TORONTO — The Lnk is trying to carve a niche as the first global fashion and beauty online marketplace to represent only ethnically diverse indie brands.
“The Lnk is all about affordable luxury with a strong cultural component to it,” said Sonya Gill, chief executive officer and founder of the platform, which debuts with more than 300 merchants from India and is expanding to Indonesia, Dubai, Turkey, Lithuania, Vietnam and the continent of Africa. The platform specializes in women’s and men’s fashion, cultural fashion, beauty, skin care and accessories.
The Lnk — which is valued at 10 million Canadian dollars, or $7.4 million — anticipates having some 3,000 to 5,000 brands on its site by the end of 2023.
“The Southeast Asia market alone is valued at $900 billion. The Lnk will carry brands beyond this so there is massive potential,” said Gill, who, founded the digital marketing agency Youzus in 2010 and later sold it in 2015. She began consulting to mom-and-pop outfits, who would invariably ask, “Help me with brand recognition. Help send me customers.”
“It was the same thing over and over again,” she told WWD.
Such personal observations had great impact on the development of The Lnk, which is backed by an advisory board that includes, among others, Richard McMahon, former chief sales officer of Bed Bath & Beyond, and Alvina Patel, former vice president of marketing of Farfetch.
“I noticed a clear disconnect in the e-commerce world and brands owned by ethnically diverse people [while shopping online for years],” said Gill, a woman of Indian descent who successfully raised funds in a venture capitalist world where women of color are drastically underrepresented.
“It was impossible to find high-quality products from merchants overseas, and if you could, it would take months to ship. That’s where the concept for The Lnk came from. We wanted to close that gap and give these overseas brands the exposure and tools they needed through this portal to reach new audiences.”
The Lnk helps simplify shipping, return, tax and duty challenges, which impact sellers and often prevent consumers from shopping internationally.
Once a brand is selected, Gill and company integrate its preexisting web content onto the back end of the platform. During that process checks are made on brand sizing, product quality and photography. Clients then receive a password and username that connects them to The Lnk’s preexisting portal.
“People also have the option of coming to the website and filling out an application page,” Gill said. A Zoom meeting follows and if approved the brand would then be integrated into The Lnk’s platform.
“What makes this so unique is that from here we can run ad campaigns for these brands. They just click on a button saying ‘Boost my profit or product’ and off it goes,” Gill said.
The Lnk doesn’t make money until it sells product. It is able to do this thanks to certain partnerships the start-up has inked over the last few months. Brands do pay a monthly “ecosystem” border fee, which helps The Lnk deal with any surprise costs of running the site.
However, through its partnership with Canadian company E-Shipper, The Lnk piggybacks on its warehouses around the world. With this more cost-effective approach brands can send orders through The Lnk’s portal to a warehouse. Customers then pay a portion of the duties exceeding 125 Canadian dollars.
The Lnk will be venturing next into Indonesia and Dubai over the next four to six weeks. It is also working on Tanzania and Kenya for brand launches.
According to Gill, this all comes just in time to meet growing demand from consumers in North America who identify as non-white and who are looking for a reliable source to purchase upscale goods from overseas. “As immigration soars in North America people are looking for everyday clothing that reflects their roots and culture,” Gill said.