How Polyvore Became a Trend-Setter in Social Shopping

This online community tells your network what to wear. Plus, a look at more ground-breakers in social commerce.
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This story appears in the June 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

100 Brilliant Companies

Tastemakers: Pasha Sadri and Jess Lee of Polyvore.
Photo© Eva Kolenko

The future of shopping is social (as in network). For that, you can thank companies like Polyvore, an online community whose members curate product images from all over the web to make digital fashion collages, called "sets," that can be shared on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. To encourage actual shopping, the sets link back to the original sites and include pricing when available.

Co-founders Pasha Sadri (CEO) and Jess Lee (VP of product) got their data mashup cred at Yahoo Pipes and Google Maps, respectively, and have created what is essentially a crowdsourced fashion magazine that reflects real-time trends. For instance, when news of Alexander McQueen's death hit, there was a surge of sets paying homage to the designer. Beyond that, Polyvore keeps a drool-worthy repository of data for brands that can now track which products are most engaging and how items are being styled by top influencers around the world.

The idea for Polyvore first came to Sadri in early 2007, after he'd built a virtual mood board tool to help with a house redesign project. By April, he and the founding team launched a fashion-focused platform; in December, they'd landed a $2.5 million deal with Benchmark Capital.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company is profitable, and visitors--everyone from design-school hopefuls to seniors--have doubled in each of the last two years, to 6.5 million.

According to Sadri, what differentiates Polyvore is the depth of community engagement, with 2 million active users spending hours online browsing, following favorite taste streams, asking questions--and importing 50,000 items to create about 35,000 sets, daily. The community challenges are another draw, and aim to give members real power in the fashion industry through partnerships with brands like American Eagle (the best AE sets were featured on a Times Square billboard) and designers like Rebecca Minkoff (the winning redesign of the "Morning After" clutch debuted on the runway and will be sold at Saks in the fall).

Like Polyvore's top sets--say, a silk blouse-and-skinny jeans combo with vintage gold Chanel jewelry and even accessorized with a McCafé mocha--the future looks pretty good.

"There is a new model for shopping and product discovery," Lee says, "and we're here, at the intersection of content, community and commerce."

And, Sadri adds, hinting that men's fashion and interior design verticals could be next, "We're just getting started. Right now we have one sales person, and a lot of work to do."

More Social Shopping Brilliance

Jasmere Each day this site handpicks a lesser-known specialty retailer to feature and offers visitors exclusive discounts. The more people who buy the product, the lower the price.

Lockerz Users earn points for watching videos and can cash them in for up to 100 percent off music, fashion and electronics. It garnered 17 million members in less than a year.

mydeco This site aggregates mod furniture, lighting and other home décor products from sellers. Cool features include 3-D room-design tools and wish lists that can be shared with friends.

Pose Fashionistas can snap photos of products, tag location and price, add them to a personal style feed and share their finds on social networks with this free app.

SnapRetail This online marketplace for small, independent retailers has an e-marketing system, TrafficBuilder, that helps merchants promote their products.

Storenvy A social marketplace where indie sellers can set up online stores. Shoppers browse, save favorites and follow updates from their top sources.

StyleTrek A global fashion e-commerce platform where emerging designers can promote and sell their lines.

Svpply Members can keep track of what they want to buy, or browse a personal feed of products from across the web, curated by the people and stores they like.

Wanelo Derived from the words WAnt, NEed and LOve, this platform lets users bookmark and share their favorite products and browse, save and follow others' collections.

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