At the end of every Project Runway episode, contestants sit nervously as their work is judged by the show’s hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. Whether or not it meets their approval, contestants still might make a sale: Viewers who like the outfit can now buy the very ensemble featured on the show — the very next day.
Project Runway has tapped eBay, the e-commerce company, to sell contestants’ pieces straight off the runway, for the first time.
After every episode in the 15th season, currently airing Thursday nights on Lifetime, shoppers can go online and bid for each of the contestants looks. Dubbed “Project Runway Originals,” the auction page sits under a “Charity Shop” tab on eBay, with all proceeds going to New York-based charity Robin Hood Foundation.
For eBay, the partnership is a move away from its reputation of a used goods site, and a step towards becoming more of a legitimate online fashion platform.
However, the appeal for customers will still lie with its deal-hunting experience. “There’s a sense of discovery on eBay,” said Erwin Penland’s chief planning officer Jessica Navas. People may still think of eBay as leftovers, auctions and used goods, but it is increasingly becoming thought of as a fashion destination, she said, adding the partnership will only help to “bolster its cred.”
The contestants’ designs are sold through auctions on Friday mornings after the show airs the night before, and the auctions run for a week. The latest episode’s pieces included dresses, as well as short, pant and top combinations and at the time of writing, prices were sitting between $60 and more than $180 dollars.
Project Runway auctions on eBay.
Project Runway asked eBay to get on board a few months ago, as it was wrapping the current season, said eBay charity marketing manager, Ali Joseph. The show was looking for a way to make use of the clothes, which have been sold off its website in previous seasons, and decided to sell them off for charity.
The fact that viewers can now watch the show and almost immediately buy the outfits featured on the program is also representative of the wider fashion industry’s shift towards see-now-buy-now, and giving consumers what they want, when they want it.
But analysts remain skeptical that the scheme, while innovative, will give the e-commerce company overnight fashion cred. “eBay will most likely not be a luxury stockist any time soon,” said Elizabeth Elder, research associate at L2. “But it has made a business of selling to fashion collectors as competitors seek to disrupt the industry,” she said, noting luxury consigner The Reel Reel as an example.
From a marketing and strategic point of view, the combination of content and commerce coupled with audience engagement is a “trifecta,” said Chris Paradysz, founder and CEO of PMX Agency.
“It’s been 10 years plus since I considered eBay disruptive,” Paradysz said, “But this is a disruptive move for them,” adding it will propel them into conversations around fashion in a way they’ve never been. The charity element, he said, legitimizes the connection between the auction platform and Project Runway.
All three experts also noted the potential for audience engagement, which for other shows is largely limited to social media currently. Giving fans a chance to buy a look they see on a show inspires a much higher level of engagement than buying a branded shirt or mug from the tv’s website, Elder said.
Project Runway can also create stars. Designer Christian Siriano, who won season four, is growing in popularity and is today shaping the conversation around high-end designers and plus size fashion. The appeal for consumers to get their hands on a piece made by a potential future star, which will only increase in value, is also key to the partnership’s success because it drives demand, Navas pointed out.
For large online retailers like Amazon that want to move into the fashion and luxury space, it can be hard to shake the bargain-hunting and cheap-deals feeling, and luxury fashion brands are often reluctant to give up control of a brands online presence. EBay launched “Designer Collective,” two years ago, which allows brands to sell directly on the auction platform, and today, luxury brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Nautica do sell directly onto eBay. But on the other hand, it’s also in the perfect position to play up the “one-off’’ bargains it’s known for.
“It’s reinforcing it as a shopping destination, and definitely raises the profile too. It’s ingenious offering something else that no one else could replicate,” said Navas.
For eBay, which sees fashion as an important vertical of its business, the partnership was a no-brainer. “Fashion is top of mind for buyers on the site” said Kari Ramirez, eBay North America and global impact communications manager. Fashion is one of the site’s top categories for its 164 million buyers, she said. “People are looking for one of a kind items they can’t get anywhere else.”