FashionPlaytes Raises $4M More, Goes for Billion-Dollar Customized Clothing Idea

10/12/10Follow @gthuang

Score another one for the “She-E-Os,” the Boston-area support network for female chief executives. And more specifically for Sarah McIlroy, a member of the group.

McIlroy’s startup, Salem, MA-based FashionPlaytes, said today it has raised an additional $4 million, bringing its Series A round to $5.8 million. New investor Fairhaven Capital led the round and was joined by existing investors New Atlantic Ventures, LaunchCapital, and Golden Seeds. FashionPlaytes announced its initial venture financing in August 2009 and opened its site to the public shortly thereafter.

The site is targeted at girls aged five to 12, and lets them use a game-like interface to design custom clothing—sleep sets, skirts, dresses, jackets, you name it—in different combinations. McIlroy and her team are working on building an online community so that consumers can interact and talk about their designs and fashion. Since late last year, the company says, some 200,000 unique garments have been created on the site using more than 6 million possible design combinations.

“We’ve been able to prove out there’s a nice business here,” McIlroy says. “It’s a far cry from where we were two years ago, trying to put a prototype out to market.”

The new financing, though not huge, is a good sign for consumer-focused Internet startups in the Boston area—and perhaps the East Coast more broadly. FashionPlaytes is part of a “mass customization” trend that eventually could alter the economics of the fashion industry, empower clothing buyers, and give rise to new e-commerce success stories. A few other fashion-related tech companies with Boston-area ties include Blank Label, Spreadshirt, and thredUP.

Fairhaven principal Rudina Seseri calls FashionPlaytes “the first to bridge the gap between virtual games and physical goods in the girls gaming category.” Seseri has joined the firm’s board.

McIlroy, for her part, is a veteran of the gaming industry. Before co-founding FashionPlaytes in 2008, she had worked at Atari, Hasbro, and Midway Games in a number of business development and strategic roles, including acting as a liaison between retail and marketing. She says she saw a “big void in gaming for girls.” At the same time, she says, her young daughter was getting into sketching out clothing designs, and McIlroy’s mother is an “amazing seamstress.” So, she says, there was “a much broader opportunity if we could figure out a platform where girls can be designers. We could have a real significant business.”

FashionPlaytes currently has seven employees, and is looking to hire a few more on the development side. The company’s quarterly revenues have grown 600 percent since January, McIlroy says. It is now looking to form more partnerships with big companies like Sanrio (Hello Kitty), which this summer. And, as with any fast-growing startup, finding the right people is the key challenge, she says. (Asked to sum up her startup culture in one word, she said, “Aspirational.”)

As for the local support groups for CEOs and entrepreneurs—both male and female—McIlroy says the startup community has been more gracious in terms of sharing ideas, information, and contacts than the more entrenched gaming industry, at least in her experience. Her main advice to first-time CEOs: “Persistence is absolutely key.”

That’s all well and good. But with more venture capitalists getting involved with the startup, I wondered just how big FashionPlaytes could get, realistically. To give some indication, McIlroy sees it eventually competing with The Gap and other big clothing retailers, and fundamentally changing how people (or at least girls) buy clothes.

“I truly believe it’s a billion dollar idea,” she says. “I knew if I didn’t do it, someone else would.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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