If online shopping is one of your preferred pastimes, then it’s without doubt that New York-based e-retailer Shopbop is one of your top bookmarks. The 13-year-old site stocks hundreds of brands – from the affordable Swedish denim brand Cheap Monday to high fashion label Victor & Rolf – encourages interactive and personalised shopping (the site allows customers to curate collections and create mini-boutiques) and publishes new look books and editorials daily. So it comes as no surprise, especially with the site’s free international shipping policy, that Shopbop is a leader in online fashion retail.
Solid supporters of Australian fashion (they stock smaller labels such as Bless’ed Are The Meek and Friend of Mine, as well as larger, more established brands including Zimmerman and Sass & Bide), it’s the second year the head buyers have made their way to Australia to scope out the latest and best brands on offer. During the whirlwind that was Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, we caught up with two of Shopbop’s head buyers, Jenny Fuchs and Justin Warner.
Fuchs is the swim, lingerie and opening price-point apparel buyer and has been with the e-retailer for six years, while Warner is the buyer for the Designer Boutique, which stocks the higher-end labels. Spending time with the pair, it soon becomes apparent that they aren’t your typical fashion folk. Dressed well but not in a way that suggests they’re desperate to get street style snapped, they talk casually about their hectic schedules and the ways the Australian fashion industry differs. “Firstly, everyone’s so nice”, says Fuchs. “All of the designers support each other and you don't see that as much in other major cities. At the shows, Australian designers all come out to support each other and there’s a lot of mentoring that goes on.”
Continues Warner: “In other cities it can be competitive and cut-throat”.
For the uninitiated, the buyers select all of the clothes on Shopbop. Buyers travel the world attending fashion weeks, sitting front row. If they’re interested in potentially stocking items from a show they’ll do what they call a “walkthrough” of the collection. “A lot of details you may not be able to see on the runway,” explains Fuchs. “Here, we get to touch and feel the quality of the clothes. From there we go back into the office to see exactly how the buy will shake out and submit our orders.” Unable to tell us how many orders they’ve placed and which young designers they’re keen to start stocking due to contractual pragmatics, Fuchs nevertheless raves about the state of Australian swimwear. “There are so many good brands. You’ve got such a good eye because it’s such a big part of your culture; the beach, surfing, that whole lifestyle translates so well in designing amazing swimwear, amazing prints and at really good pricing.”
Despite their praise of Australian fashion, there are some serious drawbacks for buyers venturing to Australia from the Northern Hemisphere. “It’s hard as the seasons are back-to-front,” says Fuchs. “What’s a challenge for us is finding the mix of wanting to bring in the new designers but making sure they’ll fit in the timeframe of when it’s coming on our site.
“We’re seeing spring/summer this week and by the time something comes [online] it’s our fall [season]. If it’s a great item we’ll go for it, but there’s still a disconnect with the seasonality of it.”
A number of designers have accounted for this, however unfortunately it’s only those with the budgets and experience. “A lot of the brands we see will also show us a Northern range,” says Warner. “So they might add a sleeve or if it’s a white dress, they’ll do it in black”. For example, the items from Dion Lee’s A/W show from Paris in March will be on display in the showroom. The buyers don’t want to discourage the young ones. “When we see a great item and we’re obsessed with it, we’ll try it and at least give it a whirl,” says Fuchs.
It’s essential as a buyer to visit the country and watch shows by the designers they’re buying from, especially considering that Shopbop is a global online boutique. “Seeing the collections as a whole puts it into perspective,” says Fuchs. “Additionally, we share a lot of styling notes from the show with our [online and editorial] team, and we give them background and inspiration of the collections so they can tell where we’re coming from when we’re making the buy, so it can translate onto the site.”
While the pair are unwilling to let slip any of the designers they've had their eyes on in Sydney, Warner divulges that “this week there have been great ‘wow’ dresses and separate pieces”. We wait with bated breath.