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Startups Eye Fashion Week as Business Boost

As thousands of the country’s most influential editors and prolific bloggers descend upon Fashion Week in New York, beauty and fashion startups are seizing on the twice-yearly opportunity to drum up business.

Source: i-ella.com

On Wednesday, the online fashion marketplace, I-Ella.com, hopes to capitalize on the weeklong showcase of designers’ spring 2013 collections by launching its newest program, The List.

“You have editors here as well as people who are interested in what’s new and what’s happening in online fashion,” said Ella T. Gorgla, founder of I-Ella.

The List builds upon the concept of gift bags that attendees receive following guest-list events. After filing out a style profile, users receive monthly goodie bags from The List with surprise designer items.

Gorgla initially came up with the service over a martini-infused dinner while mulling over the far-reaching influence of the company’s existing base, which currently measures around 60,000 users.

“For any startup, you always run into the question, how can we monetize our base?” she said.

The List evolved out of this brainstorming session.

The subscription service isn’t cheap. Prices range from $59 per month for a starter bag, while the SoHo bag, the company’s most popular in trial runs so far, will set subscribers back $129 a month plus tax. The St. Barth’s Bag packs the biggest wallet punch at $389 per month plus tax. Users must commit to a minimum of three months.

Although these prices may seem steep, Gorgla characterized the company’s existing I-Ella clients as mostly affluent, interested in fashion and female — three prime customer categories that fashion and beauty companies aim to reach.

So far, Gorgla said companies have responded well to the nascent service, which buys items up front from companies and never returns them.

Source: Birchbox

With its monthly surprise gift bags of designer goods, The List invites comparisons to Birchbox, which is also vying for Fashion Week attendees’ attention.

The company hosted a four-day event called the Sample Stop, where bloggers and press could make their own Birchboxes as well as charge their phones and laptops and interact with brands that were performing hair, nail and makeup touch-ups. Current subscribers were invited to the event on one of the days.

“We wanted to take advantage of the fact that this is on people’s minds right now,” said Katia Beauchamp, co-founder of Birchbox. “A lot of the editors and a lot of the bloggers are flying in.”

As bloggers’ influence among their followers grows, companies are going to great lengths to woo them in hopes of tapping into their audiences. (Read more: The Swag Wars: Why Bloggers Are Key to the Consumer)

While Birchbox does not give bloggers free subscriptions, the company does occasionally supply them with free boxes to give away to readers. It also asks for bloggers’ feedback through its blogging network.

“We absolutely have dialogues with them — it’s really important,” Beauchamp said. “They know a lot about the space. They know what people want, and we invite them to tell us more.”

Ashley Rudolph, who pens www.whatwouldashleywear.com, first heard about the Sample Stop through a friend. At the event, she created a box, charged her phone and ate some candy.

“I always had a positive image of Birchbox, but this lounge shows me that they get it — they get who their customer is,” Rudolph said. “They know what their customer likes, and they know how to present it in a fun and engaging way.”

While Rudolph is not currently a Birchbox subscriber, she said that attending the event has caused her to consider signing up.

“We’re definitely getting email addresses, but it’s not the main goal,” Beauchamp said. “The main goal is to talk to them about what Birchbox is and show them it’s much more than just an experience of getting samples.”

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week will continue through Sept. 13. For more information and images from Lincoln Center, check out CNBC.com's highlights from the runway.

-By Katie Little, CNBC News Associate

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Katie Little on Twitter @katie_little_.

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