after the jump: of a kind interview (mp3)

by Grace Bonney

Yesterday was the second week of my new radio show, After the Jump, and it was such a blast. I’d been dying to interview the founders of Of a Kind since I first stumbled onto their site and they did not disappoint. These talented, bright and inspiring women had an idea, followed their dream and did not compromise in their goal to find a way to highlight and support up and coming fashion designers. The website’s tagline is “Know and Own” and they’ve done such an incredible job of introducing artists so the wall between consumer and creator really is removed. I’m endlessly inspired by them (and their excellent curation skills) so it was a please to talk to them.

The audio file is now ready to download or listen to right here and…After the Jump is finally available on iTunes! So if you’d like to subscribe (it’s free) you can download podcasts and listen whenever you want. Just search for “After the Jump” in the podcast section of iTunes and you can listen to both the Todd Oldham interview and this week’s interview with Erica and Claire from Of a Kind. Here are some quick links to summarize:

  • Episode 1: Todd Oldham (listen and download here)
  • Episode 2: Erica and Claire, Founders of Of A Kind (listen and download here)
  • iTunes: Subscribe to the (free) podcast right here

Because we loved talking to Of A Kind so much, we kept the conversation going over lunch at Roberta’s and I’ve included a few extra questions with them after the jump. I hope you’ll enjoy them! Thanks again to Erica, Claire, Lindsey and Amy for joining me yesterday at the station. xo, grace

Their interview questions continue after the jump…

What do you think has inspired sites like yours that focus on small-scale limited edition goods? Why are people drawn to that right now?

C: I think it’s a bit of a reaction to so much mass-everything in our culture. I think of that famous Andreas Gursky photograph where you see a million colorful products repeated in a big-box store and it’s really beautiful but kind of overwhelming and sad—and very impersonal. The ability to own something that nobody else has is a pretty rare opportunity to come by these days. Hopefully what we’re doing helps you cut through the noise and focus on something really special that has value to you personally.

How did you start working with Jamie Beck for all your photos and how big of a role do you think photography plays in the site and its success?

C: I had been reading and loving Jamie Beck’s blog on tumblr for awhile and so when it came time to think about product photography she was the first person I thought of. We met her and her fiance Kevin in a coffee shop on the Upper West Side one day in February 2010 and immediately clicked—two years later they’re basically family. We just moved into a shared office/studio space with her and Kevin. Collaborating with Jamie has been a total dream, and the photography has come to play an enormous role in the personality of our business. I think it sets us apart from other ecommerce sites and helps to position us as a legitimate editorial presence as well—one with glossy photos that you’d expect to see in magazine. I think some people end up browsing our product photos without any intent to buy just because they’re such gorgeous works of art (and, yeah, hopefully those people end up buying anyway).

Of a Kind has collaborated with over 80 designers and has sold in 47 states and 30 countries. What sort of feedback do you get from your customers? Your site was the first one I ever wrote just to tell how incredible the customer service is.

E: We think—from the emails we get, at least—that people really connect with the site on a personal level. An overwhelming number of the emails we get are addressed to Claire and Erica, even when someone is requesting a return or trying to track a package, and we think that people are really drawn to the fact that there are real human beings behind this thing—and that we own that. In terms of customer service, we ripped off Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan—they’re to blame for all of that. The company put out an amazing (and very digestible) book called Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service that anyone starting a service-oriented business should read.

Tell us about the redesign- what inspired it and how has it changed Of a Kind

C: Coming up with the original site layout was one of the biggest challenges we faced in launching our business. We wanted to build something that represented a true integration of editorial and e-commerce—not just a shop with a blog linked in the upper-right-hand corner, or vice versa. It also felt hard to visually communicate the concept of the site without using big, dumb buttons that spelled it out with words like “READ” and “BUY”. Hard Candy Shell, who did the redesign, really understood and embraced that challenge—in large part because they fully believed in the concept of what we’re doing. They made us look more like a magazine, while keeping it very clear that the most of the things we’re writing about are for sale. I think one of the strongest things about the new design is that it really allows Jamie’s photographs to take center-stage.

You work with up and coming designers right now. Would you consider doing limited collections with existing or more well-known designers?

E: We have definitely talked about it! I think we’d do it if it felt right. There are so many amazing heritage brands that have a rich story to tell—think Belstaff or L.L. Bean—and how rad would it be to delve into DVF: The Early Years? The woman was on the cover of Newsweek in 1976, four years after unveiling her wrap dress and selling five million of them.

What is next for you- what would you like the future of Of a Kind to look like? Do you plan to expand or work with more intl designers?

E: Our next big undertaking: a marketplace of sorts that we’re calling Of a Kind: Collections where designers can sell pieces from their regular collections directly to consumers via our site. Designers want (and need) to do their own e-commerce, but the marketing aspect can be really hard—actually getting people to their online shops. That’s where we come in. We bring the audience and the editorial positioning. For customers, this means that once they discover designers on Of a Kind, they can keep buying from them season after season, month after month from the same site and really maintain that relationship.

How do you guys unwind/what is your guilty pleasure?

C: The one thing I promised myself I’d never give up no matter how crazy things got with the business is my morning run. Running is the closest I get to any form of meditative activity and it also renders me twenty times more sane than I would be otherwise.

E: I try to cook on the reg. On nights when Claire and I don’t have events to hit, we typically go home from work…and work some more. Making dinner is a nice way to break that up—to peace out before hitting the computer again. I’ve been really into two cookbooks lately: Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson. My BF and I have been eating mostly vegetarian, and these two cooks are just really creative—they bring together flavors in really interesting ways.

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  • I’m not really a radio show listener or even one to partake in podcasts, but I love this show. The first two episodes have been great. Your inclusion of business questions rounds off the show making it appealing to more than just a design audience.

  • Congratulations on the show, Grace! I’m always looking for blogging/design podcasts to listen to when I go to the gym. Speaking of that, I need to go to the gym.

  • Lovely! I’m a big fan of Of a Kind and so glad that you chose to feature them on your new radio show (congrats, btw!)–it’s really interesting to hear more of their story and I respect them so much for launching an amazing site! Keep it up ladies!

  • It was really interesting to listen to this interview. And I have to say that listening to it has made me quite conflicted about Of a Kind.

    I get it and I understand what they’re doing. It’s a smart marketing approach for a really niche market segment. Will this segment continue to grow and become mainstream? Maybe. Who knows. But they have done something interesting.

    But what they’re doing is essentially what every other licenser does (and I say licenser because in some cases they are involved in product design and development, telling designers what to make so that it will be able to sell into the market they’ve created)—but amped up and made a little more skanky because they’re working only with emerging, indie designers. I’m listening right now to a discussion of pricing. And they’re saying they tell all their designers to think about the product they make for their site not as a money maker but as a marketing investment. So the designer rushes to produce a small run for them to meet their deadline, sells to them at a price that makes the designer little or no money because the designer wants the exposure, but it gives these girls the margin they need to make their numbers. And then they sell out of the item and never work with the designer again. Works well for them. Not so well for the designer.

    They’re building a business that will be profitable for them, but they’re doing it on the backs of small, indie designers who don’t make any money out of the deal and in the end get very little marketing value or support out of it.

    • randi

      unless you’ve sold through of a kind and have access to numbers to back up your claims, i think they’re completely unfounded. here are the places your claims are factually incorrect

      -we’re friends with a number of designers who’ve sold through of a kind and they are definitely making money and very large amount of sales through the exposure they get on the site. so to say they’re not profitable is inaccurate. yes, pricepoints are lowered to fit the site’s needs, but they’re not lowered beyond the point of profitability.

      -of a kind works with the same designers many times over. if you look at their site you’ll see they enjoy working with “alumni” and have done repeat collections more than once.

      -of a kind promotes and markets the heck out of their designers. i feel like i know more about their artists than any other site’s. they feature their homes, their interests and get people invested in their work from the ground up. in terms of promotion they do press releases, newsletters and online support like any other business.

      -designers aren’t rushing to meet any deadline they don’t agree to. they have contracts with artists like anyone else, so the artists get to agree to their work schedule.

      also, i don’t think the word “skanky” has any place in a discussion about this team. these are smart, talented and strong women and nothing about working with indie designers to produce limited edition work is in any way skanky. perhaps that was just poor wording, but the tone of your comment seems really aggressive for claims without factual evidence to back them up.

      i’ve been so impressed with these girls and their dedication to promoting indie designers so i take claims about them and anyone doing good like they are very seriously.