There was a time when I would have moved to New York just for the sample sales, but with the discovery of one golden web site, the idea of scrambling all over the city in search of that one legendary piece, the one that would surely be worth all of the wasted lunch breaks and downtown-or-else cab fares just didn't seem so appealing anymore. I have Gilt Groupe to thank for that! Founders and close friends Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson created Gilt Groupe after realizing the New York sample sale scene had overwhelming potential for success on an online platform where anyone could have access to designer goods at brag-worthy prices. With 15 to 20 sales per week and a roster of designer offerings from Zac Posen to Vera Wang, and reminder emails to keep members up-to-date on the latest Gilt sales, it's clear that Alexis and Alexandra know what savvy shoppers really want- and it doesn't necessarily involve an NYC zip code. We spoke to co-founder Alexandra about how Gilt Groupe got its start, designers and sales she'd love to see featured, and what sets Gilt apart from the rest- read on to catch the exclusive interview, and find out how you can enter to win a Gryson handbag (an $855 value!) from Stylehive and Gilt Groupe!Stylehive: How did you come up with the idea of Gilt Groupe?
Alexandra: Alexis Maybank and I met while attending Harvard University. From early on in our friendship, we hoped that one day we would create a business together, we were just unsure what it would be. Many years later, after being classmates in graduate school, the time presented itself to us. Our different professional backgrounds complemented each other well for the venture. Alexis had tremendous experience in the e-commerce world, being one of the first employees at eBay and witnessing its growth from 40 employees to about 5,000. While I hailed from the luxury fashion world with retail experience from Louis Vuitton and Bulgari.For many years, Alexis and I would frequently meet in NYC and attend many of the city's famous sample sales. We would receive numerous calls from family and friends instructing us on which designers they would like us to go and see, not to mention the exact items they would love us to bring back for them at reduced prices. It quickly occurred to us that the New York sample sale phenomenon was a business that needed to be taken online and our skill sets could enable us to do this. We launched Gilt Groupe on November 13th 2007.Stylehive: What makes your site different from/better than other similar fashion sites?
Alexandra: Gilt Groupe was the first luxury and fashion flash sale website to launch in the US. On average, Gilt Groupe holds 15-20 designer sales a week. Gilt Groupe ships on the same day of purchase as all merchandise is on site at our warehouse in Brooklyn, NY. Gilt Groupe offers luxury designer items from a variety of categories: women's and men's apparel, handbags, shoes and accessories, fine and fashion jewelry, luxury timepieces, children's and home decor. Gilt Groupe enables one to build an entire wardrobe in a day, not just for one, but for the entire family.Our buyers work directly with the designers/brands, not third parties or outlets. Sales feature hand selected merchandise. Gilt Groupe is a partners of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) which means our sample sales come straight from the designer's no-sale racks. No middlemen. No questionable merchandise.Gilt Groupe sponsored Costello Tagliapietra's show at New York Fashion Week this past season and due to the response, will continue partnering with young emerging talent for upcoming fashion weeks. Gilt Groupe produces all art/creative in house (photography and preview reels), and uses live models from only the best agencies in New York- the quality of photography is extremely editorial-like. In addition, our VP of Creative was formerly at Bergdorf Goodman.In order to communicate better with our members in the Gilt Groupe community, we have recently launched a blog component on the site. This enables members (and non-members) to capture the insight of the fashion/art/luxury world through the eyes and ears of Gilt Groupe employees. Our founders and the faces of Gilt Groupe, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, strongly value the importance each member has to the site. As a result, they send personal weekly emails to our women members informing them of what the week has in store. Gilt Groupe's Men's Director (John Auerbach) also sends a weekly email to our male members. Additional personal touches are always in place, such as the hand-written thank you notes which accompany each item when leaving the warehouse.Stylehive: How do you decide which designers to feature?
Alexandra: Gilt's merchandising team meets with the best established and up and coming brands in fashion, both American designers as well as foreign ones. Gilt's buyers hand select each item that is featured on the website. Gilt launched its first sale with Zac Posen, followed closely by Alvin Valley, Rachel Roy, Judith Ripka and Kwiat diamonds. These brands believed in Gilt's concept and the team from the beginning. Since our launch in November 2007, we have managed to convince many of the most established and reputable Madison Avenue brands to work with us. It is very exciting and we feel that we are having a positive impact on luxury lifestyle and fashion brands, especially in the challenging economic climate.Stylehive: Which designers sell out the quickest on the site?
Alexandra: We have success with most of our brand partners. Highlights include Herve Leger, Diesel and Vera Wang.Stylehive: Do you have dream designers you'd like to have on Gilt in the future?
Alexandra: I personally love Chanel, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Louboutin, so they would be some of my favorites!Stylehive: I think we're all curious about how the prices are so low!
Alexandra: My team of buyers and I work directly with designers to negotiate the best deals possible for the merchandise that we hand select. Much like any retailer or e-tailer, we apply a markup to our cost.Stylehive: Any advice for sample sale shoppers (or online shopping in general)?
Log on EARLY, 12pm EVERY day! All of our 36 hour sales (featuring hand-selected styles from a single designer) have limited inventory and our discounts are so deep that one has to be quick with the mouse...Want to win the Gryson 'Mia' handbag, worth $855 (Gilt price: $298) from Stylehive and Gilt Groupe?
IN COMMENTS, tell us: What brand would you be most excited to see on Gilt Groupe, and why?We'll choose one winner on Thursday, January 15th, so enter now! Good luck!Click here for an exclusive invitation to join Gilt Groupe!Sorry! This contest has ended and we've already chosen a winner! Check out our latest giveaways here for more chances to win. Good luck!