In the dressing room: Up close and personal with the dynamic duo behind Fashionism

Fashionism_Founders
Fashionism_Founders

Meeting with the founders of Fashionism is becoming a regular activity. Not only do we share interests in mobile fashion and tech, we also work down the block from each other and live even closer. This time, though, felt special: Their app is live, their fingers are crossed, and maybe there are a few cocktails on the table.

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Introducing Fashionism: a GPS, Tumblr, and soon-to-be WordPress Blogger’s Dream

Fashionism is a location-based fashion guide that lets users share and discover fashion around them. You start by logging items that you like from stores around you. In the process, the app gets to know you and your particular tastes and needs. It also alerts you when there are items nearby that you’ll want to see.  “It’s unique for bloggers in that it’s inspirational platform but unlike other players in the market, they have a real destination to go to where they can get in touch with the product they’re hyping,” said founder Hermann Frank. With Fashionism, bloggers also get their own profiles and unique style boutique.

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Its launch this week sparked collaborative interest in and out of town. “Three hours after the app went live, I got a call from a luxury beachwear line,” said co-founder Hermann Frank, from a leather chair at Fabisch.  “He was interested in forming a distribution partnership.”

Who is Hermann?

Hermann is Fashionism’s 25-year-old founder and CEO. He began life in St. Peterburg in the time after the Perestroika, where the style on the street was neoclassical decadence, wild and reckless. “Suddenly everything seemed possible after decades of suppression by the communist regime,” he remembers. “The men drew their style inspiration from American gangster movies, and everyone loved to show off the money that was flowing in.”

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The first piece of fur Hermann ever saw was on his mother, who liked to dress him in nautical clothing. From there, Hermann’s family moved to Kiel (in north of Germany) where his new lifestyle of surfing and sailing came to influence his wardrobe.  “I started to dress more casually,” he said. “These days, I mix the two styles.”

At university, Hermann was the guy walking around in crocodile loafers. He was also the guy helping you fix your modem.

Hermann studied at universities in Maastricht and Milan, where he was likely the only techy tastemaker around. His signature look, which some have likened to Ciaran O’Leary‘s ; ), materialized at some indiscernible moment when he became a professional and made established opinions on his favorite button downs. Nowadays, you can spot him wearing the same pair of shoes, almost always.  “They’re his statement piece,” says co-founder Julana Chondrasch when he puts a shabby blue and green pair of Nikes up on the table.

“But before I only wore one pair of shoes, I wore 40.”

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From St. Petersberg to holographic supermodels to Fashionism

The idea for Fashionism began months before Julana’s entry. “The journey began April 2010,” says Hermann, remembering it exactly. “I was sitting with friends during my last semester and we were discussing augmented reality. The market had just started there, and we all thought, by 2015, it would be huge.”

Hanging out in his dorm room with friends between classes, Hermann experimented projecting images across the walls. At some point, he started playing around with an app that would let a holographic supermodel (and ostensibly other 3D images) walk up and down your room. As he explains, it’s clear Hermann’s perspective is technical. (Supermodel translates to “a QR code on a sheet of paper”)

At a certain point, he and his friends went to a department store and started thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you could just hold your phone up and see what’s inside?’ “We returned home and started to conceptualize it,” Hermann said. “We worked on this concept in university for a few months, but in the end, it was too heavy to execute and too reliant on sales.”

More importantly, his partner was planning to head to Chile. The project dropped.

Hermann meets Julana: Another style-savvy entrepreneur readying for launch

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Hermann, unlike some of his university friends, felt sure he wanted to start an enterprise of his own. “I was always heading in this direction,” he says, “I always knew I wanted to start a company, since my childhood.”

“By this time, I’d already become so obsessed with this idea of crowdsourcing a store’s investory,” he explains, “granting people access to what’s inside retail stores.” Then he met Julana, a 26-year-old and die hard shopper (the kind who can tell you why one beige shirt is a whole lot better than the next.)  “I’m addicted to my iPhone. I wake up, check my iPhone, and see that it’s been snowing,” she says, looking up from a text. “I want to get up in the morning with the thought that I want to go shopping, and then check my favorite stores for new products and sales. If I like something, I can put items on hold and then pick them up later.”

Who is Julana Chondrasch?

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Julana grew up in Kiev in the Ukraine, where at an early age she selected her own fabrics for customized clothing. With her mother (a programmer and Madonna fan), she would go to local Ukrainian tailors working from their homes in the evenings. “Her experience in online publishing was relevant to the product and I really loved her spirit,” comments co-founder Hermann Frank.

From Kiev to 7Trends to Fashionism

Before joining the duo, Julana worked in the fashion department at 7Trends, where she and her 4-person team worked to establish the company’s image on the web. “We did everything from editorial to styling” she says, “That experience showed me that fashion isn’t work but life for me. It also showed me that I’m a leader rather than someone who likes to be led. I learned how to work for a team, how a company’s structured, how you can build up a fashion department out of nothing.”

She also came to value giving everyone access to high fashion. With her team at 7Trends, she built MyStylist, a testing ground which, based on results, shows you outfits and curates outfits to meet your immediate needs.

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Duo plus developers equals launch: What are they facing now?

While Julana remembers exactly what she was wearing when she met Hermann Frank (“a high-waisted black skirt, denim blouse and biker jack”) other more discreet members of the founding team are less inclined to remember the fabric details. Heading up development is the 24-year-old founding member Malte Buchholz, who studied IT and economics in his hometown of Hamburg. Given a highly-saturated market (Luster, Snapette, Pose, etc.), Buchholz’s precision and tenacity will be key.

“Competition is good,” Julana adds confidently. “It shows there’s an interested market.” It also shows they needn’t neglect the smoke and air: With products like these in the fashion sector, the product that comes out best is the one that’s a pleasure to use.

“We built this product as we envisioned it. We didn’t do heavy consumer studies,” says Hermann. “All the apps that come out there prove that we’re right. Every new app that emerges has the features we envisioned and implemented.”

Moving forward: Oberholz and beyond

For now, this duo’s working on creating a devoted community, picking up the phone when it rings, and getting involved with bloggers on the ground. They’re also meeting with investors (from the US to Switzerland to Germany), working closely with their three-person-deep development team, and preparing for the launch of Fashionism’s second iteration. When the team goes out at night, they like King Size, Odessa, and Trust.  In the daytime, you can find him in the upper haunts of Oberholz, where he shares an office with Silicon Allee’s Dave Knight where post-its can be found in yellow orbs and roosters are painted on the walls.

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Which other villagers inspire them?

Felix Petersen, because he’s smart and straight-forward. Also Simon Schaefer, Just Beyer, as well as the crew at TunedIn. “They’re like us in that they’re really passionate about what they’re doing.”

How about local Berlin designers and stores? “We love Lala Berlin, Department Store 14 oz., c’est tout, voo store, happy shop, Karlotta Wilde, and Sabrina Dehoff.”