The world of fashion is fast. Particularly within the last ten years, the speed at which trends move from the runway to the rack at the nearest retail store has picked up so much that the term “fast fashion” does not even begin to describe the ever-churning cycle that stores go through to remain up-to-date.
Some successful retail websites like Gilt and HauteLook capitalize on deals at the end of the cycle — selling off high-end excess from past seasons at ultra clearance prices. But New York-based startup Hukkster enables shoppers to keep an eye on their favorite in-season pieces online and snap them up once they hit the sale section, but not after they’re fighting over it at the flash deal event.
“I would say our majority customer is definitely a savvy shopper, but they’re not bargain basement or end of season,” explained Hukkster co-founder Erica Bell. “Our customer clicks through to purchase at 20 percent to 30 percent off, but they’re not waiting for it to be a negative margin for retail.”
Bell and co-founder Katie Finnegan both had rich fashion experience as veteran buyers for J. Crew, but once they moved into consultancy positions, they realized they were out of the loop about when items would cycle into the sale. Built like an RSS reader for fashion, Hukkster is a bookmark that, once clicked, posts an alert for the particular item. Once it drops a significant percentage in price or moves to the sale rack, a user will get an alert that the price is right and it’s time to buy. In addition to monitoring internal changes, Hukkster also keeps track of external promotions from its online partners.
“One think that people underrepresent is the frequency with coupon codes and blanket promotions — the 20 percent off swimwear, 40 percent off sweaters.” Finnegan said. “We filter those coupon codes and find those in-season promotions to make that little something extra exciting.”
And that little extra something is what pushes shoppers, already consumed with the desire of the perfect pair of pants or that “it” bag, over the edge to click the buy button. Finnegan said that the average Hukkster customer waits between 10 to 15 days from when she (or he) “Hukks” an item for alerts and finally purchases the piece. Hukkster users usually watch an item that costs between $150 and $200 — driving the startup to seek partnerships with online companies like Piperlime, ShopBop and Zappos. Both Bell and Finnegan see Hukkster as a way for major companies to engage customers in a new way, particularly because shoppers can use Hukkster on the websites they love to peruse.
“We’re not looking to disrupt — we want to be helpful,” Bell said. “That was the idea of the bookmarklet. We help the retailer maintain the dialogue, and we try to make it the most seamless.”
Bell and Finnegan’s fashion minds — and their desire to maintain one-on-one relationships with their big-name retail partners — have attracted great minds and great financing to their company. Since the company started in 2012, Hukkster has raised $5.5 million in funding in multiple rounds led by Winklevoss Capital, and attracted the likes of Henri Bendel and Lisa Blau — the latter of which has guided other New York-based women-owned startups, including Loverly and The Daily Muse.
“Our investors have just been extremely supportive and critical to our success,” Finnegan added. “Everyone has a different perspective and a different background, and that has created a strong foundation for us.”
Bell and Finnegan are focused on bringing supply to their growing demand, partnering with high-quality brands that their users request. But the company is also driving forward to reach the less-savvy shopper by working on a soup-to-nuts method of buying fashion: In the future, a user can log in to Hukkster online or via app, check out the latest trends to get inspired, Hukk items in their favorite stores to snag them at the right price, and buy them through Hukkster with a seamless payment system. The company is beginning these inspiration features with events — wedding season, the holidays, and other milestones — but both Bell and Finnegan are hoping Hukkster goes universal.
“Ultimately, we see this not only working well with people who are engaging life milestones, but we want this to become your universal shopping platform.” Bell explains. “We want people to Hukk everything — from fashion to appliances to grocery.”
Hukkster’s novel way of approaching fast fashion — in the middle of the cycle, rather than the end — opens up a win-win for both the customer and the retailer. It’s a smart position, and one that gives shoppers what they want, when they want it.