by Joanne WIlson
In the last year, the number of fashion sites has exploded--everything from tools to save your purchases, to discover finds, to share with friends as well as e-commerce. Some succeeded while others have not and many are still in question. What is going to separate all these sites from each other? We will see, but after meeting with Elena Silenok I was really intrigued with Clothia because she does have something that sets her apart from the rest. The technology to put your body on line and then try on the clothes virtually. You might have a much better idea on how each item will look on your before you press buy.
Elena grew up in Russia near the Baltic Sea as an only child of two mechanical engineers. When she was 15, Elena won an academic scholarship that was sponsored by the US Government. The concept is to promote international exchange in developing countries and put students in our school system for a year. Elena spent a year in Yuba, California with a host family going to the local high school. A huge public high school with a large Mexican and Sikh population. There were three exchange students in her program: the others were from Mexico and Germany.
After that experience, she decided to apply to other schools in the States to remain here for her education. She had a student visa and was able to continue through college and grad school with no problems. After years in Russia, all Elena could think about was warmth. She was not really given any guidance. She applieid to Florida Atlantic University, got in with a free ride. The most important thing at that point was being on a beach. She would go home in the summers and winter breaks to see her family in Russia. Her parents totally understood the need for Elena to stay in the States: it was safe and there were opportunities.
Once she graduated, Elena went to work for the University of California San Diego, while going to graduate school, in their network security program. They had a network telescope where they could study reconnaissance activity on hackers. At the same time Elena was applying for military grants to stay in the States. What was amazing was how difficult it was for her to get a green card. Our country paid for Elena to get a degree in computer science and she was figuring out for the US Government how hackers hack our systems and they wanted to sent her back to Russia. She eventually figured out how to go from a student visa to a work visa to a green card. Elena is the type of citizen we want staying in the US.
After getting her masters at UCSD analyzing hackers for her thesis she came to NYC during her summers in grad school to work for ATT and she fell in love with the city. At ATT, she did specialized research on how routers talk to each other. Not only was the job fun, but so were the summers of art, music, ballet and good food. Not surprisingly, after graduation Elena accepted at job as a developer at Abacus-- a company funded by Bessemer. She stayed only for a year analyzing large scale data because she was able to land high paying consulting jobs. She thought that having a full time job was more stable but after working in a start-up she realized that it wasn't so scary going out on your own.
Elena took a bunch of jobs for large financial companies that paid her plenty to just figure out how to get the job done. She did that by hiring people in Russia at a much lower cost. It was through those lucrative contracts that she was able to put money away and start her own company.
Elena started to think alot about how clothing is paired together. She became a student of streetwear watching how people had so much style on the street. How could those people share their sense of style with others? It was back in 2007 and Polyvore didn't even exist yet when she began to think about this. In 2010, she finally got her green card and decided to quit all of her consulting gigs and start her own business. The market had matured and she felt it was time.
Elena created Clothia. A virtual closet where you can upload items from your own closet and from the web. You can try on clothes through augmented reality. She wanted people to have the same experience that they would have at a clothing store or in their own closet. You can literally scan your body into the computer and begin. There is always a look and fit issue in the dressing room and if you can do it online that is a game changer. You can look and interact with yourself.
It is not a full virtual experience--it is technology. It is the beginning of something interesting. Certainly the uses of this platform are beyond the closet and that will be part of the evolution of the company as they figure out the revenue model. That is what I like about Clothia. Elena has set Clothia up as a completely different platform. You keep your own clothes in an online closet so when you go shopping for something else online you can literally put on your favorite black pants and try on a jacket with it from a store to make sure it works before clicking buy. It takes the concept of mix and match to a whole other level.
You can check out the demo here. A computer science major from Russia becomes a start-up Woman entrepreneur because she won the opportunity when she was 15 to come and study in the states. Great story.
Joanne Wilson has been blogging since 1994 as Gotham gal and recently started The Women's Entrepreneurial Festival affiliated with NYU. Wilson is an advisor and investor in startups, including Curbed (Eater/Racked), Food52, Red Stamp, Catchafire, DailyWorth, Editd, Hot Bread Kitchen, Nest.io, Gotham Gym, The Moon Group and MOUSE. Her most successful venture is being married to her best friend Fred and raising her three kids, Jessica, Emily and Josh. Follow her on Twitter at @thegothamgal
Part of Gotham Gal's Entrepreneur Monday series, this interview has been reposted with permission