Pasha Sadri originally came up with the idea for Polyvore when he was doing some home remodeling and created a digital tool that kept track of different products by allowing him to drag and drop different items into collections, or sets.
But when Polyvore launched in 2007, it wasn't home décor that initially took off, but fashion, as aspiring style mavens converged on the site. So Polyvore decided to focus its energies on building a community for the fashion crowd. Before long, it became one of the web's most popular destinations for millions of tech-savvy fashionistas, who used the site to mix and match their favorite products and create shoppable collages that resemble the pages of a glossy fashion magazine.
Today, Polyvore is coming full circle with an expansion into home décor and interior design, which will mark the site's first new vertical in six years. With the introduction of the Home category on Polyvore, users will be able to create collages of (and, of course, purchase) sofas, dining room tables, and kitchenware the same way they can currently arrange dresses, bags, and shoes.
Though CEO Jess Lee tells Fast Company building for the home category was "always part of the plan," the expansion marks a new opportunity for Polyvore to break out of fashion and brand itself as the perfect lifestyle shopping companion—one that truly understands your taste, whether you're shopping for a ball gown or an armchair.
Understanding taste, Lee says, is the "unsolved problem" of e-commerce, the ultimate factor in determining what a shopper will end up purchasing. Yet Lee says the current layout of even top fashion retailers' sites isn't conducive to figuring out what a user really likes. Instead, these sites just provide shoppers with tools like a search box and basic filters (such as the ability to specify whether you're looking for "cardigans" or "pullovers" when you're searching for sweaters).
"That's not really how people shop for lifestyle products," she says. "You buy those based on taste."
Understanding how taste factors into modern e-commerce involves collecting lots of data on the way a community of shoppers makes associations between seemingly disparate items that fall in the same taste graph. In that way, Polyvore is unique because its core product is all about combining far-flung products in ways that make aesthetic sense.
Polyvore isn't unique in its quest to understand how taste influences purchase habits, or in its expansion into a "lifestyle" brand to find the answer. More companies are beginning to pursue what Lee calls a "really big opportunity" in the lifestyle market, from Birchbox, the monthly beauty products subscription service, to the newly resurrected Domino magazine, which in its new edition will double as both a magazine and an e-commerce store.
But with 20 million unique visitors and a profitable company behind her, Lee doesn't seem to be too worried.
[Images courtesy of Polyvore]