AHAlife wants shoppers to say “a-ha!” The soon-to-launch web destination features a discerning selection of products from established and far-flung talents and brands, paving the way for a new shopping approach that mixes editorial, social media and commerce so consumers can experience that eureka moment everyday. We caught up with Shauna Mei, the CEO and founder of this new initiative, to hear about her inspiration, the scope AHAlife offers and closing the gap between a featured item and its consumer accessibility. JC Report readers are also invited to register to pre-access the site before it launches September 13th (and follow the goings-on via Twitter at @AHAlife) as well as check out Mei’s video explanation.
JC Report: What led to the “a-ha!” moment that inspired you to start AHAlife?
Shauna Mei: After many years living in New York, I moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where I served as the COO of a design-centric activewear company called Casall. It was there, in Scandinavia, that I began to truly cultivate my taste and appreciation for design across my entire lifestyle. It became very clear to me that, today, we live in a world inundated with unfiltered information. I found so many incredible niche products which were blogged about and talked about, but were not readily available for purchase. Simultaneously, designers face the perpetual struggle to get their products viewed and distributed. And traditional retail has proven to be inefficient: collections are shown twice-per-year with buyers trying to anticipate what the consumer wants six to nine months in advance.
My big “a-ha!” came when I realized that the ever-growing busy, savvy, intelligent consumer is ready to discover and buy the most innovative products from all over the world. It is no coincidence that the products I’ve come to cherish and advocate are those that tell a story. Quite simply, the inspiration and the provenance of the products we buy are as important as the products themselves. I wanted to create a new business model that stripped away the constraints of traditional retailers and e-commerce. An online venue seemed the most sensible, obvious choice to introduce these unique products, and the people that love them.
JCR: How is AHAlife different from, say, your traditional e-commerce outfits?
SM: AHAlife is not an online warehouse or a clearance platform for excess inventory or any of your traditional e-commerce outlets. AHAlife is about discovery and surprise, encountering new objects everyday that fulfill design voids across your entire lifestyle. As part of our ethos, we only feature products we’re truly passionate about. To this end, we take careful measures to showcase each product through gorgeous photography and clever editorial, alongside a profile of the designer who created the product and the curator who discovered it. In addition, we present a video or audio slideshow that takes the reader inside the designer’s creative process, so that our members gain an intimate understanding of what inspired each product and how it came to be. And, by the way, you can actually buy it! My team and I approach AHAlife as a true editorial, content-focused destination where purchase is a convenient service. We are not founded on promoting “best sellers” or discounted merchandise. AHAlife is about discovery, every day.
JCR: There’s an influx of new e-commerce ventures and the space is getting more crowded. What’s AHAlife’s secret weapon to generate eyeballs? What about stickiness?
SM: It’s obvious there are loads of copycat flash-sale sites right now. We don’t view ourselves as such. For one, our model is based on collective curation, which means we’ve hand-selected an amazing, diverse group of tastemakers from all over the world across various lifestyle categories (as you can see in the AHAlife cube). Some of these people you may have heard of; others are not as well-known but are equally influential and inspiring in their areas of expertise. All bring something unique to the table. This way, we can ensure that AHAlife is always interesting, unexpected and relevant. Our readers may also have the opportunity to guest-curate if their discoveries are selected, making this notion of collection curation truly democratic. At AHAlife, we place a significant emphasis on editorial, showcasing only products that we love and which are, in some ways, exclusive to us. Our filter is predicated on inspiration, and we look to share products and stories that we believe will resonate with our readers. We treat every object we include with the same level of passion and curiosity.
JCR: What kind of shopping experience does it offer?
SM: Simplicity! We’ve labored to create a very clean platform to feature only one product per day, for 24 hours. There’s no advertising—just high quality photos, video or audio slideshows in the words and pictures of the designer that speak directly to the reader, with original editorial that explains exactly why we love it. And if you like it, you have the opportunity to buy it.
SM: The internet and globalization have given us more access to information and products than ever before, and we have become enamored by the distinctive, the beautiful and the downright unimaginable. Through their own travels and experiences with products, people have developed a higher appreciation for quality and design and know they can be found across the globe—from large, trusted brands based on heritage, to small, “underground” shops with fine-tuned craftsmanship. In our effort to cross borders and cultures, we feature many niche products that may have a huge following in a certain part of the world, but may not yet be globally available. Quite simply, we think that the world is more open-minded and that people are more conscious of their purchases. When we do work with established designers or brands, we showcase products that are exclusive to AHAlife in some way, meaning they were created something especially for us or that they are launching exclusively with us online. Lastly, with every product we feature, we aim to answer three simple questions: 1. What inspired the designer to create this particular product? 2. How, exactly, is the product made? and 3. How will it inspire you and make your life a bit better or brighter?
SM: AHAlife is about cutting through the noise and the clutter. Most sites overwhelm the consumer with too many choices but very little information. There is a large consumer group—a very busy one—that simply wants to see and learn about one thing that’s new, relevant and inspiring. AHAlife aims to fulfill this, each and every day.
JCR: How will your site give consumers that big “a-ha!”?
SM: For so long, online shopping has been merchandised around practicality. Now, with the growing influence of social media and the blogopshere, people read great content and discover amazing new objects constantly. They experience the big “a-ha!” when they read these stories, but are disappointment when they realize they can’t actually procure the products. We’re trying to solve this dilemma by merging these products, their stories and their creators on an efficient platform that lets you fulfill your desire to have the product in your hands.
Finally, the number of sites dedicated solely to fashion is simply staggering. Life is so much more than just shoes and handbags. AHAlife is truly designed to benefit every element of your life, as our categories demonstrate: Optimize Me, Dress Me, Nourish Me, Design Me, Treat Me, Go with Me, Enlighten Me and Surprise Me. I hope our readers will experience their own big “a-ha!” each day by coming to the site and discovering something new for parts of their life they have formerly overlooked!