NEW YORK — No longer just an online flea market, EBay has become a fashion force, with more than 1 million items for sale at any given time in the clothing, shoe and accessories category. When there were waiting lists for Ugg boots from coast to coast last winter, EBay had 500 pairs selling for as much as $700 each. Last spring, Gap's pink trench coat was sold out everywhere -- except EBay.
But the site is not only a source for the must-have item or vintage find. Increasingly, it is also becoming a place to launch brands. So this week, EBay will sponsor the shows of several up-and-coming designers here, including Gary Graham and Samantha Treacy, as well as hip maternity-wear maven Liz Lange. As part of the deal, the designers have donated hot-off-the-runway fashions for auction on the site through Sept. 28.
And come October, EBay heads to L.A. fashion week for the first time to sponsor Kevan Hall's show and auction some of his pieces. Both auctions will be featured on a new fashion week Web page, along with spring trend reports and click-throughs to on-trend items for early-bird shoppers.
"EBay is beginning to play the role of bringing new names to the public," said Constance White, EBay's style director. "This is something we can do for the discerning shopper. For others, it's a chance to get to know something new. And designers are exposed to 114 million registered users."
Last year, more than $1.8 billion in clothing, shoes and accessories was traded on the site, which has become a marketplace not only for individual sellers, but also for manufacturers who use it to dump excess inventory, said Ali Stern, the category manager.
The clothing, shoes and accessory page gets more than 1 million views per week. Unlike in the past, now fewer than 0.01% of items that close on EBay have fraud issues, Stern said. As part of the Verified Rights Owners Program, more than 6,000 trademark rights owners, including Hermes and Louis Vuitton, comb the site every day and pull down items they believe infringe on their brand.
Still, buyer beware: Note a seller's rating, Stern said. "If it smells too good to be true and looks too good to be true, it probably is. If a Birkin bag costs $10,000 in the real world, it's not going to cost $500 on EBay."
Among shoppers, the most popularly searched apparel terms are Coach, Prada, Hollister, Kate Spade, Abercrombie & Fitch and Louis Vuitton. But recently there has also been increased activity around lesser-known names, White said. Currently, British designer Luella Bartley's handbags are selling briskly. "Being on EBay is exposing her brand and making it more desirable."
It has even crossed White's mind that designers could be putting their own products on EBay. "If I were a designer, I'd be doing it," she said. "That's what's so great about EBay. It's a way you can test things and be anonymous. It also provides a bigger picture for designers."
In the past, EBay has collaborated with designers Narciso Rodriguez, Proenza Schouler and Diane Von Furstenberg. This is the site's first foray to the West Coast. "We thought we could bring something of value to L.A. and L.A. could bring something of value to EBay," White said.
Although Hall, formerly head designer at Halston, is known for eveningwear, sportswear pieces will also be included in the auction. "I'm thrilled," he said.
Stella McCartney is on her mark
Workout gear just got a lot more fashionable. With hard bodies pumping around her at the David Barton Gym in New York, Stella McCartney on Wednesday announced a new partnership to create performance wear for Adidas. The first collection will be available in department stores and at the Adidas store in Santa Monica in February.
McCartney, who shows her ready-to-wear collection in Paris next month, will create pieces for running, working out in the gym and swimming, as well as footwear. And, lucky for women, the offerings are much more affordable than Yohji Yamamoto's Y-3 line for Adidas. Pieces range from $48 to $242.
McCartney said she was shopping for workout clothing and realized the disparity between men and women's offerings. "The guys' stuff was so cool -- the long shorts and technically correct shoes -- but when I saw the women's I thought it was a joke. It was all My Little Pony baby pinks. Who in their right mind would want to wear that head to toe? "A lot of women seem to treat sports clothing as a secondary thought. They work out in any old Elle [magazine] giveaway T-shirt. I want to educate them to the fact that it should be written into a garment that it's going to perform."
For design research, she talked to athletes such as Steffi Graf, Laila Ali, Jade Johnson and Jo Fenn. "For ready-to-wear, I put a zipper wherever I want," she said. "But for this collection, we had to focus on whether or not a zipper was going to rub. I found the limitations really exciting."