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Catwalk Genius founder Helen Brown optimistic in credit crunch

Want something that little bit special, a really one off piece? Catwalk Genius is here!

Recently re-launched with new functionality Helen Brown, the site’s genius director reveals how she went from finance to fashion, how the site works, why you should invest in designers and credit crunch style.

You come from a financial background. What made you go from that to fashion?
Mostly it was because our research showed that fashion is the industry with the greatest opportunity to try out the kind of new consumer interaction experiments that are exciting to me and the team. Having said that, the idea of spending time with at fashion parties instead of risk and compliance seminars held some appeal, too!

Some would call you clever for moving from a troubled sector (financial services) to a growing sector (online fashion). Would you agree with them?
I’d be very flattered, but to be honest the idea was formed at a time when the contrast wasn’t as dramatic as it is now. It’d be pretty generous to give credit in retrospect.

So tell us how the site works for designers and shoppers?
There are 2 aspects to the site:
1) It’s a fashion-focused, fixed-price e-bay. Designers can sell stock direct to shoppers, with a feedback system keeping everyone honest. It’s free to start selling, we only charge designers a fee when they receive money from a sale. There’s a Boutique for key pieces, a Shop Floor for current season items and a Sample Sale for discounted stock.
2) It’s a ‘crowd-funding’ service. Shoppers can buy shares (£11 each) in a new collection from their favourite designer. Once a designer has sold 5,000 shares, they use the proceeds to create a new line. These items go on sale and the profits are split equally between us, the designer and the ‘supporters’ who bought the shares.

What does it mean for designers to get investment, how does it really help them?
When we started the service, the main benefit for designers was a larger slice of profits than they’d find selling wholesale, since retail margins are notoriously harsh on them.
That still stands, but the current economic climate means that it’s harder than ever for designers to find working capital at all. Catwalk Genius gives them a way to sustain their businesses through the collective strength of their fan-base.

Online fashion is growing as people seek bargains, how do you think Catwalk Genius and other designer online stores will cope in the “credit crunch”?
It’s looking like a good bet that nobody will stay entirely unaffected by the economic mess, but it was really heartening to see ASOS declare such great first-half profits.
We expect it to be a tough 2009, of course - but we think that online stores can survive it and emerge even stronger if they manage to offer quality products at great value, with a relentless focus on getting the experience right for shoppers. We’re cautiously optimistic about Catwalk Genius.

Are you optimistic about Catwalk Genius? Have your say below.

Interviews coming soon: Alice Stone of Lily and Lionel , Holly Watson of Rokit and Claire Russell of Shudoo

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