FashionPlaytes.com parlays customization tools and gaming elements into sales

The e-retailer enables girls to play fashion designer and buy the finished product.

Allison Enright

Plenty of young girls like to play dress up, pillaging closets and jewelry boxes to add a little sparkle here and a dash of color there in the quest to make an outfit just right. Now an e-retailer is making the most of that desire by providing them with an interactive web site that invites girls to personalize clothing that they can share with friends and that their parents can then buy on the site.

FashionPlaytes.com, which launched 2009, is targeted to girls age five to 13. It sells about a range of clothing basics, like T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, casual dresses, leggings and shorts, that girls can then embellish with decals, ribbons, rhinestones, appliqués and the like to suit their personal style. Fashion Playtes Inc. founder and CEO Sarah McIlroy says that with the large assortment of options available, girls can create about 10 million different combinations on the site. Once a girl is satisfied with her creation she, her parents or anyone else can buy it for her.

Designs can also be shared with others through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. As of today, a novice fashion designer on the site also can create an avatar—a digital likeness—that models the designs she creates and stores in her FashionPlaytes user account. McIlroy, whose experience working for more than 10 years in the computer gaming industry revealed a lack of content appropriate for young girls, says adding interactive, game-style features to the site like the avatars is key to turning young shoppers into repeat visitors. An on-site social community is also being designed.          

“We are about creating the experience on site as much as it about the product,” McIlroy says. “We fuel reengagement with them and give them big reasons to come back.” She says the typical time spent on site is anywhere from eight to 12 minutes, and that she expects that to grow as FashionPlaytes adds more tools that help girls make the on-site experience more engaging. “A lot of times, something doesn’t exist for girls today unless they can share it,” she says.

Playing on and sharing from the site is free. The only cost is if the clothing item is purchased. A basic T-shirt is $14. Embellished with a rhinestone peace sign, a ribbon and a ruffle underlay ups that total to $29. Fashion Playtes, No. 897 in the Second 500 Guide, had an Internet Retailer-estimated $1.77 million in revenue in 2010 and an estimated 6% conversion rate.

31% of girls age six to 12 say they shopped online in the past month, according to C+R Research, a market research firm that studies youth behavior. More than half, 52%, of those that did shop online said they hardly ever or never complete a purchase online themselves. When they do, half said they spend less than $25. Clothing is the most popular product category girls in this age range shop, followed by shoes, toys, video games, electronics and books.

Fashion Playtes, which was recognized as an innovative e-retailer on the 2011 Internet Retailer Hot 100 list, builds all the customization and community-building features on the site in house. The company currently has 15 full-time employees and contracts with a U.S.-based factory to sew on the selected embellishments to order. Girls get their couture delivered in about two to three weeks.

“It is almost about delivering the dream of being a fashion designer,” McIlroy says. “The site lets girls embrace their creativity and allows mom to endorse that by purchasing the design at a reasonable price point.” 


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