Brainchild of Andrew Zhang and Candice Tang, The Archive Place launched a few weeks ago as an outlet retailer for end-of-season clothing for designer brands. Here, Zhang discusses the challenges of getting brands on board, the problem with mindless buying and why the pandemic has done them a favour. Inside Retail: How did you come up with the concept behind The Archive Place? Andrew Zhang: We went live a few weeks ago and we are effectively an online outlet retailer for independent and med
nd medium-sized clothing brands. My co-founder, Candice Tang, has a background in fashion and has worked for brands like Armani, Sandro and Maje. That’s where the idea hatched. At the end of every season, brands are left with excess stock and at Sandro and Maje they were just packing into boxes and storing it. It was “out of sight, out of mind”. We thought, “If Sandro and Maje are having this problem and they don’t have an outlet channel, what are the independent brands doing?” We began researching the market towards the end of 2019, just seeing what brands were out there and what they were doing. We started by looking at brands’ websites. We could see that some had a little tab on the side saying, ‘past season’ whilst others just had all their stock mashed onto the same page alongside their next season stock. We are trying to find a technological solution to help solve this problem. If you log on to thearchiveplace.com, you can see the front end of the website, but what we’ve tried to build in the back end is also a platform for the brands. Although we are an outlet, we are also effectively a marketplace for the brands. The way we try to position ourselves, and what I keep repeating to brands, is that we are trying to give as much control as possible to brands whilst minimising their effort. IR: Tell me about the process of procuring out-of-season items from designer brands and how you get brands on board. AZ: At this point, we are working with independent brands so we are able to speak with them directly. We find out what their operating model looks like and how we can make that work within our logistics. We are also working with a few multi-brand retailers and, at this very early stage, that helps us get more brands onto the website. The way it works in the background is what differentiates us. If you compare us to some of the other channels these brands might have access to, like Big Fashion Sale or The Outnet, the difference is that with us, brands maintain ownership of stock. Plus, our backend platform is integrated with the warehouse that we provide. We offer a full warehouse service and brands send us items. Brands choose what to send – they have full control. We will check that what they are sending fits with our aesthetic and brand image so that everything on the site is consistent, but they maintain the ownership of that stock. From the warehouse, we will help manage all the actions from picking, packing, shipping and returns – which you don’t normally get on season sales. We take a commission on products that we sell and, at this stage, we don’t charge a monthly fee or anything like that. IR: Why do you think there’s a need for a retailer like The Archive Place right now in the current climate? AZ: The current climate is kind of a double-edged sword that’s kind of played to our advantage in one regard, but also we don’t know what it might have been like in another environment. The idea started late 2019 and of course, we hadn’t gone into a lockdown then, but as we’ve kicked into this environment, it’s been all over the news that it’s led to an excess of stock. So that has placed us quite nicely. There is a problem and it’s a growing problem that we can help with. The other edge of the sword concerns consumer spending, although we are seeing what they call ‘revenge shopping’ in Melbourne, Australia. We had a lot of orders come through the day they opened up! That’s in this direct environment but on a higher level, when we looked at the fashion market, we found that e-commerce accounts for about 20 per cent of total sales but then the off-price market is only about one per cent. Of course, it’s growing but right now it seems to be quite an untapped market. IR: You went live a few weeks ago, how would you describe the response from both brands and consumers? AZ: Leading up to ‘go-live’, the main thing we were focused on was just approaching brands. There was a lot of positive interest and they loved the idea, especially the fact that they get to maintain ownership of the stock while we manage it for them. But at that point, it was hard to sell an idea when it was just an idea. Lots of brands were looking for that proof of concept, which is absolutely fair enough. Our focus has really been driving customer engagement and customer focus through visual marketing. We’ve been doing better than we expected since launch to be honest, and we’ve had increasing traffic every single day. So now we have a chicken-and-egg kind of problem where we need to go back to re-engage the brands and get some more, firmer backing otherwise we might run out of things to sell. IR: Who is the Archive Place customer and how would you describe what she wants? AZ: We don’t want to position ourselves as being price-driven. So yes, we do offer price matching and a good deal, the products are archive and it is an outlet, but we are trying to provide a luxury buying experience. Our focus is on the content, the experience, the aesthetics over pricing. We don’t want [pricing] to be the primary driver of our sales. If you think about the other options like a warehouse sale, you know, it’s exciting but it is also stressful. You’ve got to run in there and really what you’re looking for is something that fits you that’s got a good price and you try to grab it first. It might not be something that you actually wanted. You come out into the broad daylight and you may think this isn’t actually what you thought, apart from the fact that it fits and it was on at a great discount. So we are trying to offer a different experience. Our pieces are archive pieces and we advocate considered design, artisanal craftsmanship, and celebrate the unique story behind each designer. We want to curb the mindless buying. We want to empower the brands to extend the lifecycle of those pieces. Instead of just being six months and then ‘sell it off, sell it off, sell it off’, it is something that you can have around for a bit longer and give people more time and another chance to buy. IR: How do you think the luxury and designer customer has changed in recent years and what are they looking for from a retail experience? AZ: I think everyone is looking for a good deal. I don’t think that changes whether you are very well off or you just make a few bucks here and there. Everyone enjoys a good deal. If you can find that deal then I don’t think there’s anything that will stop you. As of late, people are definitely more price-conscious but people still want something new. They still want to go out and buy something nice and that’s where we come in. Archive pieces aren’t out of fashion, they aren’t out of date, they’re six months old! IR: Tell me about the Archive Recycling program and why you decided to launch it. AZ: When we looked at how to position The Archive Place, there were a lot of themes about the impact of the brand, sustainability and extending the life cycle of fashion. You see a lot of brands adopting initiatives so it’s become a growing sentiment in the industry. But there’s still the issue that we tend to turn a blind eye to which is what happens after you make the sale? What happens down the track when someone no longer wants the pieces? People have growing wardrobes but they don’t grow forever. There’s an issue with what happens to these items. Charities spend millions on unsaleable items. Now, that’s not necessarily where all our pieces will be sent but it’s an example. They send all those items to landfill. They do also have the option to sort and recycle, but that process is very expensive, mainly because clothing isn’t necessarily one material, they are all blends of different fabrics. So, we thought there’s got to be something we can do to help minimise what goes to landfill. It’s early days but we’ve got our three pillars. One, if something comes back to us and it’s saleable then we can donate it. Two, if there are minor faults, we repair it so that it doesn’t end up in landfill otherwise the charities will look at it and say, “We can’t use this.” Lastly, if it is damaged, that’s where we look to recycle. It’s early days for us, but I think it’s also early days in the industry and in this area. The few people we’ve spoken to who can help us with this are very keen, but they are simply overwhelmed at this point with how much demand there is for this. It is an area that is still undergoing research into methods for effectively recycling more blended fabrics and fibres. But it is something we are working on. IR: You partner with Trees 4 Trees, can you tell me a little bit more about that and why it’s important to you? AZ: Yes, this is to offset the environmental impact of shipping. For every sale, we will plant a tree. And, because we offer the handy perk of free returns on on-sale items, we will plant an additional tree for every item returned. Not that we encourage returns, but it is an option, so when it happens, we do our little bit there as well. We are trying to take a holistic approach so it’s not just about extending the life of products. IR: ‘Circular fashion’ is a term that has only started being thrown about in the last year or two on a regular basis. How are you helping to educate consumers around what it means and what it involves? AZ: This is something that we are looking to develop further right now. If you look on the site, we have a page where brands can showcase their pieces and tell their story. So if customers don’t know that brand directly, they can come to that page to find out more. That is where we are trying to educate customers, so when they buy their pieces, they know about the brand and what’s behind it. We are trying to bring the brand into this – it’s not just an outlet. IR: What are some of your plans for The Archive Place in the next year? Can you tell me a bit more about the initiatives you plan to launch in the future? AZ: We are focusing on positioning ourselves to be able to help more brands. Our model sounds really awesome when you say, “Look, just send us your products, we’ll look after it for you and you only pay when there’s a sale.” but every business has a different working model so it’s not that simple. Some of the retailers want all of their stock in their stores, particularly multi-brand retailers, because if someone walks into the store, they want to be able to buy the piece there. So there has to be a split sometimes and that means we have to work on future integration, where maybe the piece is displayed on our website but it’s like a drop ship [model] instead of us looking after their pieces. Candice has aspirations for a larger market too. Overall, we want to continue offering a great service to our customers but also the brands – there are two sides to the coin whilst continuing our mission in sustainability and the life cycle of fashion.