A few years after exiting Kirna Zabête, fashion savant Sarah Easley is back in the game with MaisonMarché, a disruptive new business model that brings the shopping experience — complete with a crew of friends! — into one’s home.
Why did you leave Kirna Zabête?
Kirna Zabête was such an incredible adventure. We opened the Soho store in 1999 when I was 26 years old! Discovering and launching new design talent and bringing it to downtown NYC are experiences I will never forget. Of course, over time the retail industry changed, consumer behavior changed, and it became more difficult to do my favorite part of retail — supporting unknown fashion brands. For an entrepreneur, timing is key. We need to know when to launch and also when to move on to the next endeavor. When you feel like the climate can’t support your vision, it’s time for change.
What inspired the creation of MaisonMarché?
With fewer consumers going into brick-and-mortar retail stores, these stores cannot always afford to invest in emerging brands. Even web-savvy clients hesitate to buy unknown brands, as it’s impossible to know the fabric and fit. Sadly, I saw many talented brands going out of business. I was inspired to create MaisonMarché to support talented designers, introduce them to new markets, and resurrect the joy of shopping with friends.
How does the experience you curate differ from more traditional ways of shopping?
Shopping can be overwhelming — there are too many choices. At a MaisonMarché event, even if there are 50 brands featured, the selection is customized for the guests. In curating, I avoid “vibe redundancy,” meaning I offer one perfect brand for each fashion mood — tailored luxury coats and jackets [Michelle Waugh]; a dreamy, girly floral brand [Maison Mayle]; and so on. When a guest experiences the merchandise selection in an intimate, relaxed home setting, it feels different. It feels relevant. Also, the joy of shopping with your friends is everything! I believe it’s the ultimate authenticity.
Why did you decide to incorporate charitable giving into the business model?
For each event, MaisonMarché donates to a charity selected by the host. So many women I know are active in nonprofits. And I’m committed to supporting these organizations by bringing communities together to shop for these important causes.
How many brands are you carrying?
The beauty of MaisonMarché is that no two events are alike. Of course the settings and guests vary, and I also change the merchandise every time. Often a great client will attend several events in her community within a few weeks. Currently, we have more than 75 brand partners and include 40 for each activation. This fall was the season where so many brands reached out to us and asked to be a part of MaisonMarché — a great sign that the model is working!
Tell us about your best feedback so far.
Truly, the best feedback from hosts and clients has been their action. Hosts almost always repeat as hosts for additional events, and guests have declared, “This is the only way I want to shop!” We have a near-perfect conversion rate with guests, and many reach out to our stylists between events to get a few more items. All who attend the fêtes want to participate in the shopping in some way. We offer a wide variety of price points, categories, and moods, but all under the MaisonMarché style edit — so each piece is carefully and thoughtfully selected. For example, one person may buy two unique birthday gifts for friends, while another will do a full wardrobe update. Again and again I hear that many stores just offer the same merchandise. The MaisonMarché client wants something different, and they want to have fun while shopping.
How do you plan to grow the business?
During our first year, we have had viral growth. At each selling event at least one guest asks to be a future host. We have been holding up to four events each month and testing other markets [Mexico City, Miami, and Chicago]. Our plan is to perfect the formula this fall and then roll out to other key U.S. markets.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love the treasure hunt! Scouting out new talent in Cartagena, Mexico City, or Brooklyn and learning the brand stories, then sharing them with new communities — that’s meaningful to me. The MaisonMarché client has a high taste level and cares how and where products are made. We aim to offer as many artisan-created, sustainably aware, upcycled collections as possible.
When you’re not thinking at all about fashion — what are your favorite pastimes?
In my spare time I love to dance. For almost 10 years I have been doing Anna Kaiser’s dance workout, AKT. I pretend like I’m on-stage rehearsing for some major performance, but there is never a recital!