 1990, Bath & Body Works has sold $1.1 billion worth of vanilla-scented products, including body lotion, shower gel and perfume." The retailer’s latest vanilla fragrance "comes from a bean in Madagascar that takes three years to grow and must be pollinated by hand within 24 hours of a blossom appearing." It is being marketed as "vanilla like you’ve never experienced." Camille McDonald of Bath & Body Works says the claim even intrigues "vanilla skeptics who think they’ve smelled it all."

Counter Intelligence

google-glassCosmetics counters are getting a Google-inspired facelift in the e-commerce age, reports Bee Shapiro in The New York Times (10/9/14). At Bloomingdale’s, the "latest counter program" employs Google Glass to help customers learn how to use the products they buy. "A YSL makeup artist wears the gadget while applying the client’s makeup. The video, which also includes shots of the products used, is emailed to the customer." This appeals to shoppers like Carol Koehli, who says she’s "hopeless with makeup."

Carol says she might even post her makeup session on social media. "I’m on Twitter and I have Instagram," she says. "My friends are on Facebook. We send each other pictures already. I might well do this video, too." YSL’s Google Glass initiative underscores how "the lines between department store beauty shopping and e-commerce are blurring." "A customer might notice something on a website first and then go to a store," says YSL’s Alexandra Papazian. "Or they’ll go to counter and then go home and do more research online."

Other department stores are banking on more in the way of high-touch. At Bergdorf Goodman, for instance Clif de Raita, is a star attraction at the Tom Ford counter, where he "has developed something of a cultish following. Clients report that his gentle guidance (more instructive than old-fashioned hard sell) is worth the trip to the store." Arriana Marion says Clif gives her advice on things she’s too busy to research herself. According to Tom Ford Beauty, "the company sells double the items per transaction at the beauty counter as it does online."

Lacquered

laboutin-polishThe purpose of a $50 bottle of nail polish, says Christian Louboutin, is "to bring beauty to the side of fine arts," reports Ruth La Ferla in The New York Times (9/11/14). This manifests itself as "a collection of 31 violently colorful nail lacquers, housed in a jewel-like glass bottle, with a conical cap as spiky and tall as a steeple." (link) Christian admits that the design "is not practical," but explains that "just as a high heel may slow your walk, this long cap obliges you to take some time to paint your nails."

For this, Christian is pricing his polish at fifty bucks, "a nervy move conceived to elevate nail polish to an unprecedented lofty terrain." The previous record high for polish was $32, set by Tom Ford. "I couldn’t think about price," says Christian. "There was no reason to add an ordinary product to the beauty category." Bernard Bonneau of Fiabila USA, another polish-maker, agrees: "You are selling what the customer is dreaming about," he says, while admitting that the cost of the raw materials don’t amount to very much.

However, as Christian notes, other costs include "development, the designer of the bottle, the marketing and the cost of meeting industry regulations for purity." Bernard adds: "We are creating a product that’s almost at pharmaceutical levels." And James Slowey of Baralan USA, a manufacturer of polish bottles and packaging, says: "You are selling in some instances, 25 years of a designer’s history." In any case, NPD Research finds that "those shoppers inclined to do the math tend to shrug off markups," and just go with "prestige brands."

Men in Shoes

Growing male demand for fancy shoes is changing the face of shopping in New York City, reports Jane L. Levere in The New York Times (9/10/14). "A lot of people in the market say men are shopping for shoes more like women, who want a lot of variety in their shoe wardrobe," says Mimi Fukuyoshi of Bergdorf Goodman. Fashion consultant Robert Burke concurs: "There’s a pattern with men: They want to enjoy luxury watches, Scotch, good shoes and tailored clothing." He adds that they don’t care much what it costs.

NPD Group, the market research firm, supports such assertions, reporting that "dollar sales of men’s footwear in the United States grew eight percent in the last two years, twice the growth rate of dollar sales of women’s footwear in the same period." Such opportunity is a boon to the "John Lobb store on Madison Avenue," where men "order bespoke shoes and boots, made from leather and exotic skins like lizard and crocodile." Shoes start at "$8,000 and can climb to $25,000."

Following in those footsteps, Louis Leeman, "based in Florence, plans to open its first store in December at 793 Madison Avenue," which "will resemble a Parisian apartment, with a fireplace, and a cobbler will take orders." The store is also a departure in that most men’s retailers used to be located "near shoppers’ Midtown offices." Kelli Duggan of John Lobb says the arrival of her store and others will change the game for male shoppers. "It creates a kind of centralized luxury men’s shopping experience," she says.

Killer Heels

A museum exhibit of high-heeled shoes takes aim at clearing "the footwear’s bad rap," reports Jessica Dawson in The Wall Street Journal (9/10/14). "We all know the overarching vision of high heels and what the perception of them is," says Lisa Small, curator of the Brooklyn Museum, host of the exhibit, Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe. The charges, of course, include "among other things, objectifying and hobbling its wearers." The exhibit "includes contemporary and historic footwear."

Shoes were selected, says Lisa, "from an aesthetic, design and material culture standpoint." This can cut both ways, she says. "A lot of the shoes in the show are … difficult aesthetically or meant to be making different kinds of statements." The shoes are exhibited "alongside a selection of paintings and design objects that resonate" with them. The show will also "debut six short films by artists invited to riff on the heel," including work by Zach Gold, who compares fashion to music videos.

"Instead of looking at a 12-inch album cover to get the visual communication for that record, you’re looking at a 3-½ minute film," says Zach. "It changed everything." Zach created a 5-minute video called Spike for the exhibit. Another video, by artist Marilyn Minter, features a 210-pound, tattooed dancer, "traversing molasses-like puddles of silver paint." "It’s the anti-glamour video," she says. "I would never make something to glorify the heel." She does, however, plan to wear heels to the exhibition’s opening.

Data Magic

stitch-fixThe magic of the emerging shopping experience — online or off — "comes from the data," reports Molly Wood in The New York Times (8/15/14). For e-commerce enterprises, the data enables a level of personal service that approximates — or potentially improves upon — that which can occur naturally in a store. "In traditional retail, they have the benefit in that they have real people who in theory could offer a very personalized experience," says Katrina Lake, founder of Stitch Fix, an online women’s clothing retailer.

Stitch Fix "sends its customers boxes of clothes picked by a combination of personal stylists and big data." The advantage over, say a mall or a traditional e-commerce play, says Katrina, is that it eliminates the often overwhelming array of choices. Bill Gurley, a Stitch Fix investor, says the data science involved in making this happen is significant. "There’s a 15-page profile, there are over 66 characteristics tracked and there’s a predictive heat score for every single item against every single user."

Birchbox uses a similar approach with beauty products. "We use curation and personalization as a way to make the internet have some of those fun and satisfying elements of shopping," says Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp. "There is still this desire to work with somebody that you trust." Birchbox takes a similar approach at its sole physical store, where Birchbox’s online customers can provide their email address to an employee, who then directs them to relevant items, based on their profile.

Artisan Nest

nestRebecca van Bergen is connecting small-village artisans to the great American marketplace, reports Rachel Felder in The New York Times (8/14/14). Rebecca is founder of Nest — not to be confused with Nest — which "acts as a matchmaker between artisans and companies in the fashion and home furnishings fields." It has now "created what it dubbed its Artisan Summit," designed to help "indigenous craft artists" market their wares as well as teach big-market retailers how to work with them.

"Nest brought together these artisans because they share the same challenges," says Nest founder Rebecca van Bergen. "One of the largest is how to take largely home workers who have produced for local markets with different standards of quality, and translate that to a fashion industry, particularly a luxury fashion industry, that has very stringent requirements in terms of quality and replicability." It’s an equally interesting challenge for major retailers "as the appeal of such products grows."

Rebecca launched Nest in 2006 by "lending artisans money to produce goods, then selling the products to recoup those loans — but eventually eliminated sales to become a non-profit." Nest has helped produce items such as "Trina Turk glass-beaded necklaces in Tiruchirappalli, India … and handwoven Ikat Feed tote bags in Guatemala City." Rebecca says that bridging developing economies and urban fashion is "strange and surreal," adding: "To see the process from design to rack, I mean, it’s art."

BucketFeet Community

bucketfeetWhere Toms Shoes hopes "to improve lives," BucketFeet is "about building a community," reports Lizette Chapman in The Wall Street Journal (8/14/14). Toms is famous for donating "a pair of its shoes to a person in need every time a customer buys a pair." The BucketFeet idea, meanwhile, is to connect "people around the globe through art. Its flip-flops and sneakers for men, women and children feature designs by more than 5,000 artists worldwide." (images)

"By doubling down on our artist community and the stories they tell, we’re building our brand," says co-founder Raaja Nemani, 32. "Yes, we sell shoes, but we are really about building a community." Launched in 2011 by Raaja and business partner Aaron Firestein with $100,000 in personal savings, BucketFeet today "has 16 full-time employees and has raised nearly $6 million in venture capital." Its footwear is sold nationwide in Nordstrom’s and will soon be available "at select Bloomingdale’s stores" and its website.

Prices range from "$30 for flip-flops to $68 or more for sneakers." Raaja says BucketFeet’s success happened because "we had zero pride in how we did it and focused 100% on how to get in front of people at street fairs, trunk shows and every party we could. We talked about it shamelessly everywhere and messaged every person we knew on Facebook and said, ‘please buy our shoes as a favor to us’." Currently, BucketFeet offers two styles, but plans to have "six or seven by spring of next year."

Patagonia Profits

patagonia-wetsuitPatagonia’s "unusual commitment to sustainability" sometimes comes "at the expense of its bottom line," reports Diane Cardwell in The New York Times (7/31/14). "Business that puts profit above people and the environment is not going to be a healthy and sustainable way for us to live and for the planet to survive," says Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. Rose adds that company founder Yvon Chouinard has "said that every time he made a decision that was right for the environment, it made the company money, though sometimes not for a while."

One of Patagonia’s newest products, a wetsuit that "is made not from conventional petroleum-based neoprene but from a natural rubber derived from a desert shrub," is a case in point. "Instead of holding the manufacturer of the rubber, Yulex, to a yearslong exclusive contract, Patagonia is encouraging its competitors to use the product, hoping to see its use grow and drive down the price." This is in the tradition of Patagonia’s introduction of "organically grown cotton products in the 1990s," which lost both customers and money.

However, the suit, "priced at $529 – $549 … will earn the company money and bolster its green credentials, an important part of how it tried to appeal to customers." Mitch Taylor, a surfer, is sold: "I was really stoked on it," he said. Another surfer, Walter Valesky, was less enthusiastic, noting that he could get a good used surfboard for that money. Yvon’s son, Fletcher Chouinard, remains optimistic: "People are starting to put their money where their mouth is, but it’s slow," he says.

Sephora Photos

coloriqSephora is using visual data to achieve an in-store experience that couldn’t happen online, reports Issie Lapowsky in Wired (8/1/04). Sephora’s "new flagship location in New York City … is filled with digital accents designed to bring the brick-and-mortar experience closer to the world of online retail, including everything from a touchscreen quiz for finding the best perfume to a skincare product finder that culls e-commerce data and serves up online reviews."

However, Sephora is also using technology in its stores that can "unlock some interesting data that brands could never collect online. The most obvious example of that … is a program called ColorIQ, which attempts to match shoppers’ skin tone with the appropriate shade of foundation. To do that, Sephora partnered with Pantone to identify every possible skin tone in the world. They then created a piece of hardware that filters out external light to photograph a shopper’s exact skin tone and match it to makeup that’s in stock."

Using ColorIQ revealed "that some of the 121 skin tones identified were more popular than others" but Sephora didn’t have products "for several of the most popular tones." The retailer has since "worked with brands to build out a more diverse range of shades." "Brands had never been able to see that data before says Sephora marketing chief Julie Bornstein, who adds: "I feel strongly that physical retail will never go away … It’s been a pastime since the beginning of mankind.”

Under Armour Pirhouettes

misty-copeland-uaUnder Armour hopes to connect with women by featuring a non-athlete in its advertising, reports Andrew Adam Newman in The New York Times (7/31/14). Of course, describing ballerina Misty Copeland as a "non-athlete" is debatable, as Misty herself observes. "A lot of people think of dance as a really sort of frivolous thing, that you just kind of get on the stage and twirl around," she says. However, she adds, "we are just as hardworking as any athlete." The Under Armour commercial in which she’s featured supports her point.

In the commercial (link), Misty "rises to the tips of her toes, the muscles in her calves as angular as bent elbows, and her bulging quadriceps resembling a soccer player’s." Under Armour’s Leanne Fremar says Misty "brings a modern athleticism to a very traditional art form, and she pushes the boundaries on the status quo of the word ‘athlete’ … There are a lot of sports, activities, hobbies and passions that women are engaging in that are athletic and physical and should be celebrated, whether it’s dance or soccer or kickboxing or spinning."

Under Armour’s other female athlete endorsers include skier Lindsey Vonn, tennis player Sloane Stephens and soccer player Kelley O’Hara. Advertising critic Barbara Lippert says the Misty commercial, which also communicates the obstacles she faced as an African-American ballet soloist, is effective because "it doesn’t feel forced and manipulated and the same old, ‘We can do it gals,’ sort of thing," adding that the spot is "very powerful because she has a very interesting story and is an inspirational figure."

Really Big Shoe

brooksBrooks Sports turned its new corporate headquarters into a statement about its company culture, reports Sarah Max in The New York Times (7/30/14). Brooks makes "the top-selling brand" of running shoes "in independent running stores," and its new quarters are "across the street from the Burke-Gilman Trail, a 27-mile thoroughfare for runners and cyclists" north of downtown Seattle, Washington. "The opportunity to be right here, so close to our customers, is amazing," says Brooks chief executive Jim Weber.

Brooks built its new 120,000 square-foot corporate flagship from scratch, and is "on track to receive LEED Platinum status, the US Green Building Council’s highest designation for environmental features." In addition, its "parking garage has a dedicated bike lane and dozens of secure bike spots. First-floor showers make human-powered commutes more feasible, though showers time out after five minutes … Dashboards throughout the building will broadcast real-time statistics on energy consumption."

The new offices also "will include the opening of the brand’s first retail location, which occupies a prominent spot on the building’s first floor. The 4,600 square-foot concept store is geared more toward connecting runners — via events, lectures and clinics — than selling merchandise." Jim Weber says the daily interaction with customers will be valuable. "We’re going to learn a lot," he says. Meanwhile, sculptures outside the store will cast from "1,500 medals" donated by runners from around the world.

Chloe & Isabel

chloe+isabelChantel Waterbury created a "social retail brand" that is reinventing direct sales, reports Angus Loten in The Wall Street Journal (7/17/14). Launched in 2010, Chloe & Isabel "uses independent sales associates to sell the company’s jewelry online … Named for hypothetical best friends with opposite tastes — trendy versus classic — today the company has 80 full-time employees, including a team of jewelry designers who source and produce hundreds of styles."

The enterprise uses "proprietary software that allows its independent sales associates, known as ‘merchandisers,’ to create their own customized Chloe & Isabel web boutiques and tap their social networks for customers. The company currently has nearly 5,000 merchandisers, who start by purchasing a starter kit, comprised of 18 pieces of jewelry for $175. The sales associates earn commissions, typically 30% of their own sales." The company currently is valued at $100 million, and hopes to be profitable by 2015.

Chantel says she has no plans to open any retail stores "because the merchandisers are my stores," adding that "every single merchandiser creates her own collection. She’s a micro-entrepreneur." She says she’s managed to raise some $32.5 million in venture capital. "It’s a business model that’s disrupting the entire retail industry, and that’s something venture capitalists are always on the lookout for." Chantel is eyeing expansion overseas "to help women develop skills and foster their careers."

Bonobos Bag

bonobos-guideshopsFor men, a shopping bag is "a tiny badge of shame," says Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn in a New York Times piece by John Koblin (7/3/14). "You’re running around, and you want to jump to dinner or back to the office or to the gym," says Andy. "You don’t want to have to deal with this bag." That bit of insight fits neatly with the Bonobos vision for the future of retail — stores where men can try some and buy some, but then have their purchases shipped, arriving at their home "a day or two later."

Bonobos, originally an online-only retailer of mens’ apparel, arrived at this concept in 2011 after opening "the lobby to its 25th Street headquarters with some fitting rooms to see if customers wanted to try them on. Sales started picking up for its shirts and its pants as well." This followed an earlier attempt to follow up its success selling pants online with shirts. "We made these great-fitting shirts and put them on the site, and no one cared," says Andy. "They weren’t selling well."

Bonobos has found other advantages to its 10 store — or Guideshops, as they call them — where nothing is in kept in stock. "You don’t have anyone manning a stockroom or playing defense against changing rooms where customers are dumping inventory in a corner," says Andy. "You don’t have the same folding nightmare or visual presentation nightmare." The only nightmare, so far, is making money — Bonobos has yet to turn a profit. But it is heavily backed in venture capital, and plans to open 30 more stores over the next two years.

Art of Commerce

warhol-walmart“The line between retail promotion and museum exhibits has become increasingly blurred,” reports Ellen Gamerman in The Wall Street Journal (6/13/14). Such convergence was highly evident in the Norton Museum of Art’s exhibit of works by “society jeweler David Webb.” The museum “employed the same architect and designer who worked on the brand’s Manhattan flagship location to design the galleries for the Florida museum, too.”

“We wanted people who were accustomed to creating luxe interiors,” says museum director James Hall. The designer, Katie Ridder, didn’t shy away “from using the same color scheme for the interiors and velvet for the display cases as she did for the Madison Avenue boutique.” “I think it definitely has a similar feeling as the store,” she says. A similar influence affected a Bulgari exhibit at Houston’s Museum of Natural Science, where reportedly “the museum exhibit was the main impetus for the Houston store’s makeover.”

Such collaboration does raise conflict-of-interest questions, which Gary Tinterow of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston dismisses, saying that ultimately “the exhibition stands or falls on the strength of the artistry of the material displayed.” In any case, Bulgari boutiques in Houston and San Francisco “were supplied with stacks of tickets” to exhibit openings and “in some cases, the shop set up appointments ahead of time so that visitors could go straight from the museum to the store.”

Olsen Spins

The Olsen Twins are making high-priced minimalist fashions for older women, reports Ray A. Smith in The Wall Street Journal (5/15/14). The Twins — Mary-Kate and Ashley — are now 27, and a lifetime away from their starring role in Full House. They’ve also evolved their fashion empire, The Row, from a T-Shirt design, which led to "the blazer and then the legging." Perhaps their most famous — and controversial — item was the "$39,000 alligator backpack that The Row began selling in 2011," which "reportedly sold out."

The T-Shirt, by the way, which Mary-Kate describes as "perfect," sells for $280, and that blazer runs about $1,300. But after eight years in business, "high-end retailers call the line a success," and the Twins just opened their first store, in Los Angeles. The intended customer is in her 40s or 50s, says Ashley, adding "it really could be any age. She’s — the women that I know are — sophisticated, very educated within the world of fashion." But The Row’s image is set by "runway models from decades past," such as Lauren Hutton, 70.

Savile Row is the inspiration for The Row’s name, "the idea of made-to-measure clothing," says Mary-Kate. The question, for some, is why ostensibly simple items cost so much. Mary-Kate starts the answer by noting their clothing is "made in the US," and Ashley finishes the thought by saying "we’re competitively priced." Their handbags are pricey, meanwhile, because they’re made in Italy. Many of their bags also feature expensive linings such as linen, and are made with "rare and exclusive materials," like crocodile, for instance.

Banker Glamour

prudentialPrudential is dressing up its retirement services in a red-carpet gown, reports Christina Binkley in The Wall Street Journal (5/15/14). Okay, the gown is not actually made of red carpet, but it was worn by actress Naomi Watts and “created by Marchesa in collaboration with Francesca Azzara, a retired new Jersey real-estate agent who at 61, is finally getting a shot at her dream of working as a fashion designer.” The big idea, courtesy of ad agency Droga5, is to use fashion’s allure among today’s younger consumers in hopes of selling them on retirement services later on.

“Fashion rose to the top because it’s hip,” says Prudential advertising chief Colin McConnell. “It’s part of pop culture, which is a hard place for a financial brand to get traction.” The message is that Prudential “can help retirees chase their dreams, and is banking on the novelty of the gown’s backstory to go viral on social media. It is also buying supporting radio and billboard ads.

Francesca, the story goes, “was discovered by a casting agent while dining with her husband at a Manhattan restaurant … She fit the bill for what Droga5 sought: a financially comfortable retiree who once had a dream of designing glamorous clothing.” She attended the “Fashion Institute of Technology and worked for 17 years designing children’s apparel before quitting to raise her son,” and later became a real-estate agent. Marchesa recruited Naomi Watts to wear the gown at the Cannes film festival.

Beauty Queen

Andrea Jung never closed "the cultural gap" at Avon, but she did successfully export its "message of empowering women," reports Philip Delves Broughton in a Wall Street Journal review of Beauty Queen by Deborrah Himsel (5/7/14). Direct sales was the means of empowerment, "women selling to other women, often in their own homes." This could be something very different, depending on the locale: "In Argentina, Avon Ladies did a healthy business selling tires," for example.

Andrea’s challenge involved reconciling "the entrepreneurial, sell-anything culture of her reps with the command-and-control methods of a corporate marketer … She also wanted a more consistent global brand and was determined to rid the Avon Lady of her fusty image and remake her as a peddler of ‘masstige’ products — affordable, but with a whiff of prestige." She apparently was uncomfortable that Avon’s customers tended to come from "the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum."

She stumbled in other ways — a baby goods division that never took off, an acquisition of an "upmarket jewelry company" that ended in a $263 million writedown, and a bribery scandal in China that resulted in Avon paying a $135 million fine to the US Government plus another $350 million in legal fees. But she did transform Avon from a company that was 60% US sales to one that was 70% "in developing markets." Today, she is CEO of Grameen America, a nonprofit that helps "poor women build small businesses."

Wanelo

Deena Varshavskaya may be "doing for products what Twitter has done for information," reports Sheila Marikar in The New York Times (5/8/14). What Deena is doing is a "social shopping site" called Wanelo (pronounced WAH-nee-loh), a "virtual catalog of more than 12 million products from 300,000 stores." The name is "a mash-up of the words, ‘want,’ ‘need’ and ‘love’" and the site has "more than 11 million users, most of them women" who "create wish lists and follow one another, as well as brands and stores."

The easy comparison is to Pinterest, embedded with "buy" buttons linked to online stores. However, venture capitalist Ann Miura-Ko of Floodgate, a Wanelo backer, sees it more like Twitter because it enables "a following of people, stores and brands." This makes Wanelo attractive to retailers such as Sephora, "which will add Wanelo social-sharing buttons to its site this month so that users can share products on Wanelo the same way they would on Facebook or Twitter."

"It’s really frustrating when you’re in shopping mode and you want to go to buy something and it’s a blog article or a picture on Flickr," says Sephora’s Bridget Dolan. "People are coming in with Instagram saying, ‘Can I get this look?’ but with Wanelo, they’re coming in and saying, ‘This is my list, I want to buy these items,’" she adds. "It’s like, let’s just cut to the chase and get shopping going here." Deena, who hails from Siberia, says her ultimate goal is to "democratize" shopping, enabling small boutiques to compete against big chains.