Byco: Crowdfunding Fashion’s Next Big Designers

Jesse Finkelstein has created an online "one-stop-shop" for designers that facilitates production, with a little help from investors large and small

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Fashion design schools teach their students how to sketch a design, drape or tailor a piece of clothing, sew it together, and, eventually, create a coherent collection. What’s less taught are the nuts and bolts of what happens after the design process: sampling, production, distribution and financing, all of which can delay (or halt completely) the debut of a designer’s pieces. One way to correct this barrier, thought entrepreneur Jesse Finkelstein, was to create an online “one-stop-shop” for designers, fashion and otherwise, that facilitates the production parts, letting them focus on what they’re good at (that would be design). And that’s precisely what his recently launched micro-financing site is trying to do.

The process works like this: Designers submit their work to their site, determining their style of clothing (dresses, tops, bottoms, jumpsuits, outerwear) or home good (duvets, lampshades, curtains) and picking their materials (linen, cobalt silk, custom-print cotton). Then they upload an illustrated design, any additional images and a detailed explanation of their product. If accepted–about 60 percent of submissions are–Byco calculates the cost to produce a sample and posts the design to be crowd-funded by investors large and small, who receive a Byco shopping discount in exchange for their help. Once the funding comes in, Byco handles the manufacturing, sizing, sales and shipping. Investors split 10 percent of the sales; designers get either 20 or 30 percent, depending on whether they pay for their own sampling: Typically, more established designers pay for their own sample cost ($150 and up) and get 30 percent. Novices and experimenters can get their sample cost covered through the Byco community and get 20 percent of the profit. Designers own the sample and copyrights, and are encouraged to promote their work through social media.

“We don’t care if you’re an upcoming designer or an established one, good design is good design,” said Finkelstein. “Our goal is to accommodate both the innovation driven by fashion design novices and the experience and expertise offered by established designers.” Since the site opened for sales on June 17, Byco has sold over 100 pieces, and received more than 200 submissions. The pieces retail from $150 to $350 and are each on sale for about a month.

A retailer and manufacturer behind New York City label JF & Son, Finkelstein founded Byco with his sister Meredith, who used to develop financial modeling software for Morgan Stanley. “We’ve been able to run a lean operation, with my sister handling all of the web development and programming, and me and our design director handling all of the designer outreach and production,” said Finkelstein. A studio they own and operate outside of Shanghai does most of their sampling and manufacturing, and Finkelstein is quick to point out that everyone employed there is full-time, has complete health coverage and makes “a great deal more than the living wage.” In about three months, he wants to offer designers the option to produce in a country of their choice, including the U.S. “There will obviously be a price difference, but for some designers it’s important to do things locally, and we respect that,” he says.

Finkelstein says he hopes to expand Byco’s design offerings shortly to include accessories and jewelry–and to hire more people to manage those sections. “Byco is very much a technological platform, so we can see expanding to anything you can ship in a box–from espresso machines to tables,” he says. There are also a couple of promising collaborations in the pipeline. Starting today, Byco and Elle are holding a contest for aspiring fashion designer; the winner, to be chosen by Elle editors, will have the chance to sell on Byco and be profiled in the magazine. And next month will see the launch of a menswear collaboration with New York architecture firm Bureau V.