The man on the quest for the fringed suede boots is a man possessed. He has seen his vision. He has pursued it to the ends of the earth. He has found them, at long last, on Grailed.com.
Where does a fashion fanboy — a fanatic with time to spend and money (if not full retail price) to burn — go to find the cult items that have eluded him, his (holy) grails?
Grailed, a platform for buying, selling and swapping clothing and accessories, was created in 2013 by Arun Gupta, Jake Metzger and Julian Connor to be that place, a specialized eBay of the hype-o-sphere.
In a sign of the times, fans of the marketplace include several of the designers showing on the Paris runways this fashion week, including Virgil Abloh, the new men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton, and Matthew Williams, the creative director of Alyx.
The promise of Grailed, which charges a 6 percent commission on sales between members (plus PayPal fees), has drawn not only customers and fans. It has, like its compatriots in the so-called re-commerce industry, attracted interest from venture capital as well. Investment in the company is still smaller than other online resellers, like the RealReal, Vestiaire Collective and Poshmark, but Grailed’s focus on men distinguishes it.
Last month, the site closed an investment round of $15 million, led by Index Ventures, the venture firm that has taken stakes in Net-a-Porter, Farfetch, ASOS and the sneaker site Goat. Thrive Capital and Simon Ventures, which participated in earlier funding rounds totaling $4.1 million, joined this round as well.
“The reason Grailed has done so well and grown organically is that there’s this incredible need by millennials in particular to connect themselves with these cult items of clothing,” said Danny Rimer, a general partner at Index Ventures. “You see it in the way that the community responds to what they’re doing. Really, what we want to do is recognize that.”
Since its inception, Grailed has grown to be a bustling thoroughfare of designer goods, where vintage pieces from the Paris runways of Raf Simons and Comme des Garçons nudge up against drop-fresh Supreme and Off-White, the “It” items of the moment and gone-but-not-forgotten status symbols long since vanished from shelves.
Hundreds of thousands visit Grailed and its app every month, and Grailed had 11 million page views in May, according to comScore, which measures online traffic. (Grailed’s own numbers suggest both users and page views are higher.) Last year the site was profitable for the first time, according to the company.
Mr. Gupta, 29, the chief executive, came up with the idea for Grailed when he was in his 20s, as he was beginning what he called his “fashion journey” online. (It ultimately led him to the suede FBT Bearfoot Pizi-Folk moccasin boots by Visvim, the Japanese fashion label, which, after years of search, he found and bought on Grailed.)
“Back then, 2013 or even earlier, guys couldn’t talk about fashion in real life,” he said. “It’s not like women, who talk among their friends about what they’re buying and go shopping together. On the internet, there developed these communities of people who would talk about fashion online.”
He educated himself on forums like Styleforum, Superfuture and Reddit threads, where obsessives would debate the merits of collections and barter and sell pieces. A self-trained coder and a start-up veteran by 19, Mr. Gupta felt he could build a better interface for those sales.
So he did. Mr. Metzger, 31, a friend, came on board to handle marketing and branding; Mr. Connor, 29, eventually, signed on as chief technology officer.
Grailed is now a reliable place to find the object of old or recent obsession, where the long tail of vintage product meets a passionate and developing market.
Because the majority of the site’s listings are user generated, the community that is Grailed’s strength is also its weakness. The site does almost none of its own fulfillment (the exception is for cases in which it has created editorial content around the items, like its annual Grailed 100, a roundup of influential pieces), and shopping on Grailed is not the frictionless experience many e-commerce retailers have taught customers to expect.
Users describe and label their own products, so finding specific items can require a long trawl through the site. Photos may be professional or night-vision quality. Price negotiations can get heady; shipping rates, self-determined, can be high.
The company does offer buyer and seller protection, but only after claims have been adjudicated by PayPal. Grailed’s team of moderators combs the site for fakes, but even so, complaints of inauthentic products crop up.
And, like any online community, Grailed’s can be fractious.
“They can be a little prickly,” Mr. Metzger said. (Mr. Gupta declined to comment, with a laugh.) But if the virtue of Grailed is democratizing access to designer goods, this comes with the territory. Serving as a hub for the obsessives means weathering the occasional scorn of veterans as well as educating the neophytes.
That education happens not only among the buyers and sellers, but also in the editorial content that Grailed creates: “Master classes” in notable designers and brands from Stüssy to Prada, news briefs, the Grailed 100.
“I wish sometimes the fashion community would be as knowledgeable as the Grailed community about clothing,” said Mr. Williams of Alyx, who has used the platform himself.
Because Grailed has a direct line to a young and engaged market, it reflects, more or less in real time, that market’s whims. It does an especially strong business in street wear and skate wear, the influential style of the moment. (On Thursdays, when Supreme does new product “drops” on its website and at stores, it goes up almost immediately on Grailed, which announces its presence. James Jebbia, the founder of Supreme, declined to comment on his feelings about the site.)
With its new investment, Grailed will continue to grow. The company is now 37 employees and a fridge full of matcha, as befits a millennial start-up in 2018, about evenly split between tech workers and marketing and customer service.
It plans to continue to refine its technology, hone personalization in order to better corral the sprawl of products it offers, expand internationally and explore events and real-world interactions with its community. It is not difficult to imagine a Grailed convention somewhere down the line.
Grailed is still working out how women fit into its vision, and the women’s market represents untapped potential. A women’s wear site, Heroine.com, was introduced in October 2017 but is still finding its footing — “in the brand-building phase,” in start-up-ese.
“I think it was skewed a little bit too upmarket,” Mr. Metzger said. The current Heroine ideal, Mr. Metzger said, is Kendall Jenner, a woman who mixes her high fashion with street wear.
Grailed is not without its critics, including those in the forums from which it sprung. Eugene Rabkin, the founder of StyleZeitgeist, a fashion forum, criticized the platform for undercutting the primary market for designers, and in so doing, eating away at independent designers’ livelihoods. (Grailed maintains that it is complementary to designers, offering exposure and increasing demand.)
Mr. Williams, for one, didn’t express concern. “I don’t really care about profit generation in that way,” he said. “If we make enough to sustain, to do the ideas that we want, then I’m really happy.”
Grailed is a home and a hive for the kind of consumers he designs for. “You’re actually speaking to the real customer,” he said. “And a future customer.”