Think Boutique is an new online ethical fashion retailer bringing together a collection of wearable fashion combined with carefully selected statement pieces – perfect for fashionistas from all walks of life who are interested in making their statement a positive one.
Launched in September 2010 and based out Glasgow, Scotland, Think Boutique offers online shoppers mid-priced brands that have the highest possible social and environmental credentials made from Fair Trade, organic, sustainable, up-cycled or locally produced materials.
SOURCE Deputy Editor, Sarah Ditty, met with founder Victoria McQuillan to talk about retailing sustainable fashion, merchandising strategies, marketing and plans for the coming year.
Finding brands to stock
There’s no shortage of brands that offer fashion-led, high quality and competitively priced clothing and accessories. As we can see from the increasing number of brands that have exhibited at trade shows such as Pure London, Estethica and The Ethical Fashion Show Paris as well as the growing community of sustainable fashion designers joining the Ethical Fashion Forum over the last several buying seasons, it’s no longer impossible for retailers to offer an entirely ethical and sustainable product offer. Victoria tells us how Think plans its collection each season.
“In the beginning we did a lot of searching to find brands that met our look, ethos and price points. We began with the mainstream tradeshows such as Pure, did a lot of online research and were given quite a few word of mouth recommendations. Lists, groups and databases such as EFF and LCF centre for sustainability threw up quite a lot of leads too. Now we find as well as always being on the lookout for new brands, a lot of new brands come to us. Of course they are not always exactly what we are looking for but every now and then we uncover a gem.”
Planning stock to meet customer needs
It can be a bit trickier for online retailers to determine their customer make-up as they are always on the other side of a computer somewhere rather than physically in the shop. But through hands-on customer service and using web traffic measuring software, getting to know who customers are is becoming easier.
We want to make choosing between purchasing ethical/sustainable fashion over what’s available on the high street, a reality not an aspiration but an easy choice, something that is accessible to anyone”
“We’ve been able to use Facebook analytics to deduce that our main age group is 20-35 but what we do know is that our customers are ladies who are interested in the ethics and the story behind our range but primarily they are interested in the style and look of the items they purchase. They are a mixture of fashionable ladies with a conscience and ladies who are just interested in finding something different and trying to escape from the monotony of the high street.”
Getting the price right is also paramount to customer needs, and at the end of the day, a successful product offer has to be priced competitively in addition to being high quality and ethically made.
“We try to stock items that are great quality and affordable. Of course each person’s idea of affordable is different but for us it is having items that are priced in line with the upper end of the high street. We want to make choosing between purchasing ethical/sustainable fashion over what’s available on the high street, a reality not an aspiration but an easy choice, something that is accessible to anyone.”
Merchandising – making product look great online
A key part of any successful online boutique is website design and how products are presented to the customer. Without the luxury of being able to touch, feel and try things on, the biggest and most successful e-tailers are clearly excelling in making products look desirable, stylish and well-fitting. Victoria explains her approach for successful online merchandising.
“Selling online our images are key. If a product doesn’t photograph well or an image isn’t strong it just won’t appeal to the customer. We invest a lot of time and money into our photoshoots and try to create a look for the collection as a whole rather than each individual item. We also use shots of the item on its own and detail shots to help customers get an idea of how it would look in reality. Then we find the styled images give items an extra dimension, a wow factor.”
And it pays off in sales with very little customer returns. Victoria tells us more about Think Boutique’s best selling brands and products.
“We find Nancy Dee sells really well, the jersey is so easy to wear and the sizing is spot on so that we get very few returns and lots of happy customers. The upcycled ranges from Antiform are also great sellers and great talking points, as they use short runs of reclaimed fabrics customers love the fact that each garment has its own story to tell and that they are buying something unique and different. The Antiform capes sold out last winter and we have more coming for this winter as they were so popular, totally gorgeous and something that you know you will wear for many years to come!”
Growing clientele – advertising through multiple channels
For any retailer big or small, marketing is key to securing new customers. For start-up e-tailers, advertising budgets are typically quite small. This means that smart and innovative social media outreach is crucial to building clientele; for Think Boutique social media has been particularly effective.
“As you can imagine with a new business our marketing budget is not huge! We don’t do any paid for advertising, we list on quite a few directories which are great for driving traffic but most of our promotion is through PR and social media. Facebook and Twitter are particularly good for allowing us to talk directly to our customers and we also are building a strong database of email addresses which we use to send out monthly mailers.”
Of course, there’s no better way to build clientele than through customer recommendation and “word-of-mouth” advertising. For Think Boutique, this is really important, Victoria explains why.
“There is also a lot of word of mouth involved and just saying yes to any opportunity that you are given to talk about the business whether that be one to one when you meet a new person or giving presentations to students, industry or potential customers.”
Pop-up shops supplement online sales
Think Boutique has also run some successful pop up shops in Glasgow, which were a great way to promote the business and to chat face-to-face with customers who typically shop online. And for 2013, this tactic will be expanded.
“We hope to have another pop up shop, it would be great to take Think Boutique to another city outside of our native Glasgow and pop up there.”
More online success through 2013
So far absolutely everything online shoppers see in the Think Boutique collection has been made in the UK, so in buying something from the shop, customers not only are buying something gorgeous, good quality and wearable but are also supporting local businesses. Victoria hopes to build on this success well into 2013.
“With the website we hope to grow and spread the word to more customers and to continue to expand our range of the best ethical British brands. New brands are emerging all the time and we’re really excited to see new talent springing up and give them a platform from which to launch their brands.”