Graduates sell vintage in a modern way

Vintage. Indie. Retro. Emo. These are some of the terms thrown around by clothing companies to attract young adults to their stores. Usually the words just mean pre-faded, screen-printed shirts with less-than-clever phrases on them. At ModCloth, however, these words accurately describe the company’s wide variety of stylish clothes. Established and run by Carnegie Mellon students and graduates, the distribution company has been growing rapidly in popularity across America and other countries.

At ModCloth.com, web surfers are greeted by the smiling face of Susan Gregg. Wearing a red argyle hoodie dress, Gregg sets the mood of the light-hearted website that has represented the company for four years. The website offers men’s and women’s clothes, shoes, and accessories such as sunglasses and bags and receives between 10 and 15 orders a day. Though the company does not make its own products, the products certainly express a specific mood and style: The smiling models throughout the site convey a stylish and carefree lifestyle. The interactive sizing chart helps customers choose the right size to order, ensuring their experience with the fashionable products to be a comfortable one.

Created in early 2002 by Gregg and Eric Koger, ModCloth began as a modest vendor of one-of-a-kind items. Gregg was a frequent shopper at thrift stores while a high school student in Miami, Fla., and took advantage of all the terrific clothes that the retirees had unloaded in the shops. Since the prices were as cheap as a dollar for a pair of pants, she would end up buying anything that she thought looked good, whether or not it fit her. With a vast collection of great clothes, Gregg and Koger, who had been working at a web-consulting firm, established ModCloth.com. Working out of Gregg’s parents’ house, and enlisting her mom to help with shipping, Gregg and Koger would prepare the clothes for sale (dry cleaning, fixing any tears, taking pictures, and writing descriptions). Friends would help by accompanying Gregg on her bargain shopping adventures.

In the fall of 2002, Gregg and Koger left Miami and began attending Carnegie Mellon, both majoring in business. At the end of their first year, the company made $6000. Gregg and Koger continued running ModCloth for the next few years, sticking with the unique vintage clothing market.

Gregg wears ModCloth “all the time,” while Koger describes himself as more of a “techy geek than fashionista.” The models who display the products on the website are also very excited about the clothes. Koger and Gregg even ran into one of their models wearing ModCloth’s Rook and Dove T-shirt as the two were meeting at Kiva Han for this article.

In the summer of 2005, they decided to expand their business with “reproduction inventory,” as Koger put it. The unique clothes, while being very profitable, were becoming a heavy burden. Each item needed its own webpage and description, but would only be relevant until someone bought it and its inventory was sold out. Gregg began looking for small designer companies online and in clothing catalogues, to buy wholesale clothes to sell through ModCloth. In February, Gregg and Koger took a week off from school to travel to Las Vegas for the Magic Trade Show. With 10 miles of vendors to choose from, Gregg and Koger shopped all day and ended up working all night, too. They stayed up until 7 a.m. to finish a paper for school.

After Gregg graduated this past May (Koger is still working towards his MBA), the couple tied the knot and bought a house in Friendship. The house is used as ModCloth central, with the inventory stocked in the basement and packaging and photography taking place throughout the house. Gregg and Koger consciously decided to keep the business in house in order to maintain a tight-knit atmosphere in the company.

Currently, ModCloth has six employees and many recurring models. The website has expanded with the ModLife blog, written by business partner Matt Kopel, who graduated with a creative writing degree this past spring. ModLife provides visitors with frequently updated pop culture news, music interviews, and other information and entertainment. ModCloth.com receives 1800 visitors every day, 25 percent of whom are return visitors. At its current rate, the company will make $700,000 in 2007.

In the future, Koger and Gregg plan to revamp the website and logo. They also are planning to put together a ModCloth catalogue and sell to boutiques in New York. Erin Goldberger, a junior English major and ModCloth’s chief photographer, summed up the bright future for the company confidently with, “It’s gonna be big. You can quote me on that.”