Critical Shopper: Tictail Makes an Argument for the World’s Small Creators
Of all the lies told on — and about — the internet, the most egregious is that anyone can, with a few keystrokes and a little search engine optimization, become a mogul. Barriers to entry are low, yes, and access to information is at a high, but it is still perilously easy for a small business to remain small.
That won’t stop people from making things and hoping they catch on, trying to will a tiny niche into a mass market. But it emphasizes all of the steps in the chain separating the would-bes from the breakthrough successes.
Into that maw have stepped a small number of intermediary companies: Big Cartel, Shopify and also Tictail, which appears to be the least utilitarian of the bunch. Tictail’s users tend toward the aesthetically appealing, with a refined approach that is more art gallery than factory. Of these services, Tictail has the most unified sense of self. That is clear just from visiting each company’s home page: Tictail’s doesn’t bother with the specifics of its own platform and instead solely highlights makers and their goods.
But no matter how coherent Tictail’s online vision may be, and how effective it is in promoting its users, there are things that no amount of online interest can replicate: namely, foot traffic, and the unexpected alchemy of the happenstance purchase.
Enter the company’s retail shop, Tictail Market, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which opened permanently last year after a pair of pop-up excursions. The bazaar is admirable in size, with clothing, jewelry, art and more from a range of Tictail users, typically those who are closer to professional than amateur.
During visits over the past several months, the inventory was consistently charming, and ever evolving. “Support your global girl gang” read a placard outside the store a couple of weeks ago. For the whole month, the store was stocked with items by female makers. (A sales clerk estimated that new stock was typically brought into the store about every couple of weeks.)
The clothes emphasized drape; the colors were restrained but vivid. On the clothing racks that dominate one side of the store, there were several styles of a desert-rose print by SelvaNegra, which featured hand-drawn squiggles and plants and a girl wearing a top but no bottom (about $180 to $450); and also some eccentric looks from Victor von Schwarz, a designer interested in oversize and elegantly accented silhouettes. Scattered around the room were various shoes, including sharp ones by LAX, handmade in Tel Aviv, including medium-heel boots in loud black-and-white with assuredly pointed toes, and also stern-looking snakeskin platform loafers ($399) by Reschia, from Stockholm.
Smaller items were gathered around the register, like a series of sharp geometric earrings, including squares in gold-plated silver ($36), by Plateaux Jewellry; a couple of books by Lydo Le, including the resilient and surprising “Some Feelings,” a series of anti-gnomic declarations of internet-era confusion ($15); and some eccentric fringe to attach to the top of your shoes, made by Raoulle ($42). Up near the ceiling were a collection of umbrellas with scenes by Tictail-approved artists on the undersides ($48), and underneath them was a display of luminous and humorous silk scarves by Tal Drori and Centinelle.
By and large, these items felt like obvious candidates to make the leap from small audience to large, though in some cases the handmade feel of the objects felt like obstacles to scaling a business — like the lovely oversize hot-pink perfectly knit scarf that had an almost serpentine luxury, or the jewelry by Bagavundas in which thin wisps of silver or brass were wrapped around thread spools ($65 to $115).
Tictail is the rare retail intermediary for whom a real-world shop makes sense; it is a middleman for products that benefit from tactile assessment. (SoundCloud and Bandcamp are unlikely to open record stores anytime soon; Netflix will almost certainly not open a movie theater, though Amazon has indicated a growing interest in retail locations.) But even though this store does an admirable job of displaying the range of the company’s offerings, it is unclear whether it can stand on its own, or only makes sense as a loss leader that proselytizes for Tictail’s platform.
Whatever the case, this store makes a more aggressive argument for Tictail’s users — the small creators of the world — than for its own business. On a wall at the rear of the store, there are tiny fliers with, on one side, loving photographs of the various artisans carried by the store, and descriptions of their wares and their aesthetic intentions on the other. They’re like baseball cards for the various Greenpoint-like neighborhoods all over the world. Collect them all! You never know which rookie will go on to become an all-star.
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