Polyvore Brings Style, Shopping Online

It’s long been considered futile to attempt to launch a niche social networking site, given Facebook’s 400 million (and counting) users. But the fashion world might be the exception.

The three-year-old fashion and shopping community site Polyvore has seen its unique user base soar by 163 percent this past year, to 1.8 million in the U.S. in January, per comScore. Polyvore’s advertising director Katherine McClymonds said the site now claims 1.2 million registered users.

The key to Polyvore’s growth, said McClymonds, has been tapping into two huge passions for women — fashion and shopping — while creating a fun, easy-to-use interface. Using a simple set of tools, Polyvore members can grab images from  retail sites across the Web and mix and match virtual looks.

“There was nothing quite like this,” said McClymonds. While retail sites showcase photos of their clothes, most women piece together looks from numerous designers at once in real life. “There was no way to mimic a dressing room on the Internet,” she added.

And since women are often quite willing to showcase their unique looks via their Polyvore profiles, and frequently share them with friends, brands want their goods featured on the site. Thus, Polyvore holds what it calls “community challenges” for its users, during which advertisers including Coach, Gap, Nike, Kate Spade and Calvin Klein supply images to be used in different ensembles created by the site’s users.

A few weeks ago, Sephora hosted a contest on Polyvore for the launch of its new Kim Kardashian fragrance. In just four days, Sephora generated 1,800 entries, and users spent more than 333 hours creating original looks for the brand. “The responses were amazing,” said Cathy Choi, Sephora’s social and business development manager. “We wanted to get the product out in front of fashion people, and this is a natural place.”

This week, Polyvore is planning a series of challenges tied to Fashion Week in New York. “People can react to what they see on the runways,” said McClymonds.

See also: “Digital Special Report 2010”