Model-turned-entrepreneur Kassondra Dyebo just launched Boutique Fashion Brokers, or BFB, in an effort to take the expensive, global fashion trade show industry wholly into the digital realm. By providing a virtual platform for every aspect of the buying process, from showing lookbooks and press to tracking sales, orders, and shipments, BFB is a fully functioning back-end service for both designers and retailers. The site already has over 600 boutiques and 100 designers from over 14 countries signed up.
After working as a model and then a buyer for a boutique in Montreal, Dyebo headed to business school, where she was inspired to start BFB as a way to cut costs and greatly improve visibility for young designers. We chatted with Dyebo on her inspiration, process, and what else makes the digital trade show a standout start-up.
The High Low: Can you tell us about your inspiration to found BFB?
Kassondra Dyebo: I started to think about it when I was a buyer for a really small boutique in Montreal and they couldn’t afford to send me to trade shows around the world. When I was in business school, I tried to learn more about which designers were at trade shows. Both trade shows I contacted — I won’t say which! — refused to tell me which designers were there, because they wanted me to come.
So at that point I came up with the idea to have a designer library online, and have designers themselves list which shows they’d be at. That’s when BFB first came into the picture, and that was 6 years ago. At the time, one of my business school professors thought it was a good idea and offered to help. I really got started in 2009, going to all the big trade shows, in Berlin, in Tokyo.
A friend and mentor in New York, Carl Alomar, saw the potential for the site and said I should make this into e-commerce. He came on board and now he’s my partner.
HL: The site’s officially a month old and already has representatives from 14 countries. How are you globally sourcing and finding designers?
KD: It came from years and years of going to trade shows, knowing people, getting out there, and finding really cool designers. Everyone talks to one another.
HL: Sounds like a great experience. Can you tell us more about the link between physical trade shows and online?
KD: I love going to trade shows. They’re a really great place to meet up — but if you can’t get there, BFB is the solution, for both designers and boutiques. That said, we even put in the account pages [on BFB] where the designers will be showing next. For instance, some trade shows go on at the same time, so this way buyers can go and scout by trade show through BFB.
HL: Can you tell us more about your partnerships with fashion schools?
KD: It’s really exciting. What happened is that with one of the grants for which we were applying, the contact there said I should partner with a fashion and design school in Montreal. We gave a presentation at Cégep Marie-Victorin to see if we could have third year buying and design students compete various scenarios and take tests. Even the teachers loved the concept. Well, they’re on strike now, but when they’re not, they want to incorporate it into their curriculum.
We were also approached by a teacher from Vestechpro, a more tech-focused school in Montreal, and we’re working with them. In the meantime, we’re going to try to do the focus groups at FIT or Parsons in New York.
HL: How is the site monetized? It’s a $25 monthly fee and 3% on transactions — to whom is that charged?
KD: The fees are charged to the designers. We really did our homework on that percentage — everybody else takes a way bigger percentage than that. We had it at seven, and we asked pretty much anybody we could talk to if that was fair, and we came to the conclusion that 3% was really fair. And we don’t get paid until they get paid.
HL: What are some of your criteria for brands who join the site?
KD: We are very focused right now on women’s contemporary. In some sense we’d like them to have a bit of experience. You know, like they have their manufacturing in order so the delivery dates are going to be met. That’s key for designers. Because we know a lot of people now, we suggest manufacturers if designers aren’t happy with theirs.
We really want to help designers. We hear a lot of stories about people who don’t make it and they should, because they’re so talented! BFB is really here to help them with the business side.