Karmaloop Kazbah

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Since Karmaloop’s creation in 1999, it has earned its title as the premier site for exclusive street-wear brands and apparel by claiming street-wear’s unclaimed, online crown. Karmaloop’s goal is to provide original styles and brands as an alternative to some of the more mundane major designers. After years of success, Karmaloop decided to develop Kazbah, a section of underground brands to sell to Karmaloop customers in 2006.

Thousands of brands apply to be featured on the Kazbah and after a strenuous selection process a select few are given the opportunity to sell their line on the site. Kazbah has proven to be a great asset for up and coming brands and has contributed to the independent fashion industry. Currently, Kazbah features clothing apparel, footwear and accessories. However, an extensive art department will be added in early 2007. Blake Ricciardi, Kind of Karmaloop Kazbah, sits down with Format to break down the science of online retailing.

“We’ve had over a thousand submissions of brands that want to sell on the Kazbah. It’s not just anybody who can sell on it.”

Format: How did the concept of Kazbah come about?
Blake: It was actually a concept created by Greg Selkoe, the founder and CEO of Karamloop. It was his concept, too, because Karmaloop had grown so much and so quickly, [he] wanted to get back to working with some of the up and coming brands, because of that this was a good way to do it through Kazbah itself – to develop this Kazbah. And then what happened was I had been talking to Greg about working with him on a couple different projects. I hadn’t worked for Karmaloop before but I had known Greg for a few years and Greg asked me to run Kazbah from watching it, because it hadn’t started yet – this was four months before we launched – to running it once it launched. The concept really was developed to give opportunities to up and coming clothing labels so essentially they can grow with us.

Format: What is the difference between a Kazbah brand and a Karmaloop brand?
Blake: The Kazbah brand tends to be all the up and coming brands. The difference between the Kazbah and Karmaloop.com is that Karmaloop.com is a typical wholesale deal. We’ll purchase product from them at wholesale and sell it. The difference with the Kazbah is the brands sell through us. Amazon does a similar thing, so what the brands do is the brands handle all shipping and fulfillment. But what is really unique about it is that these brands get the opportunity to put their entire line on the Kazbah so as opposed to potentially being picked up only one, two or three pieces for Karmaloop instead the Kazbah brand is getting exposure for their entire label through Karmaloop by selling on the Kazbah. The Kazbah brands tend to be those up and coming clothing labels we like to think of it like more boutique style, more smaller brands, in general.

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Format: What would it take for an underground brand to make the jump for Kazbah to Karmaloop?
Blake: To be honest with you some of it has to do with sales. Some of the brands that are on Kazbah don’t really – it’s a different deal. It’s a different percentage so they are not Kazbah. Brands make more per sale than they do wholesale, so certain brands don’t want to move over. For us to move over I guess it really depends on the circumstance. The only brand that has so far has been CLH and the reason they moved over, it’s a few different reasons; one being that they were doing so much business when we launched that for them to continue handling the shipping was getting incredibly difficult, because they had so many orders coming in so it was something that made sense for both us, and for CLH. But in general, it’s not really like a system where we’re just trying to find brands and move them over to Karmaloop. It’s really just a different section of the site and it works differently. Not all brands are looking to move over and then there’s not really a set of rules that we have for them to move over. Right now it’s just working extremely well with the brands that we have on the Kazbah itself.

“what is really unique about it is that these brands get the opportunity to put their entire line on the Kazbah so as opposed to potentially being picked up only one, two or three pieces for Karmaloop”

Format: In a previous interview you mentioned a brand’s success skyrockets once it is featured on Kazbah, is being featured a guaranteed precursor to success or do many brands flop?
Blake: It’s neither. It’s not a guarantee to success. We have a submission process. We’ve had over a thousand submissions of brands that want to sell on the Kazbah. It’s not just anybody who can sell on it. We, at first, as a staff go through and decide which brands we sell on the Kazbah so obviously we’re using our expertise up front before we put a brand on Kazbah, so obviously they’ve gotten past that. But then from there it’s really up to the customers for them to decide which brands they’re into. And it’s really interesting to see, because there’re certain brands that continue to sell the same products over and over and over – they’re just extremely popular and other ones are just staying consistent with just some sales. It really ranges, because some brands do incredibly well like Bean Dip, for example, started I believe eight months ago and I got an e-mail from them about a month and a half to two months into when they were – since they were on the Kazbah, I got an e-mail from them about two months into that and they wanted to thank me, because they said, ‘Now we’ve, I have an opportunity to quit my full-time job and do Bean Dip by itself, because of the Kazbah.’ Not every brand is that way, but for a brand like theirs, they’ve had so much exposure and our customers have been so into their products that it has completely changed their brand, but there’re other brands that just stay consistent. Maybe only sell two to five T-shirts a day, but it’s more than they were selling or the same amount that they were selling on their own website. So brands can do extremely well. Yes there’re brands that haven’t done that well and those brands don’t stay on Kazbah, they’ll usually, you know, we’ll give them a few months to see if our customers are feeling what they’re doing and if they’re not then we’ll most likely remove them. It doesn’t happen often. It’s only happened with two or three brands.

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Format: What do you look for when reviewing applications?
Blake: That’s tough to say, I mean basically, because I’ve gotten that question a few times before. We don’t have a certain checklist. First and foremost, for me, is after we’ve established if we like what they have going on, their style, those sort of things. What’s really important for me is the relationship with the person who’s running the brand, because I’ll deal personally with all these Kazbah brands. And it’s important for me that they are passionate about what they’re doing, passionate about selling on the Kazbah and that that they have their head on straight. There’re people out there, yeah they may be great designers, but if they can’t handle fulfillment well or customer service or things like that it’s not going to be a good representation of what Karmaloop is. So it is important for me to work with quality people and I’m fortunate that the brands that I’m currently working with are really, really quality people, as well, and they’re great to deal with and do a great job with it. But to get back to what you were asking about what we look for, you know we have a group of people like I said that look over the Kazbah submissions and a lot of times you just kind of know. Unfortunately, I hate to speak negatively about some of the people who have submitted to our website, but sometimes you can just look at it and it seems like they’re going to need a lot more work for them to be where they need to be. We have to make sure, as a group, that we’re putting something of quality up there. So first of all samples are obviously very important and that’s the next step in the process. So how the process really goes is they submit to us and then from there we make the decision if we want to see samples of theirs and really consider their brand, or if we look it over and we feel this is probably not ready for us or if they give me one of two things, if they give me something that really just isn’t ready to be sold on our site. Meaning the quality isn’t there the quality, the graphics aren’t there, it looks kind of generic, or the flipside can be that maybe that we’re not gonna pick them up, because yeah they may have a very nice brand, but it may not be a good fit for our website and that can happen sometimes, too. If there is a brand we’re considering picking up we’ll obviously get samples from them [to] get a feel for what they’re doing, the quality of their product and then from there we usually have a good idea if we want to put the brand on the site. And then, also, obviously we meet different brands at the trade shows and stuff like that. But often times we choose brands that submit to the website, that’s the majority of them.

“if you’re going to start a brand new clothing line, or even if you’re starting with T-shirt designs just makes sure you start off with quality T-shirts”

Format: What types of things trigger a red flag when reviewing applications?
Blake: I do prefer, and this isn’t a red flag, like for example they can upload images to our website. I do prefer that they upload images of the actual product as opposed to what the products will look like, like the renderings, the line art. Obviously those things, the line art and renderings are fine when you’re an established brand but when you haven’t had any products really out yet at all then I know that it’s probably not a good fit if they’ve never actually printed any of their products before. That’s definitely something’s that a red flag. The designs themselves, it’s really just something you have to look at themselves either they’re unintentionally or intentionally ripping somebody off which happens sometimes, where it’s not creative enough [or] it’s something that looks just like everything else. A lack of product as well if somebody if they can at least upload five images on our website, if they upload only two and these are the only two or they upload five but they’re all basically the same logo and its just different color schemes or something of that nature.

Format: Any advice for designers aspiring to be feature on Kazbah?
Blake: Yeah, most importantly, like I was saying before it’s quality if you’re gonna put out or even just start your own clothing line, if you’re going to start a brand new clothing line, or even if you’re starting with T-shirt designs just makes sure you start off with quality T-shirts – either have sewn-in tags or silk screen tags or one of the things I noticed quite often, right off the bat is just a tag on a T-shirt. All the brands that sell on the Kazbah have their own tags which may sound little, but when you get a T-shirt and it’s got the regular brand tag in it and doesn’t have anything that says it’s this brand, typically says it’s a brand that’s just starting out. That’s something I look for often. The advice that I would give without a doubt, is don’t rush; come out with quality.

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More Info: http://www.karmaloop.com/kazbah

Kendra Desrosiers

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