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When it comes to ecommerce in South Africa, the fashion industry is certainly growing in popularity. The fact that only airline ticket sales generate more spend shows just how much people love shopping for clothes and apparel online with stores like Spree, Superbalist and Zando being the most popular. What these three stores all have in common is the fact that they sell quality brands to the market’s affluent — those with credit cards and disposable income. Better yet, they sell new products.
Affordable fashion startup HipCloset is turning this tale on its head by providing a free and open platform where anyone can buy and sell to and from each other online.
If you haven’t heard of HipCloset, you probably haven’t walked down Kloof Street, Cape Town lately. “Guerrilla marketing,” explains co-founder David Franciscus when we asked him about the many stickers plastered all over lampposts and stop street signs.
Franciscus and co-founder Tyrone Rubin conceived the apparel startup out of Joint Creatives, which is currently behind the funding of HipCloset and a couple of other interesting startups.
“We ran another marketplace called Stribal which focuses on African art, before we pivoted to fashion,” tells Franciscus. “Initially we started noticing a lot of trade on second-hand groups on Facebook, which really proved to us that there is a market for a fashion marketplace in South Africa.”
Both Franciscus and Rubin are filmmakers and have been involved in the industry for a long time having worked at the likes of local production company Velocity Films.
“About two years ago I came back from the States and started on this journey with my business partner who founded Stribal just after he left school,” Franciscus says.
“There’s a culture of thrift stores in the US and the UK which we don’t really see here in South Africa,” he tells us. “You go to these stores and you’ll find a great deal on fashion at a fraction of the original price. It’s something that students do. Maybe it’s frowned upon here, but we’re looking at changing the perception of that. It’s okay to share!”
Essentially, what people can do now with HipCloset is take a photo of their Nike sneakers, upload it together with a description and a price, and then just wait for a buyer to contact them. While pretty interesting and curious, the idea is far from unique.
The online consignment store concept is inspired by the likes of US-based Threadflip, Poshmark and Tradesy, which are booming in their home market. Threadflip, for example, secured US$13-million in July last year to help it scale while Poshmark hit US$100-million revenue as of December last year.
Early growth strategy
HipCloset started in January last year though the product was only launched six months ago in July 2014. Although it’s still very early days for the startup, is managed to gain “considerable traction” since it started.
The startup’s team was initially responsible for the deliveries of getting pair of socks or blue jeans from A to B. Though, as you can imagine, it “became a logistical nightmare,” says Franciscus. Instead of charging a 20% commission cut on each successful purchase, HipCloset is currently focusing on traction instead.
On the one hand, customers can now use the platform free of charge. On the other, HipCloset doesn’t have to be hands-on with the buying and selling process. “Something we’re really proud of is the fact that HipCloset can act as a platform for other entrepreneurs keen to sell,” he quips.
The company’s early growth model is inspired by accommodation sharing platform Airbnb’s, which started piggybacking Craigslist in order to establish a sellers’ side first. Franciscus notes that HipCloset has been constantly scouting makeshift second-hand stores on Facebook, linking back to their site.
One of many
HipCloset is one of many startups created by the pair of entrepreneurs and backed by Joint Creatives. Franciscus and Rubin are behind the following platforms as well:
- Joint Creatives — production research company
- HipCloset —- crowd fashion
- Stribal —- African art online
- Internet of Things Africa (IOTA) —- focused on bringing IoT to Africa using beacon solution tech
- SkillRunner — on-demand cleaning service
- Taskbox — online task store
- Picturescope — a platform for filmakers is currently under construction
“It might seem like we’re doing a lot, but the common thread is marketplaces,” says Franciscus.
“We think we can do better by leveraging the power of sharing and crowds. We’re passionate about marketplaces and think that South Africa can really benefit from a variety of different marketplaces,” tells Franciscus.
In the name of collaborative consumption, HipCloset believes it’s democratising fashion in South Africa, giving people the opportunity to buy and sell affordable garments. In the spirit of the sharing economy, Franciscus hopes HipCloset would help spur the idea of sharing or the collaborative economy.
Image by darwin Bell via Flickr