HighCrate could be fashion’s next haute idea

HighCrate co-founders – and cousins – Gurson and Jason Sidana.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Jason Sidana wants Amazon to know: It’s nothing personal.

The cofounder of Hicksville-based e-commerce platform HighCrate is actually a big fan of the ubiquitous online retailer. He does most of his shopping there, and he and HighCrate cofounder Gurson Sidana actually pitch their early-stage enterprise – a drop-shipping digital boutique – as “the Amazon of fashion.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Sidana said. “I love Amazon.”

But the king of e-commerce has its limitations. For one thing, Amazon isn’t exactly on the vanguard of vogue.

“They don’t have that image,” Sidana noted. “You wouldn’t go to Macy’s to buy car parts, and Amazon is not known for fashion.”

Another limitation: A digital platform that brokers virtually every product does not necessarily do justice to any of them.

“You can go there and buy anything, but Amazon isn’t able to represent the brands properly,” Sidana said. “So we’re going to do what Amazon can’t, focused on fashion.”

Meet HighCrate, an in-development web portal sprouting from the cousins’ lifetime in the apparel industry. Combined, their families own nine retail shops across Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn, and that experience – plus their generational understanding of digital protocols – has fueled the HighCrate effort.

Their model incorporates drop shipping, a supply-chain management technique in which the retailer – HighCrate, in this case – doesn’t stock goods but transfers customer orders to a manufacturer or wholesaler. The goods are shipped directly to the customer, the manufacturer or wholesaler ramps up sales and the retailer earns a cut.

The cousins conceived the e-commerce platform while on a family-business buying expedition at The Magic Marketplace men’s clothing and accessory tradeshow in Las Vegas. But the story really starts a generation earlier.

According to Sidana, it begins with his father, Jas, who emigrated from India to the United States in 1972. Jas worked odd jobs for eight years to save enough to launch his own business – a T-shirt printing kiosk inside Brooklyn’s landmark Albee Square Mall – then grew his startup into a full-sized clothing store. Soon, other members of his family – including Gurson’s parents – were coming to America and following his model.

Sidana was always entrenched in the family business, scurrying around the store until he was 5, and then pitching in on weekends and school breaks. After earning a business-management degree at Hofstra University, the “natural born serial entrepreneur” attempted several startups – among them, a point-of-sale system for the fashion industry and a Brooklyn-based sign-maker. Alas, “a lot of them didn’t work.”

But the multiple missteps, Sidana noted, were “a great experience.”

“I really believe that’s what you should be doing in your 20s,” he said. “Experiencing failure is important. If you first go through it in your 30s or 40s, you won’t be able to handle it. In your 20s, you can bounce back.”

Like Sidana, Gurson, who owns popular Jamaica-based GB’s Sneaker Store (Snoop Dogg is said to lace up there), was always involved in the family business. The two were browsing The Magic Marketplace in February when Gurson wondered aloud why nobody had yet created a drop-shop site bringing together the top names in fashion – an idea so good, Sidana said, that they started their market research right there on the convention floor.

“We spoke to about 200 different brands,” he said. “Fifty percent said ‘let’s do it,’ 30 percent said ‘maybe’ and 20 percent flat-out said ‘no.’”

That was good enough for the cousins, who quickly incorporated HighCrate and hired a programming team in India to get cracking on a website. Their plan now is to debut their web portal this summer with 100 brands in the fold – many smaller brands, Sidana noted, though “we also have connections with the big brands because we’re already in the business.”

The startup has already inked some brands and is negotiating with several others. Sidana wouldn’t name names, but said HighCrate is well on its way to securing 100 for a June website launch and 1,000 by the end of the year.

Among the bells and whistles being incorporated are “subscription boxes” that will be filled automatically each month. While customers will be able to log and virtually shop free of charge, they’ll also have the option of purchasing a box for $50, $100 or $300 per month – and based on a survey covering everything from size and style to favorite colors, HighCrate will fill the boxes with shirts, shoes and pants.

“So you get these new clothes shipped to you each month,” Sidana said. “And you’ll be getting brands that are really cool, that you might not have heard of. It works out for the brand, which gets X number of customers it otherwise wouldn’t have gotten, and it works out for the customer, who over time gets an entirely new wardrobe without actually doing any shopping.”

The cousins are expecting to make a fairly large splash when the site goes live this summer – Sidana suggested as many as 10 million impressions the day the portal launches, based largely on celebrity endorsements stemming from Gurson’s hip-hoppy sneaker shop.

That might not translate instantly to sales, Sidana noted, but the goal is to grow HighCrate organically.

“We don’t believe in borrowing money or bringing on investors,” he said. “If we can’t do it ourselves, we shouldn’t be doing it. That’s what our parents taught us: The day you go out and get a loan is the worst day of your life, because you’re not the boss anymore.”

The entrepreneurs are extremely confident in their marketing plan, which starts with that one-time celebrity-infused push. An in-depth social media strategy is also in the works, featuring content tailored specifically to users on Pinterest, Tumblr and other networks.

“Forget TV, forget print, forget radio,” Sidana said. “Social media is the way to market in 2016. We’re creating content that’s interesting and engaging, and we’re going to form strategic partnerships with vendors and brands.”

It might not be how Jas Sidana did it at the T-shirt kiosk, but it’s precisely how a 21st century e-commerce enterprise gets things done, according to Sidana.

“Ultimately, we want to be 51 percent of every relationship we create,” he said. “We want to give more than we receive from everyone around us. That’s how we’re going to create value, and that’s how we’re going to grow.”

HighCrate

What’s It? Fashion-focused e-commerce platform

Brought To You By: Cousins Jason and Gurson Sidana, who grew up in the business

All In: $5,000, self-invested by the cousins, mostly for website development

Status: Try it on this summer