Influencers, for better or for worse, are part of the retail world’s changing landscape — and in many cases, hold considerable sway over consumers. Nadia Lee, founder of the new app Kollection, saw opportunity in social-media stars who want to promote their own jewelry collections but lack the ability to run their own boutiques.
“I started investigating this whole changing marketplace and there was nothing to support influencers themselves,” said Lee, who launched her Los Angeles-based company in 2017.
Through the Kollectin platform, fashion-forward influencers — who are mostly on Instagram — can create their own tiny boutique by choosing jewelry pieces from the 25 brands that work with Kollectin. On the app, which launched earlier this year, influencers sell items and the revenue is shared between the brand, platform and influencer, with the influencer getting 20 percent of the sale.
So far, influencers have created over 5,000 tiny boutiques on Kollectin and some 25,000 people use the app, according to Lee and her team at Kollectin. Last month, they shipped 10,000 units of product.
Lee said her sales have recently gone up because of Kollectin’s augmented reality tool, launched in June, which allows consumers to “try on” pieces as if they are using a Snapchat filter. Across the web, “jewelry sales are actually declining because people just have no idea what it looks like on them,” said Lee. Her solution was to create “Xperience Mode,” which is patent pending. The shopper can swipe up to add the jewelry piece to their cart or continue swiping through different looks.
Challenges of Being a Unique Tech Company
Starting Kollectin was not without its challenges. Lee said the biggest trial has been funding. In order to start, Lee and her husband pitched in their own personal money for the first three years — until they came to the realization that they needed to raise outside money.
Lee said she began by asking business friends to invest in Kollectin, as she knew it would be easier than raising institutional money. Pitching professional investors has been harder. Most investors who support technology companies don’t invest in jewelry or fashion retail apps, and her platform is unusual to boot. In meetings, Lee generally gets asked about whether she has a Harvard MBA (she does not), whether she’s previously run successful startups and what her qualifications are. While she has a background in design, most investors want to see tech expertise, she says. Because of this, Lee has not raised money from investors but continues to pursue the possibility.
Creating the technology has, in fact, been a difficult but vital part of the entrepreneurial journey. Since developing the augmented reality tool, Lee said returns of unwanted jewelry have rapidly reduced.
“Our return used to be 3 to 5 percent and now [Kollectin’s] returns are basically nonexistent,” she said.
Grounded in Connection and Care
Today, Kollectin continues to grow, and the company now has 19 employees who provide customer service and interact with shoppers.
Looking ahead, Lee plans to keep the focus on influencers, as they are driving sales. The typical influencer is a woman with anywhere from 1,000 to 1 million followers, who can make product recommendations that followers will trust. While most influencers are on Instagram, some have followings on Snapchat, Tik Tok and YouTube.
To support influencers, Kollectin help them with marketing and provides educational sales events. The company has also started a podcast called Girl Influence Power.
Lee said Kollectin also helps brands who want influencers, but don’t have the time to find them or don’t know how to reach out to the right influencer.
“I’m trying to build a complete ecosystem,” she says. While technology alone can be cold, “our personal touch adds value. Our whole model is based on caring.”