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The Interview: Noëmie Haverhals, Founder and CEO, Avail

Tom Shearsmith
04 September 2020

Avail is the first social shopping platform to bring fashion lovers and small and independent brands closer together through 'curators'.

Avail’s goal is simple: bring together individuals with an outspoken, creative or inspiring sense of style and allowing them curate their own selection of items, which they choose from exciting, small and independent brands.

As of June 2020, the Avail platform offers more than 150 new brands on their app. All small, independent brands with locally rooted culture and a unique design. sat down with Avail's CEO, Noëmie Haverhals, to talk about what led her to founding the company, what makes it different, how the Avail platform works, its target audience and the future of the business.

What’s your background that led you to creating Avail?

Ever since I was a little girl, my interest in fashion has lived and grown with me. Most kids were making sandcastles at the beach during summer, but I made jewellery from pearls and beads, and sold them to other kids. My interest in fashion commerce probably started there.

After obtaining my law degree, I realised courts weren’t interesting enough for me and a toga wasn’t too fashionable. I followed a Marketing Management program at business school and during that year I got the chance to do an in-company project at Galeria Kaufhof in Cologne where I was working on the introduction of Saks Off Fifth in the European market.

This was the first time in my life I felt like ‘this is it, this is what I want to do in my life’. I was thrilled by the combination of fashion and starting up things from scratch. I started off my career a few months after as a Marketing Manager at a Belgian fashion e-commerce start-up. This experience definitely showed me the risk of start-ups, but I guess that triggered me even more.

Being a Millennial, I didn’t just witness a major shift from offline to online, but I also witnessed companies feeling threatened by it whereas for me it opened doors, being able to buy an ‘oversea’ prom dress from a UK based e-commerce platform about 12 years ago. Discovering the undiscovered has always been something that excites me and one of the main reasons for the start of Avail.

Can you describe what Avail does, in a nutshell?

Put simply, Avail curates the best local DTC brands and gives you access to them in one app. It’s a place where you can shop but you can also just ‘hang around’ and get inspired by the item’s curators have on their wish list.

Avail App

The new generation of consumers (Millennials and Gen Z) are social sellers, taking inspiration from brands they surround themselves with, is this the same audience that Avail is targeted towards?

Avail indeed caters to the new generation customers who are looking for brands that tell a story and cherish the same values they do. We want to give these consumers a platform where they can curate what they like and inspire others by doing so.

They are very much about authenticity and expression. Instead of being an ‘authority’ like many platforms position themselves, Avail is all about a community of brand advocates inspiring each other by offering styling options and curations. You play a part in it.

Avail seems to be the perfect place for upcoming and emerging brands, how do you work with these brands to get them on board?

Over the past year, a lot of new DTC brands have emerged and due to COVID-19 wholesale is slightly losing its position, so more and more brands are focussed on generating sales on their own channel.

Platforms like Shopify have made it easier for brands to enter the market but when it comes to entering an international market you need a lot of marketing efforts. That’s where Avail comes in. So, what we do now is give them visibility on our app by importing their collections, uploading their product images and descriptions and leaving them in control of customer data. There is almost no effort for a brand to come on board.

What are the core values for a brand to join Avail?

Right now, we are very focused on building a strong community which is why it’s so important that the brand mix is aligned with what new generation customers want to discover. We are looking for brands with a strong DNA, brands that are quite new and have an accessible price point.

Our brand mix is positioned in the mid-market sweet spot with brands who offer stylish unique designs at a better price range than luxury brands. It’s great to see how many of our brands focus on values such as unisex clothing, seasonless, made to order, etc. All values that contribute to more sensible shopping.

Avail curators

What’s the significance of influencers to Avail?

Influencers have played an important role in our marketing strategy so far. We spend a lot of time looking for profiles who are a true fit with Avail and have a certain level of authenticity. We’ve worked with interior architects, models, artists, musicians/singers, students, who have a distinctive style and who are true advocates for the brands they feature on their platform. The more they can connect with the values of Avail, the more their audience will.

What is a curator? Are they the same as an influencer?

For us, a curator is everyone who has their own profile on Avail and curates their own style. Everyone is invited to do so. It’s great to see how the community is creating its own ‘sets’ (a collection of products) and shares those creations on their social media platforms. We believe everyone can inspire everyone, it’s an open community.

Avail doesn’t have an internal checkout system yet, are you happy remaining like a middle-man app providing the links to the final checkout?

Great question. To be honest, it depends. Running a start-up doesn’t go along with a 5year plan you stick to. You need to be able to pivot if the market requires to do so. Being a middle man has allowed us to enter the market quite fast in order to prove the product market fit.

We spend a lot of time talking to our community of both brands and customers to see how we can improve ourselves every day. It’s important to have this agile approach especially in early stages of business. So yes, having an internal checkout system is definitely something we are keeping in the back of our minds but not our main priority right now.

What is the future for Avail?

We really aim to become the go-to destination for the new generation of customers. Within the future we’ll have to think of more ways to support brands: in terms of marketing, logistics, web development etc. In that way we can make the connection between new gen brands and customers even tighter.

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