Digital marketplaces continue to be a staple of the e-commerce world today. The concept of a one-stop shop where customers can buy anything that they’re looking for from an array of vendors certainly offers convenience, but is also similar to forms of physical selling that work: such as malls, farmers markets, or bazaars. Bazaars are large markets that sell numerous goods primarily in Middle Eastern countries. The products come from smaller businesses and designers, and locals and tourists alike wander through the markets, purchasing what piques their interest.
Online marketplaces create new opportunities for many smaller businesses who don’t have global access. When a business solely sells through physical, in-person bazaars or brick and mortar stores, they miss out on the reach and exposure that bigger marketplaces can offer. This is why the rise of dedicated online marketplaces continue to prove their popularity and why entrepreneurs, Monica Recto, Gabie Tanjutco and Trisha Lim created B.zaar Collective. B.ZAAR Collective brings independent brands and designers from Southeast Asian origins to the digital forefront.
For Recto, it began in 2016, when she was working in New York City at fashion events. Her mom would send her necklaces from the Philippines, and the former magazine editor she met asked her to send more. “She said that these necklaces were so beautiful that they could easily be sold for more,” Recto recalled. “At first, this idea spoke to me – I even created a business plan. But over time, I realized I was more interested in actually working directly with Filipino brands and elevating them. So, I scrapped the initial business plan and turned my attention to the idea for an online bazaar.”
The idea for an online bazaar came from her inability to choose just one local brand to support. “I was so passionate about so many of these local brands, and it didn’t feel right to just choose one,” she explained. These brands had familial connections for Recto, as she had seen her grandmother work with the local artisans in her own business for 42 years.
“I had seen and experienced bazaars in person, so I knew how magical it is to meet the founders and artisans firsthand. I wanted to bring this experience online.” So, in 2019, with the help of some investors who equally believed in the vision and mission, they officially got started bridging slow fashion with the globe.
Building the Collective
With businesses such as online marketplaces, there are many moving components. It’s not just about creating a product and selling it to a customer. These collectives require careful building on both sides of the equation: sourcing the vendors and fine-tuning the process for working with them, while also building a marketing plan to reach customers who the vendors will sell to.
The first course of action was to connect with the local designers. “We built out a system that is economically beneficial for everyone involved,” Recto explained. “There’s a small monthly subscription fee for each designer, and we do everything else, taking only a 30% commission on each sale. We handle all of the marketing: micro-influencers on social media, the graphic content of each piece, and the worldwide shipping required to get the products to where they need to go.”
As for how they choose which designers to work with, Recto says it’s a very selective process. “For me, on a personal level, I prioritize the personal relationships I have through the communities where I grew up and those I know,” she explained. “But overall, our criteria remains selective, too. The brands must be slow-fashion (so they can’t be mass produced), they must be original, and they must pass our quality checks.”
How It All Works
There is also a great deal of technical needs required for an online marketplace of this type. “The collective is coded with a proprietary custom coding html,” she explained. “This is far more complex than platforms like Shopify, which really only allow one vendor to sell. Our platform is conducive to multiple vendors on the selling end, and a seamless buying experience for the customer on the front end.”
Like most businesses, B.zaar Collective was racked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but this only encourages Recto to double down on her mission. “Southeast Asia is slowly opening up, but business is slow,” she explained. “So, supporting the businesses there through this global marketplace was critical to me.”
Their own efforts to market to customers have been done chiefly through micro-influencers, ads, and word of mouth. “We’ve partnered with micro-influencers by giving them some beautiful pieces,” she noted. “The quality speaks for itself. Customers want to support Southeast Asian businesses, but they also appreciate slow-fashion. Every one of these pieces has the designers’ heart and soul in it.”