A decade ago, Alexis Maybank founded Gilt Groupe, a luxury daily deals website that has gradually amassed over eight million customers. This February, Gilt was sold to Saks Fifth Avenue's parent company for $250 million, a figure much lower than its $1 billion valuation.
But Maybank is ready to put Gilt firmly in the rearview mirror. She's spent the last few months plugging away at a brand-new shopping app with Leah Park, who led the creative operations at Gilt for several years. The app, called Project September, launches today.
Named for the month that the fashion calendar begins, the app allows users to upload photos and see other people's photo streams. Unlike other visual social media platforms, it allows you to click on any item in an image to buy it immediately. "Whenever I saw an item I liked on a friend's social media feed, it would take me ages to locate it at a store where I could buy it," Maybank explains. "I wanted to create a platform where you could see a product you liked in a photo, then tap it to buy it on the spot."
Maybank wasn't the only one who was frustrated with the inability to shop directly from photos. She had noticed that Gilt's website receives a lot of traffic from users leaving social media sites, who are clearly searching for an object they have just seen. While Facebook has made it possible to set up a store on a profile page and Like2Buy allows users to save items they like on Instagram to a wish list, both platforms require many steps to make a purchase.
Project September's interface is highly visual, with rows of images and no commentary. Maybank explains that it is designed to look like a spread in a fashion magazine. Users can follow their friends, influencers, and brands, swiping left and right to go from photo to photo. They can also create profiles and upload their own content.
The Project September team has been working with many brands and retailers to enable users to make a commission from any items that sell from their photos. When they post an image, they can link each item on the picture to a store where it can be purchased; if that item sells, they can earn between eight to 15 percent of it's value and Project September will also get a small cut. (The exact figures vary depending on the type of product and the retailer.) Project September users can purchase items from Bloomingdale's, Net-a-Porter, Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, Ferragamo, Fendi, Nasty Gal, and Free People, among many other brands. The company is actively bringing on others.
Bloggers, fashion editors, celebrities, and others with large follower bases stand to make a lot of money from encouraging people to purchase products that they recommend. Project September has recruited Marie Claire creative director Nina Garcia, beauty expert Frederic Fekkai, and model Christy Turlington Burns to be fashion advisors; they have each created profiles and will share content. "This is one way to start building our follower base," Maybank explains. However, she makes it clear that the platform is not designed exclusively for influencers with huge audiences. "The platform is open to any users who want to share their creative work," she says.
To get off the ground, Project September has received an undisclosed round of angel funding from investors such as First Round Capital, Greylock Partners, Built by Girls Ventures, and Female Founders Fund Ventures.