A new Hungarian startup of young fashion designers is looking to bring local talents and their products to the international stage, and is expanding online to do it.
At Lánchíd 19, a design hotel at the foot of the Chain Bridge, a business meeting is about to start. However, neither the time nor the participants look typical. It is past 5 p.m., and instead of dull gray business suits, some are wearing miniskirts with sturdy snow boots, while others are dressed in skinny jeans and snug-fit tops. It may seem that the attendees don’t care much about appearances. But that’s not the case: in fact, creating looks is their job.
They are there for the first business meeting of Ourstyle Boutique, a Hungarian webshop promoting and selling the works of top young Hungarian designers. The startup was founded last summer, by Dóra Henger and Ange Sándorfi, two fashion enthusiasts who wanted to help talented designers go international.
Henger, a product and graphic designer, developed an interest in fashion in Sweden, where she spent more than a year on a university scholarship. Fashion and trends were much more apparent there, she noticed. During her stay, she was inspired by a streetstyle blogger (who since then has become internationally acclaimed) and after returning to Hungary, Henger also started a blog with a university classmate. This was around 2005, when the new generation of designers like USE or Nanushka started to get notice.
The blog soon became popular, even winning some awards, and Henger gradually worked her way into fashion. Apart from making interviews with designers for the blog, she attended the fashion weeks in Paris and Copenhagen. “I wanted to learn first-hand how to build PR for a fashion house and how the fashion industry works,” she explained.
Inspired by a designer shop in Stockholm which comprised the works of young Swedish designers, Henger created Ourstyle Showroom in 2008. “The idea was to promote and sell the works of Hungarian designers abroad, but it didn’t work out well.” Henger and her business partner rented a flat in Paris during the fashion week for the designers, but one-off actions didn’t yield much result. Initial enthusiasm faded when the showroom’s own resources dried up, and designers were not really keen on investing further. The showroom was closed down.
Not long after, she met Ange Sándorfi (daughter of painter István Sándorfi), a Parisian with Hungarian origins, who had relocated to Budapest three years earlier to live here and had arrived at a point where she wanted to start her own business selling foreign fashion to Hungarians. The two finally agreed on reversing the plan instead – that is, selling Hungarian fashion abroad – and created Ourstyle Boutique.
They didn’t have a strict business plan, only a set of guidelines on, for example, what fits into the profile of Ourstyle (unique, high-quality products) and how to sell (online). Ourstyle started small; Henger used her contacts in Austria and Scandinavia to sell shops the works of Ourstyle designers. “Retailers take us much more seriously when we approach them as a company, and not just as one brand,” Henger said.
In the meantime, they also started to launch promotional campaigns. With the help of OTP Bank’s Fáy András Foundation, they appeared at the EFOTT Festival in the summer, participated with a store at a Marie Claire event in the fall, and organized the largest temporary store of the products of Hungarian Ourstyle designers in December. Starting from the initial 8 brands and 130 products in June, they have now increased to 21 brands (from the spring-summer season’s start) and 250 products.
Now, the boutique hopes that its opening hardships may be left behind, as it has managed to secure a major investor. Ilona Jankovich, the general manager of recruitment firm Randstad’s Hungarian unit, sees the potential in Ourstyle. “I was approached by two very enthusiastic women, Dóra and Ange, who had a good business plan. I am interested in investing in internet startups and because of my passion for fashion it was obvious that I should participate,” Jankovich told the BBJ.
With funds secured, more can be spent on marketing, although not all of Ourstyle’s promotional activities cost money. Campaigns such as finding the most stylish undergraduate or asking young fashionistas to create and wear looks from the combination of Ourstyle goods are free but – if circulated well – quite effective. Stepping up the amount of paid advertisements is also on their agenda, but strictly online.
They want to make good use of Google and Facebook as well, as these are the places where their potential customers are to be found. Djuice’s MyLife program, with which Ourstyle recently signed an agreement, targets the same group. The boutique has a contract with Jägermeister as well: the hostesses offering the herbal liquor will soon be sporting Ourstyle designer caps. Once Ourstyle gets a firm footing online, Hungarian designers will be able to show their wares to the world. (Zsófia Végh)