No doubt Lyst is doing to the clothing/accessories world what Pandora did for music, or what Twitter did to the news industry. The fast-growing start-up is a social curation site that allows users to get fashion and sales updates from some of the industry’s most influential players. Based in London and New York, the company founded by British entrepreneur and former venture capitalist Chris Morton (you might want to think again before picturing him as an older gentleman with white hair) partners with high-end designers, retail stores, magazines, fashion bloggers, and any other influential actors within the world of fashion to create “lysts” of curated and personalized items that they endorse. At any given time, the site allows you to follow Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Barneys New York, or blogger sensation Disneyrollergirl — it also allows users to create their own lysts by sharing their unique style. Aware that social context is a much more powerful incentive than advertising, Morton was successfully able to enter a relatively untapped market and create a sartorial nirvana for all fashion-lovers eager to find out about the newest and most exciting trends.
You were actually a venture capitalist in London before you started Lyst. What made you decide to change? Were you always interested in fashion?
I realized that there was a great opportunity for curation on the web. When I was a venture capitalist, we had certainly invested in fashion companies, but I was also interested in music and games startups. The real passion has always been e-businesses. More and more people were buying online, but the space was extremely fragmented for retailers and designers. If I want to buy a blue shirt, there are a thousand places to do so online: designer e-commerce sites, department store sites, boutiques…
Some spaces try to aggregate all of these products, though.
The only problem, once you aggregate, is that you’ll end up with 20,000 links redirecting you to blue shirts and you’ll need to browse through them all. There needed to be some sort of curation, a social filter. Think about Twitter: you follow people that you trust or who influence you – friends or not – so that you can receive content you care about in your feed. This asymmetrical follow model is extremely powerful, and was one of our big inspirations for Lyst.
Makes total sense. You have your fashion idols whose taste you obviously trust.
Exactly! We built a system to follow style influencers, magazines, bloggers, even musicians and artists. Obviously, the platform had to be very different from Twitter. The latter is about short text messages, but the fashion industry is more about rich glossy images. Our CTO, Sebastjan Trepca, built a lot of the engine, and our Head of Product, Devin Hunt, designed the interface.
You talked about fashion celebrities, but anyone can create a lyst, right?
Absolutely, there are very few barriers to entry. Lyst is the easiest way to broadcast your style on the web. It’s an amazing opportunity for both men and women who understand fashion to grow their fashion audience and reach. Those influential users also get a sense of recognition with our feedback loop, which notifies them whenever someone is influenced by an item on their lyst.
Was one of your hopes to build partnerships with established brands to increase their visibility in a non-intrusive manner?
Absolutely. Many people see advertising as a necessary evil for content to be created; it’s like they have to put up with something they don’t want. The more personalized the interaction between advertiser and consumer becomes, the more it’s perceived as content. It’s all about getting tailored advertising and recommendations from a source I have an affinity toward. Personalized recommendations, such as the ones you find on Lyst, have a much bigger influence on users than broadcast advertising or editorials.
I was checking out the site, and it seems like the focus isn’t only on luxury clothing. Was that an immediate decision?
We initially started with a high-end focus, but then we added a universal approach because it made sense from a fashion perspective. The clothes and accessories featured don’t have to be expensive, but they definitely have to be interesting and generate an emotional response. It’s fairly common to walk down the street – at least in London and New York – and see someone mixing an H&M or Zara skirt with a Vuitton bag for example. When it comes to brands and genres, Lyst tries to be as agnostic as possible; we let our users decide who to follow and what to share.
This social curation model is gaining prevalence. Do you think there is going to be a chase (or maybe there already is) to associate various designers with specific websites such as Lyst?
Out of any of these fashion curation sites right now, we’re the biggest. Every week, we see someone else entering the space, but we consider competition a good thing to keep us on our toes.
Are you talking about a race to potentially get the maximum amount of designers or brands to use Lyst, as opposed to another platform?
Sure. If 90% of designers are on Lyst (Alexander McQueen and Oscar de la Renta have started using the site), it is definitely a competitive advantage. We are currently working with magazines such as W and Tatler at Condé Nast, as well as personalities like Cat Deeley and a number of musicians we’re announcing next month.
Musicians? That’s certainly unexpected!
[laughs] I know, but music and fashion are becoming closely interrelated. With Kanye’s RTW women’s fashion line in Paris, Gaga becoming a huge icon… it’s important for us to have a diverse amount of people on Lyst. The world of style influencers is broad and far-reaching.
What are some of your most recent projects?
Runway Tracking, which lets users track items as soon as they’re shown on the runway. Sometimes, you’ll see something you like but will inevitably forget about it in the six months you have to wait until it becomes available in stores. We show you the clothes shows in the look which you can track by adding them to your lyst, then we’ll send you an email as soon as that item is available to buy in any online store worldwide, with a link straight to the web-page where you can make the purchase.
Isn’t Moda Operandi doing a similar thing by offering consumers the ability to order clothes mere hours after they’ve debuted on the runway?
We see our work as complementary to Moda Operandi. Our mission is for users to discover and facilitate their purchase from any store around the web – as we don’t sell any items ourselves, we’re agnostic to points of purchase. A person could go on Lyst, add a dress they want to buy to their lyst, and then receive an email telling them they can purchase it a week later on a platform like Moda Operandi.
Lyst seems to have evolved so much from its creation to its recent expansion and collaboration plans. What is your vision for the future?
I hope it becomes a place people go to to discover amazing fashion from the people they consider style icons. We spend a lot of time thinking about what context helps drive purchase. Social context is a key driver – for example, a blue shirt lysted by Anna Wintour or lysted by me will obviously have a different impact. But we’re also in the process of exploring other contexts, like the inclusion of editorial shots on Lyst from some of our magazine partners. Most people need to see an item on a person before they purchase it, so that they can buy into a story whenever they decide to invest in an item.
How is your office in London? I imagine piles of colorful attires and diaphanous dresses filling every corner!
I’m sorry, I have to ruin your vision. Sadly we don’t have any clothes in the office right now, apart from the ones we’re wearing! Everyone’s computers are full of clothes, but otherwise it’s a typical start-up loft office: wooden floors, an outdoor terrace, and our boardroom table is a ping-pong table. [laughs]
Fashion month ended a few weeks ago. Any favorites?
I thought the Carven show was amazing, as well as the ones for Preen and Prada. The number one designer on Lyst for this season’s Runway Tracking was Oscar De La Renta, which may sound surprising, but is in part a reflection of how amazing their social media team is. They have a very strong presence on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, and definitely find resonance within a younger demographic.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
The most important thing for our team is to build a better site by listening to what our users tell us. That feedback is the reason why we sometimes release updates and improvements two to three times a day. The most valuable way to contribute to our success is to sign up and send me any thoughts on what you think we could do better – we love hearing from our users!