"Our whole mission and reason for being, is to create opportunities for and help young and emerging designers." Jason and Louise Saunders, the founders of Rize. Photo / Supplied

Rize Is The New Online Store Spotlighting Emerging & Independent Designers

Launched in April this year, Rize was created by Jason and Louise Saunders to connect emerging designers with the world

A new online platform has been launched by two Aucklanders with the aim of connecting independent and emerging designers from around the globe to international buyers.

Jason and Louise Saunders have spent the last three years working on Rize, and launched their sleekly designed website in April.

READ: Asili Is The New Design Brand Supporting Artisans In East Africa 

Rize is unique in that it doesn't charge designers to be stocked on its website; they sign up to list their designs on the website, and Rize takes a 10 per cent commission of sales. In the words of Jason: "Our aim is to help young and emerging designers, not exploit them — we think designers deserve to reap the rewards for their hard work."

We caught up with the duo to find out a bit more about them, and how they got started with Rize.

Tell us a bit about your backgrounds
Jason: I’ve spent my career to date in the branding and graphic design industry. In the early days that involved working with clothes stores, nightclubs and dance music labels like deconstruction records etc but my career then moved into more heavyweight areas of design to include — for example — the branding of several cities and work with clients across a number of different industries.

Louise: I actually began in theatre costume but my working life — punctuated by three kids — has been a mix of slightly unrelated stints in retail, as an account manager in a branding company, design and construction roles at fashion companies in the UK and Singapore.

(From left:) Seeker & Retriever top, $131, and overalls, $194, from Rize. Photo / Supplied

The opportunity for Rize clicked when you were in Asia — can you expand on this, and what it was about being over there that prompted this for you?
Yeah, I think we expected local brands to be a lot more visible. Those brands were there, but hidden down back streets while the prime spots were taken by all the usual global fast fashion suspects. While it’s disappointing to travel and find homogenised shopping experiences, we were struck by a desire to try to do something that allowed the smaller brands to take on the big boys at their own game — to find a way to make them more accessible, globally.

How does Rize work?
When a designer joins Rize they have full control over their own product listings and store policies. Payment is handled on the platform but the designer handles their own shipping and any returns and exchanges directly with the customer.

The designer decides if (or when) a product should go on sale — Rize doesn’t force designers to run promotions at specific times of the year (or at all in fact).

There are no joining fees, listing fees or subscription fees. Rize only charges 10 per cent commission on sales. Our aim is to help young and emerging designers, not exploit them — we think designers deserve to reap the rewards for their hard work.

Why did you choose fashion to focus on?
We didn’t specifically go out looking for an opportunity to work in the fashion space — it just happened organically.

How did you get started with Rize initially, what was the process?
First of all, we had to determine whether our idea solved a problem and delivered value for young and emerging designers and for the fashion buying public. Then, once we realised an online marketplace was the right vehicle for what we wanted to do, we set out to work out the mechanics of how it should work — the processes involved for customers and designers.

With those basics out of the way, we moved on to research our technical options, designed our site’s user flow and began building a first framework. Alongside the build, we began to develop the brand and design aspects of Rize — including our trademarking.

It seemed pretty obvious that we should focus on building the supply side of our marketplace first. So we spent a good part of last year having conversations with designers, getting them onboard and getting ready for launch.

We commissioned a photoshoot with photographer James Lowe, stylist Darya Bing and models from Clyne (and drafted in a couple of our kids for free). I think the famous quote by Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) — “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late” probably still applies today in many cases but not ours.

We knew the site had to look good and have a great user experience from the start.

"Hustling skills, listening and responding; patience and perseverance. All key ingredients to getting Rize off the ground." Photo / Supplied

What have some of the highlights so far been?
The initial response when we first reached out to designers was fantastic, and of course landing our first designers was a great feeling. Rize has also given us the opportunity to travel to meet designers which is great.

And some of the challenges?
There have been numerous challenges along the way — lots of technical challenges of course, but also the odd curveball — we were originally hoping to reach out to designers much earlier but our payment processor suddenly discontinued a key service that we relied on so we needed to build around another provider and change our refund processes.

We also found early on that we had designers registering with us but taking a long time to add products and set up their stores on Rize. We decided to build an integration with Shopify to make it much easier and quicker for our Shopify based designers to import their products.

What have you learned along the way?
Hustling skills, listening and responding; patience and perseverance. All key ingredients to getting Rize off the ground.

Who are some brands we should look out for / some of your favourites?
Our designers are like a family now so it’s very hard for us to have favourites, we love them all. We’d encourage people to dig around and discover for themselves.

Our brands have some really great stories; we have a French sneaker brand (OTH-Paris) that makes their soles from recycled car tyres, a Swiss brand (Neumühle) making swimwear from lost fishing nets, and Spanish wooden watch brand (MAM Originals).

We have jewellery brands from New Zealand, Ireland and the US; accessory brands from Mexico and Portugal; lingerie from Bali. We’re currently reviewing a number of African brands and coming soon, we have an LA denim brand who use 90 per cent less water than traditional denim… but we’re growing and adding new brands from around the world all the time.

(From left) MAM Originals ethical wooden watch, $229; Darkside Eyewear sunglasses, $328, from Rize.

Could you share some of your dreams and goals for the platform?
Our whole mission and reason for being, is to create opportunities for and help young and emerging designers. So we’d love Rize to become the gateway for a whole new generation of sustainable fashion brands and a place where customers come to discover something a little bit different.

Rize is looking to combat a landscape where the high streets are becoming increasingly dominated by a handful of global brands — do you have any other thoughts on what could be done to change this?
We’re by no means experts in the fashion retail sector so we don’t have all the answers. But I do think the fact that we’re new to the industry has in some way allowed us to see a different perspective that has lead to Rize and helped us to do our bit to help slow fashion brands. Perhaps other ideas may come from people outside the industry too.

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