Multibrand retailer Consortium has opened its third location with a new pop-up in New York City’s Soho neighborhood. The store, which is set to remain open for two months, features Consortium’s 10 current brand partners, including men’s dress-shirt brand Stantt, lingerie brand Impish Lee, denim line Jeanuine and watch brand Martenero. Each has its own section of the floor and is equipped with an iPad where customers can place orders through the Consortium website.

“For custom to work, you have to have a space where there’s cross-brand discovery, and right now, there’s no [other] retailer that does it,” said Consortium founder Sam Payrovi.  

Payrovi started custom leather bag company Saintly, now sold through Consortium, in 2014. After growing as a digital brand, he looked for a partner in retailers including Barneys, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. He said they couldn’t sell custom-made goods, according to Payrovi.

“I said, ‘Why? You don’t need inventory, you don’t need stock, you wouldn’t risk a lot of capital, there’s no theft to worry about, there’s no discounting.’ We thought we were pitching them the greatest thing ever,” he said. “And they were like, ‘We believe it; we just can’t do it.”

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 4.28.02 PMThe Martenero display at Consortium

Payrovi is using the pop-ups as testing grounds for the permanent Consortium locations he plans to open in the next few years. His goal is 11 in the U.S., starting with a NYC store, and four international locations. And they’ll feature more product than physical stores to date: He said there are about 300 custom brands in the space — men’s and women’s fashion is his focus, for now, though custom fragrance company Olfactory NYC is a partner — but only 80 of which are “good ones.” He wants to have 45 to 50 brands on board by the end of the year, though he is currently on-boarding an average of two per month.

He wants to steer clear of luxury fashion, instead sticking to boutique and premium fashion categories, while zeroing in on apparel and accessories. Moving forward, he sees opportunities with streetwear brands, where he said most every brand — Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Vans and Converse included — is doing customization. The home goods category, particularly furniture, is also on his radar.

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 4.27.51 PMThe Jeanuine display at Consortium

For now, custom fashion is a smart area of focus. According to a 2016 Deloitte consumer study, 50 percent of all consumers are interested in buying customized products. And they’re already big among coveted millennial and Gen-Z shoppers: According to a 2017 YPulse report, 75 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds are interested in buying products customized to their tastes, and over 40 percent have customized a product before.

An early player in the space was Laura Kofoid, the co-founder and CEO of custom handbag brand Laudi Vidni, now available at Consortium. She launched the brand in Chicago in 2009, and opened a local brick-and-mortar store in 2010. Like Payrovi did with Saintly, she dabbled in trunk shows but realized her emerging brand alone wasn’t much of a draw.

“We have talked with some of the department stores. I think buyers understand why this would work in their store; the problem is their [store] structure cannot,” Kofold said. “There’s this, ‘But how would we ring stuff up?’ and ‘But I need a 70 percent markup,’ and ‘My DMM or my GM wouldn’t get it.’ Nothing has ever come of it. It’s just too hard.”

Kofold said the many perks of selling through Consortium versus going it alone include less of a financial burden (Consortium takes a cut of sales — the percentage is larger for in-store sales than online) and less stress. Consortium associates, trained on her brand, man in-store sales. So far, her role in the NYC pop-up has merely included ordering fixtures and signage for her area. She’s also promoting the store on social media and through about a dozen New York-based influencers, as many of her current and prospective customers are based in the area.

“A store like Nordstrom doesn’t have the knowledge to sell a customizable brand,” said Payrovi. “Even if they trained their staff on one customizable brand, they’d never be able to do 10, 15 or 20. It would take 15 different tablets, whereas we’re aggregating it all onto one platform.”

He referenced Nordstrom’s partnership with custom women’s shoe brand Shoes of Prey, which started in late 2015, describing the resulting setups as shop-in-shops. “They teamed up for a hot second,” he said. “I think their plan was to sell [Shoes of Prey] in three stores, then five, then sell them everywhere. They didn’t. So we’ve been telling [co-founder] Jodie [Foxx], ‘We’re going to do what they said they were going to do.’” (Nordstrom didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

His hope is Consortium’s website relaunch in about a week will help seal the deal for prospective partners like Foxx, requiring for a polished brand and web experience.

And after the 15 permanent stores are off and running, Payrovi plans to expand and scale by licensing the platform to high-end department stores.

“We’ll say, ‘We have 50 brands. Tell us which ones you like.’ Then we bring in those brands and set it up,” he said. “But you’ve got to ease in the customer and the store; before those brands move into their respective departments and every department has a tablet, it will be more shop-in-shops, or ‘customization corners.’ It will be a process.”