Summer Centered: Haute Disrupts the Fashion Industry
Eleanor Alix '23, Kayla Baquiran '23, and Madeline Webster '23 are developing a platform that connects up-and-coming designers with consumers looking for unique clothing pieces as a part of Haverford Innovations Program’s Summer Incubator.
Eleanor Alix '23, Kayla Baquiran '23, and Madeline Webster '23 saw two problems. First, the fashion industry and design programs are exclusive and inaccessible, especially for upcoming designers from underrepresented backgrounds. Second, consumers are looking for unique, high-quality, and sustainable clothing that can be hard to find. The platform they are developing in Haverford Innovations Program’s (HIP) Summer Incubator, called Haute, could address the concerns of fashion designers and consumers alike.
The team’s research found that customers are consistently looking for cool, unique pieces that are high quality. With increased social media use, people want to stand out. While customers are looking for more unique styles than department stores offer, they cannot necessarily afford high-end designer brands. That is where Haute comes in.
“Haute is a web-based fashion marketplace dedicated to promoting sustainability and inclusivity,” said Webster, a computer science major with an anthropology minor and peace, justice, and human rights concentration. “We're really hoping that we can use the platform to uplift up-and-coming fashion designers from more diverse backgrounds than those that are currently being featured in the fashion industry nowadays and connect them with their local communities and, therefore, local customers to cultivate these relationships and really uplift them within the fashion industry.”
“We're looking to allow designers to profit off their work, gain experience, and get exposure, and the customers to get cool, unique, and really high-quality pieces,” added Alix, a neuroscience major and economics and psychology double minor.
They are creating a platform where vendors can operate their own pages and sell directly to customers like on eBay or DePop, with more customizable profiles like Pinterest and Airbnb, and with integrated direct messaging features like Instagram or Facebook.
Baquiran, Alix, and Webster are implementing the project this summer as one of HIP’s two teams in the incubator. From branding to market research, pricing, and website design, the team is doing it all with the help of mentors and speakers brought in by HIP Associate Program Director Shayna Nickel.
“Shayna will bring in a lot of different speakers throughout the week that cover different topics,” said Webster. “A few of them have covered [project-management software] Agile and Scrum, but we've also had someone on human-centered design and we had one on trademarks and copyright law, so just kind of anything that you would need to create a successful entrepreneurship venture.”
Their fashion mentor, Margaret Kwon, even took them on a business trip to New York in June. They visited brick-and-mortar stores to gain inspiration for their digital marketplace.
The team has also been meeting with young designers as they develop their platform.
“We've been having a lot of informational interviews with recently graduated fashion designers and really learning about their passion projects and what really frustrates them about fashion design programs and career paths,” said Baquiran, an economics and growth and structures of cities double major. “Even if you're lucky enough to go to a fashion design program, something that we keep hearing is that only a few students get consistently promoted to the front, and only they get the networking or professional opportunities.”
After these conversations, Haute has focused on making their program accessible for talented designers of all backgrounds. For example, they have been developing a system that would allow both fashion design program graduates and independent designers to sell on the site.
“When we talked to the designers, they were actually excited about our idea and that felt very validating,” said Webster. “We were like, “Okay, we're not just wasting our time.’ People would actually be excited and interested to use this platform.”
Meetings with designers and other speakers have also exposed the students to different industries.
“The networking has been my favorite part,” said Alix. “...I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm shy, but I don't think I've had the courage in the past to reach out to as many people as we have this summer. ... I found that people are really helpful and really willing to speak with you and to give you their perspective.”
“There are so many jobs that I learned about where I'm like—oh my god, I didn't even know that was something that people do!” said Webster.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.