Fashion Forward Virginia: E-Commerce

Feb 19, 2016

Need Supply

E-commerce has taken a toll on conventional stores of all kinds.  Since it’s not necessary to invest in a shop, there are many more sellers online.  In Richmond, two retailers appear to have found successful ways to compete in this brave new world of fashion.  

As a teenager in Richmond, Elizabeth Harris knew just where to shop – a boutique that carried cool vintage clothes and contemporary fashions from around the world.

“They had the trendiest stuff. I had a friend from Florida, actually, who would come shopping there, just because she wanted to buy this cutting edge selection that they had, and they still have such a carefully curated selection of stuff that you can’t find anywhere else.”

The store, known today as Need Supply, was founded by Chris Bossola – a guy with very strong ideas and attitudes.  Among other things, he says, a well-designed product can have a very real and tangible effect on our everyday lives.

“And I think that resonates with our core customers.”

Call them hip, urban, well-educated and well-traveled people between the ages of 25 and 35.  There are, it seems, quite a few of them in Richmond.

“Part of our success was that we grew up here, and we had to create a mix that was accessible but also forward. Our mix made more sense to more markets than maybe somebody in New York or LA.  There’s some sense of classic -- more grounded is a good word for it. 

In 2008, Bossola and his partner Gabe Ricioppo decided to go global – offering their fashions online:

“We thought we’d turn it on, and it would be like boom, lots of sales, and the first four sales were Gabe’s brother and three fraudulent orders.”

But business grew as word of the site spread.

“I was on vacation, and when I came back and looked at the sales traffic on the website, it had exploded while I was on vacation, and I thought, ‘Whoa!  What happened here?’ And it turned out that Lucky Magazine had ranked us number two or three of the best stores online. 10 – And then GQ named us one of the best 25 men’s stores in the country, and then they said we had the best e-commerce on the web, so that really drove traffic to the site.” 

Need Supply decided to publish a magazine featuring designers and stories about fashion and food, travel and culture.  Copies of the Human Being made their way to a bookstore in Tokyo, and soon the company was getting orders from Japan, so many that the company has opened two stores there along with offices is New York and L.A..

If Need Supply has made its name by going big – seeking people around the world who share its tastes in clothing – Vertalina is thinking small.  Founder Deborah Boschen sees most customers by appointment, to help them assemble the perfect wardrobe – clothes created by designers she knows and loves.

“When somebody looks at something, I will immediately say, ‘That’s made here by so-and-so. She’s a lovely person, she does well by her employees.”

This store, in a gentrifying block of Broad Street, is built on Boschen’s concerns about the environment and the world’s growing gap between rich and poor. 

“I bought a beautifully made jacket for $29, and I said to myself, ‘Somebody made money, but the workers didn’t make money,’ and that bothered me!”

And it apparently bothers her customers.  In fact, Boschen thinks she’s tapped into an important cultural current.

“There is a cultural shift going on.  I think a lot of it has to do with food, and a lot of it has to do with shopping small, shopping local.”

And as the person who does the selling, Boschen likes the fact that she can devote herself to a single customer without worrying about the next person coming in the door.