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Luxx Lab: Natalie Brossard and Anouchka Bala

The high-flying former executives share the start-up story of their luxury online fashion venture

Luxury fashion lovers Natalie Brossard and Anouchka Bala felt there was something missing in the world of style-focused e-commerce stores.

Quitting truly exceptional careers in investment and the entertainment industry respectively, the pair created online fashion platform Luxx Lab to rectify the omission. Launched as London Fashion Week 2012 got underway, the site promised shoppers catwalk fashion at – admittedly high-end – high street prices.

But more than that – and this is where it claims a level of uniqueness – the founders have set about showcasing up-and-coming designers, predominantly British, alongside more established couture. The element of avant-garde discovery and the lower profile designers claim twin wins for shoppers – edgy excitement at prices relatively affluent fashion lovers can afford.

It all seems a world away from the executive paths they'd pursued prior to starting-up. A former City analyst for Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, Brossard's path led to major Los Angeles-based investment management firm The Capital Group, then the New York Stock Exchange, before a stint in Bermuda working for offshore fund manager Orbis.

Her site bio proudly references she is the third generation of her family to move from high-end finance to high-end luxury. So perhaps a ‘world away' is not so true after all.

Bala too mixed in the right circles. Starting at Universal Music International, she quickly built a reputation in the music industry before Havas Worldwide snapped her up to work on a deal between Bacardi Global Brand and Groove Armada. Promoted to managing director of The:Hours Entertainment, clients there included Cartier, Estée Lauder and Tommy Hilfiger. The role also moved her seamlessly into luxury, where she too continued a family tradition.

Startups caught up with Bala (pictured above, left) and Brossard (pictured, right) to find out what their main considerations and challenges were in creating their store.

How did you go about planning your online store?

Anouchka: “We are both passionate about luxury fashion and so already had a good idea of what was out there and how it was presented to shoppers. Once we worked out what our store should offer consumers we started researching the market in more detail, looking into what we thought we could improve on.”

Natalie: “We had a very specific vision of what we wanted Luxx Lab to be, which was great because there were no crossed-wires and no meandering. The initial spec that I gave to the developers was five pages long – the developers said they had never seen something so detailed.

“From years of shopping online I had subconsciously built up a list of what I liked and didn't like so I simply started to make notes on each site I went to. I noted things that frustrated me as a shopper, and set out to improve and fix all those things on my own website.”

What do you think keeps customers on a site?

N: “Quality of products keeps people on a site. If you go to a site because you are curious and see five things you like, you are going to look a bit further but if the first page you see doesn't really capture your attention then you won't stick around.”

A: “We tackle this by being very visual. We have a high standard in the way our products are presented, we cut all of the images ourselves so we know they have consistency and everything looks perfect. We added a personal touch to all of our product descriptions by writing them ourselves having felt the fabrics and tried on all of the garments. We give the consumer more information than they would generally get on other sites.”

Do you think it is important for a fashion site to have editorial content?

N: “Yes it is very important as it adds to the value of what a customer gets from your site. This content needs to be updated regularly and being a small team, we don't yet have a dedicated editorial member of staff but we will be hoping to find a journalist to do this for us as we grow.”

A: “We have identified which of our designers are proving popular with our customers in terms of share of traffic. We can add real insight to our editorial section thanks to the connections we have with our designers. We work with them on a daily basis and have access to ‘behind the scenes' information which our customers will no doubt appreciate.”

N: “It's important to keep engaging customers in this way and holding their attention but we are also concerned with giving them what they need. It's all well and good having a beautiful site but if your product pages don't describe things properly, like what fabric is used and how it feels and fits then they are not getting enough information to feel confident about buying.

“We have met with a virtual dressing room service provider based in Stockholm and so that is something that we will be adding soon to give the best possible descriptions.”

What do you think really sets your site apart from others?

N: “Something everyone has said is that it is very user-friendly – especially the men visiting the site. I spend most of my life searching online fashion stores but if you are not familiar they can feel like a maze. Ours is very clean and fresh, and very easy to navigate. We really focus on quality over quantity.

“What works particularly well on Luxx Lab is that it has two levels. I really love that when you visit a department store there are different floors depending on what you want. I always thought why don't they have that online?

“So we developed Luxx, which has the high price points and is more high-end, and we have Lab which is contemporary and a bit more experimental. Of course you can also shop by product like other stores.”

What was the biggest challenge you faced when setting up the store?

N: “One of the reasons we really wanted to be online was that we wanted to be 100% global. The challenge there comes in making the whole shipping process as seamless as possible from both the designers' perspective and the customer. Trying to arrange the logistics and dynamics; that was challenging.”

A: “Especially because we are a start-up and we can't guarantee volumes to the shipping companies. Our designers are located globally and so are our customers so we needed to have everything automated from the back-end so when someone makes a purchase, we receive the email and the designers get notified at the same time so they can package the products and have them shipped.”

N: “Everybody needs to be kept in the loop and it needs to be full-proof. We don't have the traditional wholesale/resale model therefore there is a lot more involved in the back-end. Leading up to launch we would be up all night testing it at 4am and it would calculate the shipping costs wrong or something and we would think ‘is it just me because I'm tired or is this really not working?!' We worked it all out though.”

Is your site translated into different languages?

N: “No and there is no current plan to. I grew up trilingual and Anouchka is bilingual and in my experience websites that translate never do it well. One thing with languages is there are colloquialisms and tones but when you translate a language you can completely miss the tone. There have been websites that I have visited in English and then French and the second version is a completely different site! The look is the same but they do not feel the same. Unless we can make sure we do it perfectly we will not be translating. I'm a perfectionist by nature and everything must be 100%.”



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