Ushering in the Future of Fashion with a Harvard MBA

Ushering in the Future of Fashion with a Harvard MBA

Tucked away in a Harvard Business School incubator by Union Square, the heart of New York City’s tech hub, is a start-up that wants to revamp the way women shop online using new technology. 

Jennie BaikThere has been a major shift from brick-and-mortar to online shopping, with the traditional retail industry ripe for digital disruption, says Jennie Baik, the co-founder and CEO of Orchard Mile

It was while working at upmarket fashion house Burberry that Baik hit on the idea for her business, a luxury online mall. She had joined the British brand from a digital role at Omnicom, the media group, after being headhunted to work under its then CEO Angela Ahrendts. Baik became obsessed with the meagre traffic coming to Burberry’s website, as most shoppers purchased trench coats, dresses and tartan shirts through department stores or other online marketplaces. 

Under this model, designers could not control their brand experience or gather data on consumer shopping habits. “I thought: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Burberry could use a marketplace to display its full collection while delivering eyeballs to its own site?” she recalls. 

Orchard Mile solve these problems by aggregating items from designers’ own websites. The platform pulls together the full collections of 130 top designers including Prada, Cartier and Bvlgari. Brands have been keen to partner with Orchard Mile because they have control over how their brands are represented on the platform. Orchard Mile also updates designers’ collections in real-time as their websites are changed. 

The platform also solves the problem of viewing and comparing different brands’ collections. It allows users to seamlessly shop without jumping between multiple websites. They check-out using one, shared shopping cart. “Ecommerce can be a frustrating space for a consumer,” Baik says. “Instead of having 130 internet browser tabs open at once, on Orchard Mile you shop in just one environment. It’s frictionless commerce.” Users are growing by 20% each month. 

Baik met her Orchard Mile co-founders, Georgie Benardete and Julia LeClair, at a dinner for entrepreneurs and investors in New York. Before that she did stints at investment bank Goldman Sachs and management consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, with a Harvard Business School MBA to boot. 

The degree has helped her overcome challenges as an entrepreneur, such as dealing with ambiguity. “A Harvard Business School education gives you the inner confidence and resilience needed to cope with setbacks such as rejection from potential clients and investors,” says Baik. 

Being based in the school’s “Start-up Studio” accelerator provides access to leading entrepreneurial instructors such as professor Tom Eisenmann and tech industry veterans from Google, as well as networking opportunities with the dozens of other alumni ventures which are based there. “The network is valuable,” Baik says, citing the example of a lecture from a local tech entrepreneur who had sold his business to YouTube. “He taught us to think about future exits now.”

Since its incorporation in 2014, Orchard Mile, which has 15 employees, has raised a seed round of an undisclosed amount of funding, backed by leading retailer executives including the ex-CEO of a major department store and the largest luxury retailer in the Middle East. The company is in the market for a Series A round, Baik says.

With competition in the ecommerce space fierce, she believes Orchard Mile can thrive in the future by distinguishing itself by focusing on the consumer, with editorial content — such as interviews with designers — and the option to shop via a designers’ Instagram profile directly on Orchard Mile. “We want to use the best technology available to improve the online shopping experience,” Baik says. 

But selling clothes is seemingly just the first step in Orchard Mile’s journey. “We are more than a mere marketplace,” Baik says. “We are a brand cooperative, offering designers the chance to engage directly with their consumers” — a key challenge in omni-channel retailing.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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