6 Problem Solvers Who Are Disrupting Entire Industries

Fashion

Democratizing duds: Charlotte Genevier.

Democratizing duds: Charlotte Genevier.
Photo (C) Julia Vandenoever

Crowd Couture

The Cotery's digital system turns anyone into a designer

Say you're a teenager in Oklahoma with an idea for a cute shirt. You stitch one together but then have no idea what to do next. Until recently, you'd make the rounds of stores and store buyers with your sample, track down and order fabric, hire a factory to make the shirts and a distributor to deliver them. And then you'd wait (and wait) to get paid.

These days, fashionistas can post their designs on The Cotery, a Boulder, Colo.-based hybrid crowdfunding site, online store and back-end logistics-management tool. "There's an astounding number of people who want to be clothing designers but don't know how," says Charlotte Genevier, a software developer who started programming at age 12 and launched The Cotery in 2013.

On the site, newbie designers can test out their wares by posting sample garments in their own mini-stores. If a piece sells at least 200 units, The Cotery's back-end operation springs into action, handling preorder payments from customers, sourcing fabric, contracting with garment factories to sew the orders and shipping the finished products to buyers.

In return, The Cotery takes a portion of each sale to cover manufacturing, fulfillment and profit margin and distributes the remainder to the designer. If a garment turns out to be a hit, the manufacturing fee decreases. Even better: Since production runs are limited to the number of presales, there's no waste and no excess inventory to mark down due to tepid demand. All the designers have to do is design.

As for the perceived barrier to selling clothes online because customers aren't able to try on the garments, the buying public appears to see none. Indeed, The Cotery is poised to ride the wave of online apparel and accessories sales nationwide that's seeing nearly 16 percent annual growth and is expected to reach sales of $56.6 billion in 2014, according to research company eMarketer.

Numbers aside, what drives Genevier's belief in The Cotery is the power of fashion. "Whether you want to show off your creativity, your professionalism or your identification with a particular social group," she says, "clothing is the easiest way to do it." --Joe Lindsey

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This article was originally published in the February 2014 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Digital Disruption.

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