One such company is Stylyt, founded by two 2011 Wharton graduates, Jenny Wu and Nina Cherny. Their concept is to put brands' designs, or "silhouettes," on a web platform that lets users play fashion designer by swapping out colors and fabrics with a drag-and-drop tool. They can also vote on iterations by other users, and top vote-getters will be rewarded with social-media mentions by the brand or free items. Meanwhile, some customized designs that collect a lot of votes will actually be manufactured by the brand and sold as limited-edition pieces on Stylyt's site.
Ms. Wu, 27, who's worked as a management consultant at Deloitte, said that the driving idea behind the platform is showing fashion brands that social media can fuel commerce, since Stylyt is designed both to enable social sharing and guide users toward making a purchase.
"In all of these new [social] channels, it's really hard to figure out which can be monetized and result in a sale," she said.
Stylyt's pitch is that it can help monetize Facebook fans and Twitter followers, but it's also being positioned as a testing ground for new pieces, since a brand could potentially discover that Stylyt users much prefer a dress in blue instead of red, for example. The site is geared toward a fashion-obsessed Generation Y user, encompassing high-school and college students as well as young professionals who log into the flash-sales site Gilt at noon daily trolling for deals, so it's also being pitched as a way for some older brands to retool their image.
"Some [brands'] customers are growing up a little bit, and they want to figure out a way to connect to a younger generation," said Ms. Cherny, 28, who worked in corporate development at Estee Lauder before attending Wharton.
Ms. Wu and Ms. Cherny have two freelance web developers building Stylyt, which went through a private beta in the fall featuring pieces by emerging designers such as "Project Runway"'s Althea Harper. They're aiming to launch in April with established "contemporary" brands and media partners like prominent fashion bloggers.
Stylyt is part of ER Accelerator's second class of startups and received a $25,000 investment but is now looking to raise a seed round.
In terms of revenue plans, the two founders plan to mark up limited-edition items sold on Stylyt between 2x and 2.5x from the wholesale price, the standard in the industry. They also intend to implement an affiliate model to profit from traffic they generate to e-commerce sites, but that's the low-hanging fruit as far as they're concerned. They're thinking in terms of selling data back to brands to predict demand for specific colors and fabrics and, in the long-term, of doing collaborations with retailers like a Forever 21 or a Gap to bring the Stylyt product and user base directly to their sites.
Their concept already seems to have some traction in the fashion industry. Gap announced last month that it was launching a platform called Styld.by, developed by the digital agency AKQA, that lets fashion and lifestyle bloggers from sites such as Refinery29 and MOG mix and match pieces from its spring collection and gave visitors the tools to share combinations they liked on their social networks.