All The Rage

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'Bad Joan' does good for small, local designers in rough economic times

October 2, 2009 |  8:00 am

Office space
When L.A.-based designer Brooke Wilen’s clothing line Wilen shuttered due to too much overstock, she created a retail channel for small, independent designers to unload overstock and potentially save their businesses.  

Her retail website gives designers with overstock--but not enough to meet the minimums required by discount outlets and sample sale websites--a place to sell their creations, which are heavily discounted to the public. I caught up with Brooke and got the scoop on her lemons to lemonade story.  

Where did the name “Bad Joan” come from?

My mother’s name is Madeleine Joan and her e-mail username is “madjoan.”  It has always amused me and when I was thinking of starting this business it just clicked!  My “Joan” is not mad, she’s bad; she likes to shop a little bit too much.   

How many designer sales are on the site at a time? Do you release a new sale every day?
Bad Joan operates like a regular e-commerce store; it is open for business 24/7. There are no timed sales, no memberships, no logins and no fees. There are currently 32 designers listed on the site and we are always getting new additions. The site is constantly updated with new merchandise. We e-mail our subscriber base once a week to let them know what’s new.   

Do you only have “indie” designer sales?

Currently we only work with independent designers. Bad Joan is all about discovering new talent in the designer world and passing on that discovery to our customers.  

How has your site helped small designers stay in business or helped their business?
Every clothing line big or small gets stuck with overstock for a number of reasons (good economy or bad).  Large brand name lines with large quantities of stock have a much easier time unloading their overstock than a small, independent designer with a small amount of overstock. Everywhere from Loehmann’s to Haute Look requires minimums before they will work with a designer. But to an independent designer that “below the minimum” amount of overstock represents a lot of cash that was shelled out to make the stock in the first place. It also represents cash that the designer needs to keep their business moving forward.  

Had you had any Web experience prior to this?  

I actually had no web experience prior. Bad Joan was born from necessity. I had an independent clothing line that went out of business because of too much overstock (but not enough to sell to a major discounter) and not enough cash flow. I looked around and realized I knew a lot of other designers in the same situation and decided to do something about it. A friend of mine (Lizzie Parker, who is one of the designers currently selling on Bad Joan) happens to be a former Microsoft exec. She convinced me that I could do it and walked me through the basics of getting a website started. I have learned everything else through a lot of trial and error and “how to” Google searches. My motto has always been, “where there is a will there is a way.” I had the will and now Joan is on her way!

-- Melissa Magsaysay

Photo: Brooke Wilen in her office. Photo credit: Brooke Wilen