Launched in 2010, Of a Kind entered the online retail sphere just as editorialization had begun to incorporate into e-commerce. Until that point, as Claire puts it, internet shopping was both “an anonymous and impersonal experience.”
Using this experiential failing as a prompt, Claire and Erica conceived of a website that not only sold items but also gave the story behind them. “There are boutiques where you have really knowledgeable salespeople, who can tell you a lot about the pieces their store is carrying. You definitely don’t get that online. This idea of bringing that person outside of the brick-and-mortar space and into the online realm was really exciting to us. It felt like something new–to make e-commerce more than just click-and-buy,” Claire says.
Every week, Of a Kind introduces new pieces by different designers. Each item offered is a limited edition, created by the designer specifically for the website. As each edition is introduced, it is accompanied by a series of blog posts exploring and describing the inspirations, processes, and craftsmanship behind the object. “We want to position designers not just as producers but as artists. And we want to make the buyer to not feel like a consumer but a collector. We try to relate to people who are interested in art and the way things are made and we treat the designers we work with as makers. Hopefully that helps us to relate to a broader audience,” Erica says.
Expansion of an audience and consumer base for their roster of emerging young designers is of primary importance to the Of a Kind mission. As they educate and initiate new collectors on their site, they are ultimately introducing the work of a new set of creators and tastemakers. Having worked in the fields of contemporary art and fashion editorial before founding the website, Claire and Erica were both well aware of the limited opportunities for exposure available to up-and-coming designers.
“I was really encouraged by Jen Bekman’s 20×200 project because it was this marketing opportunity that was not just getting picked up by a gallery, which is one of few opportunities a young artist has. I found that it was the same thing for designers. You either get picked up by a buyer with an influential retail space or you get picked up by an effective press outlet. But if you can’t get one of those, what do you do? Erica and I felt that this was an entirely new platform for designers.”
It is not only through the creation and sale of editions that the Of a Kind model creates this platform for designers. Aside from their editorials and collaborations, the team spends a great deal of time and energy on maintaining their “stuff we love” blogroll. “Through research for the blog, we end up finding a lot of designers and items that we keep hearing about over and over again. Kate’s line, Ursa Major, was a name that kept bubbling to the surface. We posted something about her friendship ring and then she contacted us,” Erica relays.
“I saw their post, checked out the site and immediately emailed them to discuss a possible collaboration,” Kate says.
“Typically, we ask designers to send us their lookbook and let us know if there are any pieces that they want to riff off to create the edition. Or there is an item we really love and ask them if we can do it in a different shape or different material. In the case of Ursa Major, Kate came to us with this ring she created that she really wanted to turn into a bracelet. It was perfect for us, as we don’t have a lot of bracelets lined up right now. Part of the challenge is making sure we are mixing up a lot of different pieces and thinking about what is going to sell easily online. Will it photograph well, will it be a struggle with fit…these are our constant considerations.”
When asked what was so galvanizing about participating in Of a Kind, Kate had a somewhat unexpected answer. “Creating a piece at a price point that is intended to be really accessible is a really exciting prospect. Even though I prefer to work in gold and silver, I can justify working with a new material when it is a collaboration like this.” For her edition, Kate is producing a small number of cuffs, adapted from the Omega ring. Complete with sterling silver details, the cuffs are made of brass–a material Kate does not often have the chance to work with. “I think brass is way more relevant in the market now, but there are still a lot of people hesitant to invest in a brass piece,” she says.
“From a creative perspective, our model poses an interesting challenge because it is a good opportunity to work with a material you might not otherwise be able to. For a designer who is wholesaling to a bunch of retailers who require a highly saleable product, it isn’t worth the time conceive of and manufacture an item they can only sell ten to twenty of. But with us, if you have a material you really want to work with but the numbers don’t make sense, here is your chance. We see a lot of designers get excited to do something different from what they usually do.”
Something Claire often tells designers is to think of the site as a marketing opportunity rather than a retail opportunity because the focus really is on introducing the designer to a new audience.
“A lot of our audience has never heard of the designers we work with and to get people to spend their money on a line they haven’t heard of can be challenging. We call what we do ‘gateway drug pricing.’ We get a consumer in at a lower price point because ultimately, we are asking them to take a risk on a new designer and to do it without even touching the piece. Here again, the storytelling component is so important. It’s where we go behind the scenes of the designer’s work and for instance, show Kate soldering her jewelry piece by piece. We show people how much work it is and that they are getting a handcrafted piece at a great price point.”
“We want to show people where the product is coming from, what Kate’s story is and how her work has evolved over the years. We want to show our customer things they wouldn’t see when they walk into a store,” adds Erica.
“When I discovered the site, I was so impressed by the narrative component and how much it’s about the process and the designers. It is smart marketing; it’s what attracts customers to your brand,” continues Kate. As a designer, I want to educate customers on why it is important to invest in their jewelry. I’m not about creating trend-driven pieces. Yes, they are current and contemporary but they also exhibit this timeless idea. Jewelry has such a strong tradition of being passed down, so my thinking is, why not create pieces that have a lifespan for hundreds of years.”
“Which is why this is such a successful collaboration. Kate’s work and our site are both really about acquiring something special–that you know is an investment, rather than something you just picked up on a Saturday stroll on an impulse,” Erica includes.
Beyond the fact that Of a Kind is a brilliantly innovative marketing strategy, it is also a community-building platform for independent designers. A welcome and gratifying side effect caused by the site is that many of the participating designers are friends or meet and go on to collaborate and build friendships. “Designers will approach us asking to participate because they see the other people on the site as their peers and it is important for them to be included in the group. It is an enormous compliment and a sort of validation of our taste,” Claire says.
Holding this community effect dear to their hearts, more recently the Of a Kind ladies created “Alumni Sundays” wherein they bring back designers to create another edition for the site.
“The best part about it has been the opportunity to see how far the designers have come since we worked with them,” Claire continues. “It’s great to watch them evolve and to see how our business has provided a tangible value for them. We were recently putting together a press kit and gathering testimonials. It made us cry to hear how working with us has benefited their own business.”
Ursa Major’s Omega Cuff is slated to sell as of May 13, 2012. Sign up for Of a Kind’s newsletter here to be the first to know when it’s available!