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You know that dreaded moment where you show up to a party wearing the exact same outfit as someone else because — let’s face it — you probably shop at the same stores? After that scenario happened to Princeton University undergraduate student Jennifer Lee one too many times, she was inspired to launch Cartful, a new website that sets out to help users discover lesser-known fashion labels, with a group of classmates.
Lee is calling the site the StumbleUpon of fashion. “We randomly bring something back that might interest you,” Cartful marketing associate Haonan Du explains.
The process is simple: Cartful’s homepage presents to you a brief survey, where you can fill in your shopping and style preferences with simple descriptions like “glam,” “preppy,” “classic,” or “boho,” and also prompts you to enter your preferred price range. (If you don’t feel like filling out the whole survey, you can also just search for a category of clothing like workwear or athleisure.)
Then you hit the “Let’s Discover!” button. Each click surfaces a new brand or retailer’s website, which you can browse without leaving the Cartful window. When you’re ready for something new, you hit the “Let’s Discover!” button to see a new website. It’s basically shopping roulette.
“In central Jersey, where we are, it’s hard to find interesting brands,” says Du. “It’s especially a problem for people in smaller towns where we have big box retailers. I think we’ve all identified with this problem, so we’re all together trying to make this work.”
Since its June launch, Cartful’s team of undergrad founders has linked to over 400 fashion brands on the site, including Sophi, a destination for affordable women’s workwear; Combatant Gentlemen, a menswear label that raised over $1.8 million in seed funding; and Amour Vert, creators of American-made and sustainable fashion.
We tried it out ourselves, and admittedly, the results were surprising. Three clicks surfaced Roots, “Canada’s leading lifestyle brand;” Southern Californian-based basics brand Three Dots; and Beza Threads, a scarf company that’s fighting to end slavery in Ethiopia.
All the brands featured on the site have been chosen by the team through research and word of mouth.“We’re trying to give shopping a very human touch. It’s coming from us, and not some crazy computer program that’s digging around the Internet,” Du says. “We really want to be a trusted place, especially since these are lesser known brands.”
Cartful plans to establish partnerships or affiliate link programs as a way to monetize, although the brand-new site hasn’t gotten that far yet. Unlike other fashion aggregators, Cartful’s presence is unobtrusive; the shopping experience happens on each retailer’s own website without any intrusion from Cartful beyond the subtle navigation bar. “We’re keeping the experience within the site and brand to get inspiration, instead of seeing pair of jeans from 20 different stores on an aggregator site,” like ShopStyle or Lyst.
The simplicity of Cartful goes back to its mission of discovery, a desire we can relate to. The randomness may not be ideal if you’re on a mission; instead, the site is for those online shopping binges when you feel like you’ve reached the end of the internet and have run out of ideas. The process takes patience, and the algorithm for surfacing brands based on the initial survey isn’t always perfect.
But few extra clicks might be worth it to find an alternative to that H&M dress you’ve been wearing to death (and three other girls you know are, too).