Sunny Lam was on the hunt. The thirtysomething clothing designer and consultant in New York wanted—needed—rare pieces from the early 2000s by his cult favorites, Raf Simons and Helmut Lang. “I used to go on EBay, but it’s a bit of a migraine,” Lam says, explaining that the selection is disorganized, the photo quality stinks, and the best pieces sell almost instantly. Then Lam found Grailed, an online menswear resale shop that is to EBay what Saint Laurent Chelsea boots are to Crocs; a “grail” in internet menswear parlance is an article of clothing you’ve been searching for forever. Not long ago on the site, Lam scored a T-shirt from Simons’s summer 1998 Black Palm collection, a seminal look in Lam’s circles.
“Our motto is ‘Fire for All,’ ” says the company’s 28-year-old founder and chief executive officer, Arun Gupta, “fire” being street slang for, among other things, “really cool clothes.” He started Grailed in January 2014. At the time, Gupta was an active member of menswear message boards such as Styleforum and Superfuture, which were great for community building but not for buyers and sellers, who had to use third-party services to share images, negotiate prices, and process payments. There were resale sites for women’s wear—Tradesy and Poshmark—but nothing for the increasingly voracious men’s audience. “I was, like, ‘Hey, I could build a website and consolidate,’ ” Gupta says. Thrive Capital, which has put money into e-commerce successes such as eyewear company Warby Parker, was a seed investor.
Today, Grailed occupies a spacious top-floor loft in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. On a recent afternoon, Gupta was sitting on a large leather couch in front of a wall of mounted skateboard decks. With him were the company’s director of marketing, Jake Metzger, 30, and brand director, Lawrence Schlossman, 29, who give the site its clean graphic look and frat-light tone; Grailed is as much a fashion magazine as it is a consignment shop. “The site couldn’t look bad if you expect someone to spend $4,000 on a jacket,” says Schlossman, who formerly ran the influential menswear blog Four Pins and is now in charge of Grailed’s social media and its blog, Dry Clean Only. (They each interpreted “fire” in their own way: Gupta had on a red buffalo plaid jacket; Metzger, jeans, a button-up shirt, and a blazer; and Schlossman, all black, including his slide sandals.)
The challenge now is a familiar one for startups: how to grow without alienating the core audience. Gupta and his team aren’t traditional retailers—they charge a 6 percent commission but have no control over supply or demand. To get some, Schlossman introduced the Grailed 100, a sale of hard-to-find archival pieces and trendy items curated and sold by Grailed, not users. Most of the pieces in the inaugural 100 sold within 24 hours of its February 2016 debut. A second sale took place in November, and the site plans to keep doing them. In-store events at fashion-forward boutiques such as FourTwoFour on Fairfax in Los Angeles helped listings per month more than triple in 2016 to about 95,000, boosting traffic 130 percent in the past six months, according to ComScore. To reach even more eyeballs, Dry Clean Only runs stories like “The Women’s Guide to Grailed.”
Not that the three principals would admit to caring about traffic numbers; for them, it’s bros before breakeven. “When we say that the site is for enthusiasts, by enthusiasts, we try to make sure that it grows from that group,” Metzger says. That energy isn’t lost on the Grailed faithful. “It’s become a community,” says Lam, the designer. “Some of us, we’ve become friends.” Friends, of course, until someone grabs that Raf Simons T-shirt you wanted.