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Gilt Groupe's co-founder has a new fashion app that lets you shop from Instagram photos

Project September is a new twist on the idea of social commerce.

Carolyn Fong
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Alexis Maybank, Gilt Groupe’s first CEO, is back, with a new twist on the idea of “social commerce.”

On Thursday, Maybank is launching Project September, an app and website that feature photos from Instagram that users tag with product details to help product discovery lead to purchases. In an interview, Maybank said many people discover fashion on apps like Instagram, but don’t have an easy way to go from discovering an item to buying it. The goal, she said, “is to match visual discovery with the ability to buy.”

That goal, however, is not altogether new. Wanelo, which launched in 2012, is an app designed to help people discover and buy new clothing, though with a younger target audience. Polyvore, a fashion discovery site that sold to Yahoo for more than $180 million last year, has tried to tackle a similar problem since launching in 2007.

More recently, an app called Spring launched with a stream of photos that has the feel of Instagram, but with the difference that everything shown can be purchased within the app. Several tech startups also work with retailers and brands to allow their Instagram followers to easily purchase the items they feature in their feeds.

On Project September, all of the images are uploaded by users of the app — either directly from their Instagram account or from the photo library on their phones. The clothing and accessories in the photos are meant to be tagged with product details from a database Project September is compiling.

People who want to purchase an item tap on the app’s signature green dot that marks an item as shop-able. They are then re-directed to the product page on the brand’s mobile website to complete the purchase. Project September shares their commission with the person who uploaded and tagged the photo.

The startup hopes to stand out in a few ways. First, it is partnering with some well-known fashion photographers and creative directors to seed the app with some of their own photos and hopefully bring their followings from social media platforms with them.

Project september screenshot

Project September also rewards the person who uploaded the photo with about two-thirds of the commission Project September collects when a photo from the app leads to a sale on a partnering site. Launch partners include Nasty Gal, Saks and Bloomingdale’s, which allows for brands like Fendi and Ferragamo to be shopped in the app.

The model will face challenges. Shoppers have to leave the app to make purchases, which is added friction that will reduce purchase conversion rates, which are already low on mobile phones. Maybank said the app’s affiliate model was a way to get up and running quickly and could change in the future. But it’s still surprising to see a high-end shopping app launch with such a model in 2016.

Project September will also have to convince tons of everyday people to spend the time to upload photos and tag them with product details. Maybank thinks the app’s design and forthcoming creative tools will appeal to both professional photographers and creative directors as well as aspiring ones. The ability to earn money from contributing photos should help with the appeal, she said.

It also seems feasible that Instagram could pursue a similar opportunity. The Facebook-owned photo app already has advertising relationships with plenty of retailers and brands, and could ask for inventory feeds just like Maybank’s startup does.

Project September, whose name is an homage to the most important month to fashion magazines, has raised a seed investment round from investors including Venrock, First Round Capital, Female Founders Fund and WME Ventures. Venrock partner Nick Beim was one of Gilt’s earliest investors.

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