As flash sale sites struggle for new business, Rue La La founder Ben Fischman is back in the entrepreneurship game. He is the founder of the newly launched M. Gemi shoe retailer built on the vertical retail model made popular by Warby Parker, with prices similar to mid-range specialty retailers (from $128 to $248). The startup recently secured $14 million in seed and Series A funding, led by the same venture capital firm that backed Warby Parker, General Catalyst.

Gemi seeks to disrupt the luxury shoe industry by sourcing products directly from Italian leather factories and selling directly to the consumer. In this regard, M. Gemi resembles the startup Everlane, which similarly provides luxury basics (in apparel and leather goods) at prices that undercut those of traditional retailers. However, unlike Warby Parker and Everlane, M. Gemi operates on a fast-fashion cycle, introducing new styles every week and retiring them after three months (think Zara)—the limited product availability also creates a sense of urgency among consumers. The company will also attempt to generate sustained interest by offering style previews to loyal customers.

specialty-retail-2014-average-digital-iq-by-categoryOverall, shoe retailers have a long way to go in digital competence relative to other specialty retail categories. In L2’s Digital IQ Index: Specialty Retail, the Accessories & Shoe category lagged behind all others except Watches & Jewelry. Iconic brands Stuart Weitzman and Cole Haan, as well as mass retailer Aldo fall in the lower Average Digital IQ category.


So far, M. Gemi has been savvy at generating buzz and guiding consumers through the decision making process. To coincide with its official launch, the company shared products with popular blogger-influencers such as Gal Meets Glam and Barefoot Blonde. To help consumers find the right fit and correct shoe size without returns, it has implemented a “Fit Indicator” feature on product pages to help buyers pick the right size. A survey of athletic footwear buyers found that 88% of consumers decide to buy shoes in-store because they can try them on before purchase, indication that effective sizing tools can significantly increase a brand’s online sales.


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