Disruptors. They are the few and the fierce. In our series, Leading between the Lines, I have the opportunity, and the pleasure, of meeting with some of South Florida’s most dynamic female business leaders, ones who are disrupting their industry, approaching things in a new way, solving new problems, and effectively pushing the status quo into a new frontier. I want to know what it really takes, what they’re actually up against, and how it feels each step along the way. Meet Sarah Davis, Founder and CCO of the ultra-luxury re-commerce company, Fashionphile.
Sarah Davis first founded Fashionphile as an eBay platform in 1999 when she discovered that luxury handbags and accessories sold faster and held their value in the secondary market better than any other category. Twenty years later, Fashionphile is now the largest online platform for buying and selling ultra-luxury handbags and accessories in the country.
From what began as a startup operation in Sarah’s house, grew into a 30,000 sq. ft. headquarters in Carlsbad, California, and brick-and-mortar showrooms across the country. Under Sarah’s innovative leadership, Fashionphile is paving the path to revolutionize not just re-commerce, but the entire retail industry with a 2019 investment and minority stake in Fashionphile from global retailer Neiman Marcus Group. The strategic partnership makes Neiman Marcus the first major luxury retailer to expand into the pre-owned market, a move that includes the opening of physical Fashionphile Selling Studios inside Neiman Marcus locations nationwide.
Sarah will be the first to tell you, Fashionphile is not just a fashion company, but rather, a technology company at its core. Since the company’s inception, Sarah’s first and foremost priority has always been authentication. Thus, she has been dedicated to developing sophisticated computer-based learning systems to help aid in the pricing, identification, and authentication of pre-owned luxury accessories. Sarah leverages one of the company’s best assets - their database of hundreds of thousands of their own sold product listings and their associated photos - to create progressive algorithms and computer learning models that result in an unmatched authentication accuracy and efficacy rate.
Sarah is a fashion technology pioneer whom the industry looks toward as a resource for marquee moments and pre-eminent events including the Oscars on the E! Live from the Red Carpet pre-show, Good Morning America, Insider, Extra! and more. Read the full interview for Sarah’s journey.
Nicole: What motivated you to create your own resell platform? What lead to the decision?
Sarah: There were no other options in 1999. Consignment shops didn’t have enough of “the good stuff” and eBay was 95% fake in the early days. It was a no-brainer.
Nicole: What has been your proudest achievement thus far? And why? What does it represent for Fashionphile?
Sarah: Honestly, the morning I woke up and the Neiman Marcus deal was signed, I was like “pinch me”! It was a vote of confidence from a 100+ year old iconic luxury brand- not necessarily confidence in our idea (I knew our idea was a good one), but confidence that we were doing it the RIGHT way. This deal showed me that we were doing resale in a way that luxury brands would support and get behind. It also illustrated where we stand with luxury sellers.
Nicole: When you pioneer a completely new industry, there are no doubt challenges and bumps along the way as you navigate unchartered territory. How did these obstacles impact you and the business?
Sarah: We’ve learned to just keep going. Learn from the challenges. Improve because of them. Don’t repeat them. But end up much, much better because of them.
Nicole: What has surprised you most on this journey?
Sarah: That the world has come around to resale in the past 2 years! And with a speed that’s caused tailwinds for us that we never expected. At least not this quickly.
Nicole: What influences and inspires you?
Sarah: Many things. But relevant today- the creativity and artistry… the heritage and quality of the luxury products and brands we sell. They truly are investments and they “deserve” the treatment they get every step of the way.
Nicole: You’re more than 20 years in this game. Is there anything that scares you? And how have you addressed it?
Sarah: We have been at this for a long time. We know what our customers want better than anyone else. That means we have a very long list of improvements, new features, fine tuning opportunities, etc. that will make the experiences of selling with us and buying from us much easier, faster, and overall better….I want it all today 😉 But these things take time. And in a hyper competitive environment, we don’t have that luxury. So that scares me.
Nicole: So, let’s dig into some of those opportunities. What is a common challenge for your customers? How are you solving this problem uniquely?
Sarah: Well, we have two customers- sellers and buyers- and there isn’t as much crossover between them as you might think. But for our sellers, the ultimate luxury is time. How can we give you the fairest offer (highest offer for you, and fair to us too!) as quickly as possible, and in the way that you want it? Sellers just want to sell these investment pieces at the best possible price, and they want to do as little work as possible to do it. We have spent 20+ years developing not only the right team, but the technology, systems, training etc. to do this better than anyone else. Now, you can just walk into a Neiman Marcus Fashionphile Studio with last year’s Gucci backpack and get paid on the spot, then turn around and buy this year’s Gucci backpack the very same day. You can’t do that anywhere else in the world!
Nicole: What is the biggest mistake resellers make?
Sarah: Using a consignment business to sell their luxury pieces. Consignment takes on average 90+ days to sell and most consignment businesses won’t even pay you until the following month. This takes WAY too long. Not only that, but in a consignment model, if an item sits too long, it will be discounted. So, during that 90-day period, your item is going down in price- as is your commission. We, too, discount our products, but the difference is we pay our sellers on the day we receive their products. This means we need to get that price right, because if we’re wrong- it comes out of our pocket- not theirs!
Nicole: For our readers considering selling a piece of luxury, what advice can you give?
Sarah: You really can do it your way. We will sell to you in the way that works best for you! Hate talking to people? Prefer a digital selling experience? Great- you can use our app or website to initiate the sale! Not tech savvy? Value a human-to-human experience? Want a go-to for your questions and concerns? Also great! Just visit one of our Selling Studios in your local Neiman Marcus and we’ll work with you step by step.
Nicole: What does the future of the luxury resale industry look like? And how does Fashionphile fit in?
Sarah: In five years, all our brands will participate in resale. We hope to partner with them and become the vehicle that empowers our brands to do so.
Nicole: What are your goals currently? What is next on the horizon for you and the business?
Sarah: We need to be in Europe. No one else is there with our model.
Nicole: As an innovator and disruptor, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs seeking to create something new, something that doesn’t yet exist?
Sarah: Always focus on improving what you are doing. I’ve spent the past 20 years obsessed with making the business better today than it was yesterday. And working to make it even better tomorrow. Spend enough time with that kind of focus and you’ll be successful in whatever you do.