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vhcle-09: feature/modcloth
Every summer my family would take the four hour drive down to Lawton, Oklahoma for a week vacation. My brothers and I would often hide away in a peripheral room and entertain ourselves - throwing pennies at the fan, pretending the floor was boiling hot lava or investigating a closet like a C.S. Lewis after-school special. During the trip, I would take some time to admire the mint condition turquoise 1950s handbag at the top of grandma’s closet. Unable to reach the purse for some time, I soon developed enough motor skills, intelligence and deviance to obtain the object of my affection. I would open the silver clasp and peer inside at the gold silk lining and then place the purse back on the shelf, exactly as I found it. Maybe for you it was the red-white-and-blue plaid blazer gathering dust in grandpa’s garage or the metallic disco heels your mom kept up in an old box - something you admired growing up, something old and forgotten that you longed for and imagined was beyond reach. For Susan Gregg-Koger, it was a leopard coat from the 1960s, part of grandma’s collection that she would play dress up with for hours in the basement.
Susan’s continued passion for vintage clothing eventually produced the successful online boutique ModCloth, albeit through humble beginnings. Her boyfriend (now husband) Eric Koger helped her create a basic website in 2002 to sell the one-of-a-kind vintage items she accumulated from southern Florida thrift stores. In the fall of 2002, both Susan and Eric moved to Pittsburg to attend Carnegie Mellon University. While attending college, the pair managed to shop and run the website, adding “vintage-inspired” clothing from independent designers and wholesalers in 2005. In 2006, Susan and Eric traveled to Las Vegas for their first trade show, MAGIC. They learned as they went asking vendors lots of questions along the way – how much, how often and where to buy. After graduating in May 2006, the couple married and pursued complementary paths. Eric continued on to earn a Masters in Business Administration while Susan took a leap of faith into pursuing ModCloth full time. It was not long before the business began to exceed their wildest expectations, growing by approximately 600% in 2007 and then again in 2008. According to the March/April 2009 Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners e-newsletter “December [2008] was the company's most successful month ever, with more than a million people shopping on the site.” ModCloth’s success is the outcome of the same formula used by the couple when they were just high school sweethearts with a time consuming hobby – the pairing of Eric’s Internet savvy and Susan’s mod style.
ModCloth’s innovative Internet marketing, spearheaded by Eric, continues to play a major role in the company’s growth. He understands the Internet is an increasingly important conduit for the website’s target demographic - young fashionable women who value unique and retro style. Social networking sites like Facebook have played a role in both advertising and customer interaction. ModLife, the website’s blog, increasingly provides an opportunity for connecting, as followers can submit photos of their style or enter various contests.
The company has been working on redesigning the website for the past eight months and expects to release the upgraded site within the next month. Following the interactive trend, additions in the near future may include increased input from shoppers on what clothes should be sold on the website.
The role of Susan’s personal style however should not be downplayed in this success story. Susan’s own fascination with edgy vintage or retro items is what shoppers identify with, and she has a knack for picking styles that are timeless rather than tacky. Her fashion icons include her grandmother, who helped her develop her healthy obsession with thrifting, and Gwen Stefani. She has admired Gwen since she was 12 years old for “making a statement that’s true to her style.” Susan describes her personal style as slightly over the top, with a love for clothing from the 1980s and anything with a high waist. It is obvious from the company’s success that many women identify with Susan’s style. Her hand-picked vintage items, sold in the One-of-a-Kind section of the website, often sell within a few minutes of being posted.
The website itself is the summation of both Susan and Eric’s continued efforts, along with that of their devoted staff. Most of the staff itself represents their target demographic and many contribute to the ModLife blog. Of course Winston, the pug mascot, and several other dogs roaming the company warehouse boost company morale. Susan’s approach to business is laid back yet honest. She understands a successful business is run by the kind of people you want to know - a guy you could play video games with, or a girl you could see as a shopping partner. It is obvious from the company’s success that Susan, Eric and the rest of the ModCloth staff are those kind of people.

By Jen Wade

April 2009 © 2009 vhcle [subscribe to our list]
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Jen Wade is the Fashion Editor for Vhcle. She also moonlights as an environmental consultant. While writing this article she was listening to a lot of Lykke Li remixes, snacking on Swedish Fish and carrying around a 1950s turquoise handbag.
Susan Gregg-Koger, founder of ModCloth, looks adorable in spring items available from her online store.
What styles are you excited about for Spring/Summer 2009?
I'm really excited about the re-emergence of the romper & jumper for S/S 09. We have a few cute ones in already and more on the way! They're so easy and so much fun to wear.
What is your favorite staple piece right now?
I'm totally into our Coffee and Cigarette Ankle Jeans - in fact, I'm wearing them right now! They look good with everything and have the perfect fit. I love wearing them with heels and wedges.
Favorite decade (or year) for fashion and why?
I fall in love with different periods in fashion all the time, my inspiration boards are always growing and changing. The late '50s have always had a very special place in my heart though, I've inherited some of my grandma's pieces from that time and they really mean a lot to me. I love all the ladylike dresses, coats, and hats. Why don't we wear hats anymore?
Q&A with Susan Gregg-Koger
Coffee and Cigarette
Ankle Jeans
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