Kathy Bach is taking photos of a crocheted teal sweater she's just pulled from the closet of her loft apartment. Within minutes, the photos are neatly arranged and posted to her blog, ShopMyCloset, with a price tag of $8 less than what she originally paid for it.
ShopMyCloset.com, started by Bach and friends Christine Nguyen, Diane Lin, and Jeanette Le, all in their early twenties, is part of a small but burgeoning field of blogs selling merchandise. It may not be the first of its kind, but it's one of the more popular sites, and is rapidly spawning copycats for its daily postings of insider shopping events and affordable vintage, new, secondhand, and do-it-yourself-made fashion.
It started as a way to alleviate their accumulation of bags of clothes and accessories the result of overenthusiastic shopping habits. But as the site has grown in popularity, the women of ShopMyCloset are viewing it more as a potential business. Now as their closets are thinning out, the four are trying to figure out how to turn their bright idea into a viable outfit. After just a year and a half in business, ShopMyCloset.com has sold approximately eight hundred items and receives about two hundred unique visitors a day, some from as far away as Switzerland, according to Bach. And that's no small feat in the underground world of blogging.
"We track more than 46 million blogs and 99 percent of those folks will toil in obscurity and never get more than one or two links to their blogs ever," said Derek Gordon, spokesman for Technorati, a search engine for Web logs. He says a sign of whether a blog is obscure or part of the "magic middle" of up-and-coming blogs is how many other sites link to them: "That they have forty links already is a sign that they are an emerging blog. If they keep up with it and continue to do something that's new and fresh and hasn't been done before, they could become very popular."
While Gordon hasn't seen too many commercial blogs, he's hearing about them with increasing frequency. Specialized boutique stores are using blogs to sell everything from shaving cream to sex toys to Christian-themed messenger bags. The women of ShopMyCloset may have helped scratch the surface of a new direction for specialized online shopping.
At least six other sites have adopted ShopMyCloset's method of posting your own clothing online since the site's launch. Although the women aren't making any money just yet they usually price items for just a fraction of what they originally paid Gordon believes the site's visibility is a clear sign that the foursome is onto something. Other experts agree. "I haven't seen anything like this before feels very new to me," wrote Marie Claire fashion writer Maureen Dempsey in an e-mail. "It's a very good idea, actually."
Yet from talking to Nguyen, Le, and Bach one recent evening, it's clear that these giggly shopaholics really did stumble upon the idea. Nguyen, who is an account manager in San Jose, was cleaning out her closet in her parents' San Jose home one day about four years ago when her grandmother remarked that she'd get sick from having so many clothes. Nguyen took the hint, but instead of selling her clothes to a secondhand store, she began posting them on Craigslist. She discovered that she had so many clothes to get rid of some still with tags attached that she filled up her garage and began scheduling appointments with her Craigslist customers. Eventually, Nguyen got her high school buddies, Le and Bach, and Bach's boyfriend's sister, Lin, to sell their overabundance of clothes in the garage, too.
When the women couldn't use Nguyen's parents' garage anymore, they decided to use a blog to maintain the interaction with customers. The friends already had their own personal blogs about school and office life, so putting their store in a blog seemed like a natural choice. Except this time the blog is far from personal the girls don't publish their names, pictures, or anything about themselves. Each posts items from their own closet to the site with a price, and it's sold to whoever e-mails the site first. Most of the items are very reasonably priced, and much of ShopMyCloset's allure is the thrill of discovery. A few weeks ago, a skirt sold in twenty minutes.
But there are restrictions inherent to the format. "They probably have a limited number of things to put forward," Gordon says. "If they become a phenomenal success and start growing like crazy, they would have to start as a traditional shopping Web site. It would be hard for them to scale any kind of reasonable operation this way." While ShopMyCloset bypasses both the retail and online middlemen, the women also miss the traffic that such places generate. These days, ShopMyCloset grows via word of mouth, its MySpace site, and by posting on shopping forums and Craigslist.
Nguyen, Bach, and Le concede they'll have to change ShopMyCloset's format in the near future. Their closets are no longer full, and they have already cut back their daily shopping habits. "We're trying to figure out ways we can have more interaction with our customers," Bach said. "Not just comments or dialogue, but also encouraging people to submit articles or guest bloggers." Other ideas include writing reviews of boutique shops or allowing users to post their own items for sale.
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