If the phrase “exclusive designer fashion” strikes desire in your heart but fear in your wallet, you’re about two seconds away from falling in love with Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo. Besides being incredibly fun, sweet and style-saavy, these 20-something New Yorkers (by way of Delaware and Illinois, respectively) created the ultra-cool, surprisingly affordable Of a Kind.
Here’s the deal: Claire and Erica handpick designers they love and tell a series of stories about each on-the-brink fashion phenom. Besides getting all the info you need to later brag, “I’ve known about that designer for like, ever,” you have the opportunity to purchase a limited-edition piece by each up-and-comer. So you’ll be in the know, ahead of the trends, and have bragging rights—not bad.
But let’s get back to that affordability thing. Starting this week, Of a Kind is having a special sample sale featuring exclusive designer pieces from Ace & Jig (Monday and Tuesday), Society for Rational Dress (Wednesday and Thursday), and Wren (Friday and Saturday) for up to 74% off. That’s a more impressive discount than I’d typically find on the marked-down “luxury brands” at Loehmann’s (that can sometimes be about twelve seasons old and inexplicably sullied, but I still love you, big L).
Check out my little chat with Claire and Erica below, and scan the smattering of sample sale items that could be yours if you head to Of a Kind this week. Happy shopping!
HelloGiggles: Tell us the story of how you met.
Claire: It was my freshman year of college at the University of Chicago. I was dating a basketball player and a guy in my dorm, Rush, was like, “I have friend named Erica and she also dated a basketball player when she was a freshman so I think you should meet and she can teach you the lay of the land.” Obviously that’s the most ridiculous thing ever, but we met and liked each other for reasons beyond a mutual admiration for basketball players. Erica’s one year older and we became really good friends and did extra-curricular activities together and stuff like that.
HG: How did the idea for Of A Kind come about?
Erica: We both moved to New York after college and I worked in magazine—I worked at Details and Lucky—and Claire was at Columbia for arts administration. We always had a drive to do our own thing and work on projects we believed in and felt passionate about.
C: I was working in art and was really excited about this company called 20×200 that sells limited editions of prints from emerging artists and is all about opening up the market and also encourages people who wouldn’t typically buy art to buy and support different artists.
I was just obsessed with it and applied a couple of times before a position opened up to be the personal assistant to the founder of the company. I wrote an email that was really crazy saying I would do whatever it takes and how I thought she was changing the world. I sent it to Erica to ask, “What do you think? Is this so insane? Is she going to put a restraining order out on me if I send this cover letter? We went back and forth and started talking about what made 20×200 so special and what’s so exciting about it and we ended up landing on this idea: What if what 20×200 did for artists could be used for other creative projects like fashion design?
E: What made it interesting for me was the idea of adding editorial. I was working in magazines for five years and at the same time Domino was folding and all these other magazines were folding that clearly had an audience. Working in magazines, you knew people were shopping off the pages but the publishing and editorial world was falling apart. We thought, “Why not break down that wall and write about what we love and things we believe in and be able to melt the content and product into one site?”
C: So that’s how we came up with the idea and ripped off 20×200 a little bit and said, “Lets ask designers to do limited edition, exclusive pieces and have them tell a story.” It’s asking a lot for someone to buy a piece from someone they’ve never heard of, and it’s online so they cant try it on. So we needed to give them a reason to care and connect. So we thought, let’s tell a story and add that emotional aspect to shopping that’s so important but hard to achieve on the Internet.
That’s how we came up with the idea but neither one of us had any experience doing stuff like that, so it was really just cold-emailing people from our Gmail accounts and saying, “We’re doing this thing, will you work with us?” And we were so surprised to hear back from amazing designers.
E: We came up with idea in January 2010 and launched in November, so it’s been up just over a year and a half. We were so excited about it and just really wanted to get it up and there was also the pressure to have it up by the holidays so we worked really hard on it.
HG: What’s makes Of a Kind different from other fashion websites, and what do you hope shoppers take away from their experience?
C: Another really big part of where the idea came from was having a sense of ownership; to be the first to know. We always talk about how everyone has that experience at some point of discovering a great restaurant before the New York Times prints a rave review or seeing a band play at a coffee shop before they’re at Madison Square Garden, and it’s the feeling of, “I knew them before everyone so I own a little more of them than everyone because I was there first.” We hope we’re doing the same for designers and giving people the sense that they’re getting in early before these designers go on to become huge and everyone else knows about them and they’ll be able to say, “I own a piece from their first collection.”
E: Obviously it’s a fashion site but we want it to appeal to the person that doesn’t necessarily really shop on other fashion sites or even visit them. I think it’s the biggest compliment when someone tells us, “I hate fashion websites and I don’t care about trends or follow them and I don’t care that coral is the big color now or whatever, but I love reading your site.”
HG: Any dream designers you’d love to work with?
E: It changes all the time. Right now I think because we work with American designers and a couple of Canadians, it’s going to be really exciting to start working with oversees designers. There are a bunch of Australian designers I’m in love with, like this jewelry line called Maniamania.
HG: Did you have any major role models/mentors going into this?
C: We got a shocking amount of support from people and that was so important. One of the first people was Elizabeth Spiers who was the founding editor of Gawker and is now the editor-in-chief of The New York Observer.
HG: What were/are the biggest challenges you’ve faced doing this site and how have you coped with them?
C: I think the biggest challenge is still how to intersect editorial and commerce in a way that’s effective and feels in line with the design of the site. We designed the first iteration of the site ourselves and we had nobody to look to—no one had done the whole content and commerce thing and had hit the mark. That continues to be sort of a challenge for us, and we’re really excited about our redesign that was done by Hard Candy Shell, a small company in New York. They really got it and nailed that combination of magazine-like editorial alongside retail.
E: One challenge has always been trying to have a work-life balance and to have any sort of life—that’s a constant struggle. We’re both taking vacations this summer, so that’s exciting.
C: We both take time to exercise, which is the lamest answer ever. But I think it’s important for stress relief. And we try not to see each other on the weekends even though we’re going on a double date tonight, but that’s an exception.
E: The biggest thing that happened was for sure getting desktop computers at work because it makes it harder to work from home on your laptop.
C: You get so used to having your laptop with you all time and you never stop working. But with the desktop, you get so used to working on a big screen that working on the laptop is just painful. Now it’s not that thing that’s strapped to your body all day, every day.
HG: What advice would you give young women hoping to start their own business?
C: I would say, don’t let anything stop you and don’t worry about it if you don’t know numbers or can’t do spreadsheets—you can find someone to help. If you can’t write a business plan, find someone to help. In the beginning, those were the things that scared me because I’m not good at numbers, and it is a big part of the business, but you don’t need to know how to do it in the beginning. You can find someone to teach you.
E: if you have a passion for what you’re doing and you’re excited about it, other people will get on board. When we started, we didn’t think about it as, “Let’s start a business.” We thoughts, “Let’s work on this project.” That was it wasn’t daunting and overwhelming—it was easier to dive in.