Lisa Crosswhite is the Founder and Director of online fashion retailer, Gnossem.com, and is regarded as one of Singapore’s style icons.
Crosswhite initially built Gnossem after realizing that professionals in Asia-Pacific were increasingly turning to online shopping, yet were nevertheless worried about purchasing something they had not yet felt or seen in person. A supporter of independent designer fashion, Gnossem has evolved into a formidable platform that provides users with access to unique independent labels, without having to travel the world over for the designer’s one boutique.
Crosswhite has since appeared in Singapore’s top fashion magazines for her style advice, and has made Louis Vuitton’s “Top Ten Most Stylish Women of 2012″ list as published in STYLE: magazine, among other annual “Best Dressed” lists in Singapore. Her support for “niche fashion” has led her to speak at the TEDx Talks in Hong Kong. Prior to Gnossem, Crosswhite worked as a Brand Strategist at Ogilvy Mather as well as an International Fashion Model.
I spoke with Crosswhite to learn more about her unique journey through the fashion world and what obstacles she overcame in launching one of Asia’s top online fashion retailers.
Tiffany Pham: What inspired your move from being an international fashion model for luxury brands, such as BALLY and Ports 1961, to ultimately founding Gnossem.com?
Lisa Crosswhite: Modeling across Asia opened up my world to the many designers in the region that are high quality, and critically acclaimed in their home cities, but too small to be known abroad. I always knew I’d end up in fashion, but wasn’t sure in what long-term capacity. Building relationships with designers of different locales seemed like a natural extension of my passion and curiosity at the time, but ended up seeding the idea to build a solution to the problem of inaccessibility when it comes to niche, high quality independent fashion. I saw a category of fashion that had so much potential and demand, but was being held back by an inability to widely reach customers. The idea for Gnossem actually came while I was researching online shopping behaviour for a client, Estee Lauder, at my past job as a strategist at Ogilvy Mather Singapore. The idea to focus on independent fashion, for my future online store, was deeply rooted in my experiences engaging with these designers when I was still modeling.
Pham: What was your plan of action once you decided to launch your own company?
Crosswhite: My plan of action for the development of Gnossem, was to first test my hypothesis that independent fashion could build strong traction in a developed cosmopolitan market, while building the foundations for an eCommerce platform and Retail Brand that could eventually be worthy of worldwide appreciation. After a beta market, the plan was to launch in a top online retail market, such as the U.S., as our first stop for worldwide expansion.
Singapore proved a natural testing zone, with its 50:50 ratio of foreigners to locals, sophisticated business environment, and prevalence of modern working women with high disposable incomes. Its regarded as a prime place for an expat to live in Asia, due to the fact that its predominantly English-speaking, growing at a dazzling pace, and as culturally diverse as New York. I also liked that Singapore was small. With five million people, it was the right size to run a contained test, and get quick feedback from our countless iterations in the development process.
Pham: What were some of the tactics you used to get Gnossem off the ground fast, and have it be named one of the top online retailers by Women’s Weekly and Harper’s BAZAAR within six months of going live?
Crosswhite: We grew fast, and gained critical acclaim through very solid product curation and earnest story-telling. It certainly wasn’t a generous marketing budget. We’ve been covered 70 times in Singapore since going live, with our PR department comprised of myself and my marketing colleague. And we don’t spend on press. The with our product selection, and sharing our story with industry folks that we knew would get (almost) as excited as we were about it.
For people who love fashion, it doesn’t take long to notice that Gnossem is more than just another fashion eCommerce startup. I built a brand that my team and I could really stand behind; and its led to firm support from Singapore’s fashion community as well as benevolent collaborations with established ‘big sisters’ such as Anthropologie (Gnossem-curated collection launching later this year), Maserati of Manhattan (sponsored our pop-up fashion event in New York this past spring), Antipodium (flew in to co-host a Gnossem-exclusive launch in Singapore), and more. In short, we’re doing what we should be doing; and getting the right people to notice it.
Pham: What were some of the personal and professional challenges you faced, once you transitioned to founder?
Crosswhite: The biggest challenges I faced in founding a company were more personal than professional. I really welcomed the additional workload and still do. It’s hard to complain about professional challenges… maybe because there’s been so many of them, that I’ve just habituated to a high level of problem solving all the time.