One night, during the 2020 lockdown, friends Josh Underwood and Jake Dormer sat around chatting when they started lamenting how difficult it was to discover new independent streetwear brands.
The pair valued quality, stylish clothes and tried to avoid fast fashion brands. But finding those independent labels was a struggle, so they’d settled for bookmarking a list of 10 reliable brands in their internet browser. It was a workaround, but it meant they rarely found any exciting new labels and had to browse ten separate websites.
Frustrated by a problem they’d shared since their university days, they couldn’t understand why no one else had solved it, so rather than wait any longer, Josh and Jake wondered if they could do it themselves. With no significant capital to invest and no desire to enter the world of wholesale buying and inventory management, they needed a clever solution, which is how they came across Marketplace Kit.
Jake and Josh developed their marketplace—which they named Aveste—using Marketplace Kit, a collection of APIs, tools and documentation. It allowed them to build the marketplace they dreamed of and collaborate with independent brands using Shopify. With Marketplace Kit, Aveste has:
- Built and curated a custom marketplace serving independent streetwear brands
- Created a custom sales channel for the Shopify App Store
- Onboarded 20 Shopify merchants to their marketplace
- Earned 20% commission on every sale
While Jake and Josh knew the type of clothes they liked to wear, neither came from a fashion background. And besides, whatever they ended up creating would be entirely bootstrapped, so they needed a penny-wise solution.
"We don't know the industry. We didn't know the wholesalers. We didn't have the investment," says Josh, who manages the sales and marketing side of Aveste. But while they didn’t have intimate knowledge of the fashion industry, they were also confident that wasn’t necessarily a problem. "We knew that the best businesses out there enabled other businesses to succeed."
With the traditional commerce route never an option, they focussed on building a marketplace that brought together many independent streetwear brands in one place. There, customers could browse and purchase items from multiple labels in one place.
Jake, who comprises Aveste's entire development team, was already familiar with Shopify and knew there were available APIs to connect their marketplace with brands using Shopify. After confirming many of their favorite independent brands were using Shopify, he began the process of building a marketplace.
The Marketplace Solution
The marketplace came together using the plethora of available documentation and the forums for the rare time Jake needed support.
"It was really straightforward," Jake said. "If I ever got stuck, I'd always go to the forums as well. So I'd always be able to get questions and answers pretty quickly … And I didn't often get that stuck, to be honest."
And as he built, Jake and Aveste were in good company—he was using the same APIs and tools that organizations such as Twitter, Meta, TikTok, and Google had also used to build their marketplace commerce solutions.
In addition to building the marketplace, the pair needed to make a sales channel app that their brands could add to their store and allow them to sell via Aveste. This part of the process requires Shopify approval, and despite Jake reading the documentation religiously, they had some nerves.
"We were ready to submit it, and we thought, 'this is going to take eight weeks. We might have to do it five or six times. We're going to be pushed back and pushed back and pushed back.'"
But a white knight quickly alleviated their fears.
With some guidance from Jeff, a Shopify developer on the App Review team ("shout out to Jeff!" says Josh, "you were the best"), Jake was able to make some changes to the original app and it was approved for use.
"We couldn't believe how easy it was," Josh said. "And obviously, we'd gone through the documentation religiously to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. But we couldn't believe that [it was so straightforward]. So that was a lovely experience."
With the marketplace built and the sales channel app ready to be used, the next step for Jake and Josh was finding and adding brands to Aveste. After all, what’s a marketplace if it doesn’t have any actual products to market.
For Josh, this was a perfect opportunity to flex his sales skills. He reached out to his first brand—calling the owner on the phone—and explained the marketplace model: Customers browse the numerous brands available on Aveste and make their purchases directly on the marketplace. Behind the scenes, that sale would go to the corresponding merchant, who would receive the payment and fulfill the order, shipping it directly to the customer. After fulfillment, Aveste would automatically receive a 20% commission for facilitating the sale.
The owner was intrigued and agreed to join the marketplace. Jake and Josh had their first merchant for Aveste.
"We launched in October 2021, and we've basically just been growing as fast as we possibly can from that," says Josh recalling the phone call to the owner of their first brand. "We got him on the phone, and from there, we've got nearly 20 brands now."
For Jake and Josh, there was more to finding merchants than finding those who understood and agreed to their commission-based model. Working with independent brands that favor sustainable practices and quality materials was of the utmost importance. They've had no qualms about denying partnerships with brands that don't fit their values. For them, the ease of using the sales channel app has empowered them to only partner with the brands that are the perfect fit.
"The beauty of what we've been able to build with Aveste is that we've got 20 different brands right now—that's in nine months. It's incredible growth. And we're super thankful for the brands for trusting us. We've been able to create those 20 brands from a list of 400+ brands," says Josh, adding, "we turned away probably 800 others."
Since launching Aveste in October 2021, the marketplace has made well over 150 orders and shows no signs of slowing down.
Jake and Josh both had full-time jobs when they started the business. Since then, Josh has left his full-time job, and Jake has reduced his hours. The pair plan to spend more and more time on Aveste, with big plans to use the marketplace to serve customers and raise the profiles of the independent brands on the platform.
"The goal for both of us is that this becomes our life, we care so much about it," says Josh. "I think the beauty of [the marketplace model] is that we've got the time and the head space and our ability personally, that we are really lucky to be able to invest into the business. … But we wouldn't necessarily have the time and energy and money to invest into the business if it was a brick-and-mortar or even an ecommerce fashion brand. It takes so much."
"We think the [marketplace model] works and we're just putting everything we can into making it a success."
Find out if Marketplace Kit could work for you
Marketplace Kit is open source and available for free. Shopify documentation guides you and your development team through the entire process so you can produce a marketplace and sales channel that fits your every need.
Get started building and finding marketplace merchants today, start selling and earning tomorrow.