The neon crop top, the white blazer, the fringe-tastic leather purse: It’s not always easy to keep tabs on fashion’s fast-moving trends, let alone style an outfit around them. Remix, a new iPhone app released today by Polyvore, is the company’s latest attempt to form a bridge between runway inspiration and customer click.
“We pull out the best trends, make it fun and easy to browse, and also show you how to wear it,” says CEO Jess Lee. “It’s almost like having a stylist in your pocket.”
The app arrives at a pivotal moment for Polyvore, which was featured in Fast Company‘s Most Innovative Companies list in 2012. The startup has won over a core community of power users willing to spend time styling new looks–collectively, they generate 3 million outfits, or “sets,” per month–but has struggled to attract and retain a broader audience. As a result, Polyvore can feel like a digital-era spin on playing paper dolls–lots of fun, but more game than practical tool. With Remix, which will stand alongside the company’s existing app, Polyvore is betting that it can use its trove of style data to help women make practical decisions about whether to hit “buy” or how to restyle a tired closet staple.
“This app is geared toward shoppers who want that instant styling advice,” Lee says.
But will Remix be enough to revive Polyvore’s flat user growth?
If a street-style fashion star married a big data algorithm, their child would look a lot like Polyvore. The company, built around the concept of user-generated fashion collages, launched in 2007 and has since raised $22.1 million.
“Style is always changing, always evolving,” says Lee, who rose from product manager to her current role. “In order to understand that you have to combine the best of what people think, through the community, with algorithms, which allow you to do it at scale.”
For a time, Polyvore’s democratic voice–all women, all style perspectives, with a drag-and-drop interface that allowed users to play editor–helped it break through the noise online. Unlike the glossy spreads in traditional magazines, Polyvore’s outfits represented “real people with their finger on the pulse of what’s trending,” Lee says.
But more recently that competing noise has started to stall Polyvore’s growth. Last month, the company’s native apps and web-based properties attracted 20 million unique visitors–the same amount they logged at this time last year. Polyvore declined to release data on its financial performance, but its cost-per-click business model makes growing traffic paramount.
Potential users are spending their time elsewhere, as retailers up their content publishing game, and vice versa. At one time Polyvore was among a handful of innovators blurring the lines between editorial and e-commerce, but now that strategy has become commonplace. In the last year, luxury retail site Net-a-Porter launched a print magazine, and startup Cosmic Cart unveiled a widget that makes it possible to shop photographs of fashion bloggers’ outfits without leaving their sites.
As for Remix, still invite-only, the app shows promise but doesn’t always hit the mark. When I clicked “What to wear to a coffee date,” an option on the central feed, Remix offered up a floor-length baby-blue dress, with corsage detail, four-inch heels with sparkling ankle straps, and diamond and pearl earrings worth $3,350. For skinny lattes at Starbucks, it could be a bit much.
But when I chose a trending product, Polyvore’s style data got a chance to shine, as the app cycled through suggested outfits. Not sure how to wear a black fedora? Remix might first present a black fur vest, leather pants, and Vans. Not satisfied? The app might generate ripped boyfriend jeans, a peachy-pink T-shirt, and towering brown sandals. It’s just the right kind of inspiration, putting products in a relevant context without chaining users to a specific combination.
“Style today, especially the fashion industry, upholds this kind of narrow and almost unattainable ideal for beauty,” Lee says. “Instead of being top-down, we’re very bottom-up, so our community can express their sense of style.” Above all, she says, “You don’t have to look a certain way to feel good.”