As owner of a women’s clothing boutique in Charlottesville, Va., Audrey Lewis is familiar with the wholesale fashion buying drill: Jet up to New York City for Fashion Market Week every February and September; visit designers’ showrooms, the D&A show, and the Coterie show at the Javits Center; take copious notes, jot down style numbers, and shoot iPhone photos of the most eye-catching new apparel; back home, review the week’s finds, hope you’ve paired photos and style numbers accurately, and choose the “must haves.”
Retail buyers then complete separate purchase orders for each brand with pen and paper, then fax—yes, fax—them to the designers, and hope that shipments later bring what they intended to order. Never mind that e-mail, online ordering, digital scanning, and iPad-based point-of-sale systems have come along. The fashion industry had, until just recently, stubbornly stayed offline, relying on the cumbersome, inefficient manual process to order and supply retail inventory.
Lewis’s boutique, Eloise, carries clothing and accessories from more than 60 labels. That’s a lot of faxing. And it’s why she was thrilled to discover Joor—an online wholesale marketplace that is making life a lot easier for fashion brands and buyers alike.
Joor’s founder, Mona Bijoor, knows well the pain of people like Lewis. She worked for several years as an Ann Taylor buyer and also as a brand consultant to Chanel before coming up with the idea for Joor during a maternity leave. “When I first started writing the business plan, I thought, ‘If I have this idea, then someone must be doing this already’,” Bijoor says. No one was.
Bijoor's goal is to provide brands and retailers with an efficient way to discover and do business with each other. Brands pay Joor an annual fee, or a smaller fee plus per-transaction costs. They can use the platform to get in touch with new retailers and say, “You’re a great store, you should carry us.” And retailers, who join for free, can contact brands to place orders or replenish stock between buying seasons. Retailers can also export order details from Joor to their own POS systems, and use the platform to manage inventory and analyze sales trends, Bijoor says.
Lewis says she first came across the platform while perusing a sweater collection during Market Week two years ago. The designer’s rep pulled out an iPad preloaded with all of his merchandise. “As I’m making my selections, he’s tapping them on his iPad,” Lewis says. “He pushes ‘send’ to my email address, and I get an email telling me to click on the link or sign into my Joor account to see the notes this brand sent me. Everything I selected is there with a photo and style number. When I make my decision, I click on the items I want, select the sizes, put them into my virtual shopping bag, submit my order, and get a confirmation.” No pens, no paper, no faxing. Lewis says the platform made buying “so seamless and simple that I can’t believe so many brands still aren’t using it.”
Prada, Helmut Lang, and Elizabeth and James are among the holdouts. But in fact, more than 750 brands and 80,000 retailers have already signed up. And Bijoor says nearly 40 brands and 4,000 retailers join each month. So far this year, $1.2 billion in transactions have been processed through the platform, she says.
Even brands that haven’t yet joined are complying with requests to upload data for individual retailers who rely on the platform. Bijoor explains that a department store can ask Prada to add ordering information to a user-friendly dashboard before a buyers’ meeting. That way, the retailer can generate an excel purchase order from her iPad on site. One brand’s sales director says Joor has shortened her reps’ appointments from 90 minutes to 30.
Other than being more efficient, Lewis says Joor lets her buy with more confidence. “It keeps my memory fresh. I can pull up photos and flip between screens to create good color stories, see that things go together, known that I’m ordering the right things, and make sense of my different deliveries,” she says.
While both Lewis and Bijoor say it would be unlikely for a retailer to rely solely on the app for placing seasonal orders—“It’s too risky to order things without seeing them,” Lewis says—retailers are more apt to order between seasons. “Especially with pieces that did really well, or basics that have sold out,” Lewis says, “it’s easy now to re-order.”
Bijoor began building the company on her own in 2010 by pounding the NYC pavement, visiting at least four brands a day over six months, in order to accumulate enough supply to meet the demand she foresaw. She says Diane Von Furstenberg and Steven Alan were among the early adopters who saw her website wireframes and said, “The industry needs this.” They were right: Joor began making money within a month of launch.
Since then, Bijoor has raised over $20 million in venture capital and now employs 50 people in New York, Los Angeles, Milan, Paris, and Sydney. She says brands are increasing their sales volumes between 10 and 30 percent by using the platform, and retailers are making between 10 and 20 new brand connections during the first year they use Joor.
Bijoor says, “All of my experiences prior to starting Joor led me to solving this problem. I was a brand seller, and I was a buyer. I’m very empathetic to our users. My whole team feels their pain and we’re motivated by solving that.”