Minya’s Weird and Deirdre Maloney had a little ritual at the start of every trade show they hosted: working early at the incognito registration desk. While checking IDs and printed badges, the couple heard unfiltered gossip from unsuspecting attendees – kind of a low stakes undercover boss movement that helped them keep their ears to the ground.
The couple, business partners since 2004, launched a successful fashion show in the 2000s, sold it, then took their talents home, founding Shoppe Object with their friend. jesse james in 2018. The show – a boutique alternative to NY Now – quickly became a hit. But for the first edition, Quirk and Maloney weren’t sure what to expect.
Courtesy of Afternoon Light
“While we’re checking people in, we keep calling Jesse and saying, ‘Who are the heavy hitters? Who are the buyers we should be excited to see? recalls Maloney. “He managed to sell a handful of stores, but none of them really encompassed what we were looking for in the fashion world – a Mr. Porter or a Ssense, a one-stop shop where everything they sell is organized – through a distinctive point of view and served for you as, ‘This has been verified, this is authority.’ … We kept ping-ponging about how it was missing until finally we decided: we wanted to do it.
Four years later, the trio sold Shoppe Object to IMC; after the sale, which closed in February, James will stay on as show director. Quirk and Maloney, on the other hand, were free to pursue a new venture. This week, fueled by $1.2 million in pre-seed funding, they’re launching Afternoon Light, a platform that brings design-aware brands together in a single, sleek e-commerce site. Next time they attend Shoppe, Quirk and Maloney hope be the big hitters.
“Searching online these days involves searching Instagram or coming across cool stuff and needing to bookmark it or remember it,” says Quirk. “We thought, what if we just build this platform for all of this?”
At launch, Afternoon Light offers just under 100 brands, all of which sell through the site via drop-shipping offers. There’s a wide range to choose from, from 80-year-old aluminum chair maker Emeco to vibrant glass craftsman from Brooklyn. Grace Whiteside, but overall the editing reflects Shoppe Object’s predilection for the cosmopolitan and the avant-garde. This is a design electronic communication site for cool kids.
When it comes to price, Afternoon Light’s selection has its ups and downs, but Quirk and Maloney are targeting customers who want to spend money on their homes – the more affordable pieces are what you’d expect from the high-end, and the most expensive reflect what you might pay in a design boutique in SoHo. The goal is to find consumers who like the design in theory but don’t quite know the lay of the land.
“People want cool stuff for their home, but where do they go? Urban Outfitters? CB2? isn’t rooted in this world, where are you aware of that?” Quirk said. “Even in the editorial roundups of where to buy for your bedroom, they’re all mass retailers. But where do you go if you want to find a bed made by a cool guy in LA? He’s over there. His name is Brad Burleigh and he’s awesome.
Quirk and Maloney aren’t the only ones to notice a Net-a-Porter-sized hole in the design industry. When Design Milk was acquired by Ahalife in 2019, the CEO Robert Mancini Told BOH it was looking to use the site’s editorial clout to get into high-end e-comm, and The Expert recently raised $12 million to create a multi-brand shopping site. Obviously, this is white space that deserves to be colored.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Supply chain issues have made it difficult for suppliers to commit to taking orders online, and in a somewhat chaotic landscape for e-commerce in general, it’s difficult to sign up for the right mix. brands. Some smaller studios have been burned by bad experiences in the past and need convincing, while others (like a few of the biggest Italian manufacturers) have let Afternoon Light down, at least for now. Finally, the cost of acquiring customers online has never been higher – it’s hard to compete in a landscape where sites like 1stDibs spend tens of millions on marketing.
Quirk and Maloney are betting that putting brands first, plus flawless curation, will help them break through — basically, if you’re throwing a party that everyone wants to come to, the hurdles can be overcome. “Sometimes in the home industry, which is different from fashion, retailers hide or gloss over the brands they sell,” says Quirk. “Our approach is radically different. We want partners to feel it is beneficial to sit on this site. Not just because they’ll make sales, but for the brand awareness and company they keep.
“We build things like platforms for brands to foster community. When you do that, there are great benefits,” she adds. “One of them is that people talk and the word spreads. You are a symphony of voices working together rather than one.
Homepage image: Courtesy of Afternoon Light