Susan Kroll, Rare Culture, Woman Entrepreneur

Member_11302185I am surprised that Susan and I have never crossed paths before.  We worked in the garment world for years almost at the same time.  Her experience with it just made us both laugh as we know it all too well.  I had met someone a few months ago who was working with Susan on her company Rare Culture. I introduced them to a jeweler I know and they hit it off so I figured it was time to meet Susan in person.  So very glad I did. 

Susan started her life in Chicago moving to a suburb of Michigan when she was ten.  She admits that she was a wild child growing up with access to Detroit where she would go to small clubs and see the early musicians of the Motown explosion.  Her passion was fashion.  At 16, Susan worked her way in to Affiliated Models in Detroit never telling them her real age.  She started doing fashion shows for them all over the area and was spotted by Hudson's, a retail store in Detroit, to come and work as their fashion coordinator.  She worked for an amazing woman who was from NYC.  After working there four years, her boss literally made her apply to FIT.  She told Susan, you have to go to NYC and you have to go to FIT…and so she did. 

At FIT, at least then, they give you credit for all the work you have done in your career so in essence she could get a degree without even taking a class because she had so much work experience.  It was became of all that experience that she was still driven by working so she took classes in the evening and worked during the day.  She worked for a company called Rosewood Fabrics.  The best thing that came out of that was she met her husband there.

After graduating, Hudsons begged her to come back.  Her boss wouldn't let her.  She said if you go back to Detroit you will never leave.  Instead Susan goes on an interview on the 42nd floor of the Empire State Building.  She walks in to the room and there is a very large man with a cast up to his hip, sitting at his desk doing card tricks.  She notices that there is a huge hole in the window of the room.  They have a wonderful meeting and he hires Susan on the spot to start on Monday as the supposed assistant designer.  She arrives on Monday to find out that she is the designer.  The designer had been having an affair with the owner and they had gone skiing where he fell down and had this accident, they have a huge fight and she had thrown his crutches and other related shit out the window before Susan got to the interview.  Welcome to the world of shmata. 

Susan stayed there for seven years eventually running the business.  After that she left going into a partnership with two other people to build a bit of a better business than she was in before.  Selling to places like Victoria Secret, Spiegel Catalog and the Limited doing private label.  Things began to go sour in the end for a variety of reasons and those golden handcuffs started to come off.  It was time to leave again.

Another company had been courting Susan and she decided to go work with them.  She ran a division for them for 5 years before they sold out to a publicly traded company.  She was part of the partnership and did not want to sell but everyone else did.  After a year they ran the business into the wall and a year later the publicly traded company went belly up too. Next.

VP of Design for Coldwater Creek.  A great experience running the design team and opening up their brick and mortar businesses from 2004-2007.  Then it was just time to pack it in. 

Susan had spent her career traveling the globe.  Sourcing from Russia, China, India, Turkey and other areas depending on what project.  She would meet these amazing artisans who had no idea how to monetize their businesses.  The world was becoming more homogeneous and she wanted to figure out how to change that.  It was if design was being flat-lined. Her friend who was a photographer was seeing the same thing so they decided to create a coffee table book that would sell the wares of artisans around the world.  It was through this project that she started to think about what she wanted to do next. 

Susan found herself at a party talking to Edie Weiner, a futurist on technology and design, and she loved the concept.  She told Susan that she would be on her advisory board and she had to get other amazing people to get involved  The original idea was a semi-annual coffee table book that was a compilation of photographers, writers and artists.  The concept was that this book would be like going on a journey somewhere.  If you went to India what would you want to see, buy, and read. 

It was late 2008 when they started to talk to people about their business plan and the world imploded.  People were no longer writing checks they wanted to see something built first.  The book was first, the website would be second and the partnerships between retailers would be third.  They took 30 artisans and launched the site in December 2010 very quietly.  They did a small friends and family round showing the product at small events for UJA and the Berkshire Theater Festival. They had great feedback.

Now they are up to 52 artisans in 15 countries.  The platform gives artisans the ability to sell their products globally.  Most of these products are geared towarded a high end market with prices starting at $200 up to thousands of dollars.  Susan is also helping mentor the artists.  She wants to see their worked placed in the right hands including hotels and a like. 

I really like what she has created because RareCulture is something that Susan is passionate about and passion is a big part about being a successful entrepreneur.  She has a great eye for design.  I agree with her that at one point the world starting to become homogeneous.  We are seeing that change through places like MouthFoods and Etsy.  People want to buy things are that are not mass produced and connect with who they are.  Susan has created something special.  Check out RareCulture.  Overtime I expect to see the site grow into an incredible rare global market place. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Thanks for this. I’m a lifelong enthusiast of marketplaces as a community model.I’ve never seen a curator model (in this one and common in fashion sites) work well as the different levels of branding is tough to pull off. I’m playing with  similar model in a project so digging into hers to see if captures the dynamics.

    1. Gotham Gal

      she definitely has created a unique marketplace geared toward a niche audience. the web is the perfect place for this.

  2. ellen

    Lovely website.  Great concept.  Wonderful and sophisticated designs.But for me there is nothing like going to an actual show.  Boston used to have The Rosen Group show featuring ceramics, wearable textiles, wood and jewelry artisans.  It was fantastic, but nice to see at least something exciting online.I saw an “artistic” bracelet for on the Serena and Lily site for $198  and it looked just like the bracelet a teenage neighbor picked up for $5.00 at forever 21.Very, very pretty site.

    1. Gotham Gal

      agree. perfect for the right audience. she has a good eye!

  3. Robair305

    Great idea, great concept, I like the execution. I am impressed with the diversity and curation of the product.

    1. Gotham Gal

      i think she has been dreaming about this subconsciously for 30 years.

  4. rebeccastees

    i’d love to see all you interviews turn into infographics.

    1. Gotham Gal

      interesting enough i had a conversation with someone last night about turning them into videos. we will see.

  5. TanyaMonteiro

    Capital “I” inspiring! yet again you find a winner, love this