Alice Goldbloom doesn't look like your typical fashion entrepreneur. You might even say she looks more like your average Canadian grandmother than the founder of a new e-commerce site dedicated to selling top-quality designer bags on consignment to Canadian women. But looks are always deceiving, and while Goldbloom vehemently denies being particularly fashion-forward, I respectfully disagree, as the bags on her site indicate a woman with impeccable taste.
LOVEthatBAG is a very carefully selected shop of designer handbags, in almost every style and brand you could want. How the site works is fairly simple: prospective sellers email photos of their bags to Goldbloom with a description of their condition, and she decides whether or not the bag is right for the site. If she does, then you mail it (or drop it off in person if you happen to live in Montreal), and it gets put up on the site. LOVEthatBag takes 50 per cent of every sale. It’s a similar concept to sites like Fashionphile, Malleries, and Yoogi’s Closet, but since bags are shipped in Canada, customers don’t have to worry about hefty taxes and shipping costs. We talked to Goldbloom about deciding to become an entrepreneur, working in e-commerce, and of course, which designers Canadian women are dying to get their hands on.
What did you do before you started LOVEthatBAG?
Well, to be honest, I stayed home with my kids for the past ten years. But before that, I worked in communications; I’ve worked in government, on Parliament Hill. I ran a communications and PR business for 15 years, and then I came home and looked after my kids, and then I decided to do this.
Did you always love fashion, is that why you decided to start the site?
I do, but I’m not a “fashionista.” I regularly get stopped by the fashion police, actually, especially the way I’m dressed when I’m walking the dog. But I’ve always loved handbags, and now I love them even more as I’ve learned more about them. But I think if you’ve got a great handbag and a great pair of shoes, that really makes an outfit. It really pulls it all together, no matter what you’re wearing.
How did you come up with the idea for the site?
Well, I was looking around and I realized there are a number of sites in the United States where you can buy pre-owned designer handbags, but we don’t have very much in Canada. There are a couple, but not that many. I put myself in these potential customer’s shoes, and I thought, “Would I buy a pre-owned bag from an American site?” Shipping here is always so expensive, and then you have to pay taxes and customs fees on top of that. You’re really on your own out there when you buy from the States. So I figured giving Canadian women an option would be a good idea. And I know that women everywhere have handbags sitting in their closets, I mean, it’s kind of an essential item that we all have.
Was there any particular moment that made you decide that now was the time to start LOVEthatBAG?
No, it was sheer madness, from the moment of conception. It was late onset entrepreneurialism. It was a 'now or never' sort of situation where I decided I would try and see where it could get in five years.
What’s your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
You know what? I really, really like being part of this new digital era. E-commerce is really, really new, and it’s not something that I could have even thought about doing not that long ago. And it’s so fast paced and exciting. Put yourself in my shoes: I’d been at home for ten years, and this is the biggest change in the world since I left the working world, and I love learning about it. I love handbags, and maybe it could be something else I’d love just as much that I would be selling, but e-commerce is really different than anything we’ve had before.
Is there anything you don’t like about working for yourself?
Well, you know, I’m not used to doing everything on my own. I did hire a McGill business student to help out over the summer, and now that she’s gone back to school I’ve hired a fulltime assistant, but literally it’s just me doing all the work. When I worked for a company I had a staff I could delegate to, but now it’s just me. That’s been the hard part. I do the shipping, the flyers, the inventory lists, putting the bags up on the website, everything.
A lot of Canadian retailers, even really big ones, like The Bay, have been really hesitant to get into e-commerce, and have only done so very recently, like in the last couple of years, largely due to the challenges of the Canadian market (small, dispersed population, high shipping costs). Were you scared going into e-commerce because of this, is there any reason why you chose to go the e-commerce route as opposed to a physical store?
I couldn’t have dealt with a physical store, just all the extra work that would require. I never thought about the challenges, I just saw the gap in the market and thought it would be a good idea for a website. We’re still growing at this stage, but I’ve found that I am selling, and we are getting a lot of traffic-- I’m even shipping to the States already, and we’ve only been live for a few months. I’m not in it for the short haul. I am looking towards the longer horizon. I think it’s going take me a while to reach where I want to be, but we’re getting there.
Where do the bulk of your bags come from?
They come from Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. I have a few that come from Vancouver and from Halifax as well, but the bulk is from those first three.
Do you really carefully curate what goes on the site?
Pretty much. I’m very selective about what I will take.
And how do you choose what makes the cut?
It has to be designer. It has to be in really good condition. I’m just starting to figure out what is worth taking, which has been a bit of a learning curve. I’ve found you really have to figure out what your niche is, and what your market is.
Have you ever had someone try to sell you something that was fake, or wasn’t in the condition they said it was in?
Yes, but in pretty much all of these cases it’s been someone who didn’t realize that what they had wasn’t actually a designer bag. So they might have gotten it as a gift. I had a young woman trying to sell a bag that she’d gotten from her boss, and she was going back to school and thought she had this designer bag that she could sell for a little bit of extra money. However, it turned out it was not a real one. It happens. But I’m also getting better at spotting the fakes and, if I’m ever not sure, there are ways to find out if the bag is genuine or not.
Do you have any resources that you use to tell if a bag is fake?
I’ve learned a lot as I’ve gone along, but there are lots of YouTube videos out there that help explain what to look for, and often the designer’s website will tell you what to look for as well. I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to call out fakes, people are mostly pretty honest, but I do have one contact that I can call if I really need them to authenticate a bag. I have a certain cachet with my customers, and I want them to have faith that all of our bags are real, and of good quality.
Are there any particular designers or styles that are pretty much guaranteed to sell?
Oh yes. If I get a Chanel bag or a Hermes bag, they’re gone before I even put them up on the site because I have some regular customers who I call to see if they want it first. The other bags that go really quickly are the trendy bags, the 'it' bags. I think some of them are nice, but they’re not unusual, or hard to find.
I’m not sure if you keep track of this, but have you noticed if there are any certain trends of who buys which bags? Like, do women in Alberta like different things than women in Ontario? Are there certain things that sell better in different parts of Canada?
Not really. I’ve shipped designer bags almost everywhere, to even really small towns in Ontario, places I’d never even heard of before and had to look them up. I have found that older women don’t care as much about getting an 'it' bag, they’re OK with classic. They’re more interested in what I call 'forever bags,' you buy it and you’re going to have it forever. It’s never going to go out of style. I think that’s the only trend I’ve really seen. Younger women are more into having the trendy bag.
Do you find younger women go more for the vintage section of the site, or are they primarily interested in the 'it' bags?
No. The vintage bags are actually a bit of a challenge, and the problem with them is Etsy. There are some people who have 50 years’ worth of vintage stuff just sitting around in closet, so there is so much on there, and so the value of vintage bags really isn’t that high. I do think it’s really fun to take a great, modern outfit and give it some interest with a vintage bag, but they tend not to sell as well as I’d like.
Do you have any advice for any other entrepreneurs who want to launch an e-commerce site in Canada?
I think you have to be prepared to do everything. Everything from the administration to the shipping. You’ve got to really love what you do, and be passionate about it, but also pick something that has room to grow. I picked handbags because I think they have a lot of potential. It helps to love what you’re selling, because you really live and breathe your business as an entrepreneur. That’s not something you understand until you become one, but you really do.