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DIY duds make retail noise with L.A. tweens

IF fashion is all about self-expression, then a new tween retail concept that takes that ideology to the extreme may be onto something big. Founders Elizabeth Wiatt and Jamie Tisch certainly borrowed a page from successful DIY retail pioneer Build-A-Bear to build the bones behind Fashionology LA. But their Beverly Hills storefront, which opened last month, really hits the mark with the kids demo's most social subset by offering a group-dynamic retail experience centering around personal fashion design.
August 1, 2008

IF fashion is all about self-expression, then a new tween retail concept that takes that ideology to the extreme may be onto something big. Founders Elizabeth Wiatt and Jamie Tisch certainly borrowed a page from successful DIY retail pioneer Build-A-Bear to build the bones behind Fashionology LA. But their Beverly Hills storefront, which opened last month, really hits the mark with the kids demo’s most social subset by offering a group-dynamic retail experience centering around personal fashion design.

The concept is simple enough: One of the store’s ‘fashionologists’ brings girl shoppers to a 42-inch touchscreen, where they can choose from five fashion moods – Malibu, rock, pop, peace and Juku. From there, the girls select a clothing type (running the gamut from dresses to sweatsuits), a main graphic (a seahorse in Malibu, or a strawberry-bunny hybrid in Juku) to be heat-pressed onto the garment, and embellishments like sparkly bling and funky charms.

In terms of pricing, a simple tank top runs for US$18, with large heat transfers starting around US$9, charms for US$4 and some bling elements running at just US$0.25. The cost of each add-on is visibly tacked onto the total price on-screen during every step of the process so consumers – presumably moms – can keep on budget.

The fashionologist, who takes care of the heat transferring process, then sets the girls up at work stations to attach the necessary embellishments to complete the design plans they’ve created. Most girls can’t wait to try on their customized gear right away, so one of the store’s most popular features is a photo kiosk where they can snap a picture of themselves modeling the new clothes. This image is then projected onto the store’s 70-inch LCD screen so shoppers can check out other girls’ designs.

The social experience part of the proposition came about almost by accident. During R&D and testing, a big group of girls all flocked to one station to discuss and co-design each others’ clothes, rather than each taking control of separate touchscreens. Wiatt and Tisch hadn’t expected that behavior, but they quickly adjusted their layout for the store to make sure there was ample space between the touchscreens to accommodate several crowds of excited tween girls.

The Beverly Hills store hadn’t quite finished its soft launch at press time, so Wiatt couldn’t talk in detail about foot traffic or unit sales. But one unexpected stream of business has come from birthday parties, and the company will be putting together a special package to facilitate and encourage more girls to host their fêtes at the store. Expansion and franchise plans are also in the works to give the model national coverage in the US by 2010.

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