My dream closet would be one that appears to have emerged from the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. It would be equal parts quirky, whimsical, and imaginative. These hopes and dreams for my closet have since trained my eyes to hone in on products like Susan Alexandra bags, Paris 99 dresses, and the like. Typically, such items (items you might call “extra”) aren’t all found in one place, considering e-commerce sites want to market to a broader customer base, but Half-Mad does things differently.
Half-Mad is a new online retail space dedicated to selling both established and emerging brands and designers who are pushing the boundaries when it comes to fashion. It took me just one glance at the site to know this would soon become my go-to online shopping destination, and I was right. Stocking kitschy labels featuring funky colors, Half-Mad is dedicated to making sure you have a one-of-a-kind shopping experience every time, and boy, is it successful.
The founder, Naomi Kahn, was gracious enough to sit down with us to discuss the “madness”, if you will, behind the retail space she’s created. Between breaking the rules of traditional dressing and shopping and actually being inspired by Alice in Wonderland (no, I didn’t plan that comparison), Naomi’s eye is one to watch. Read along as we learn all about the history of Half-Mad and what we can expect from the retailer in the future.
How did the idea for Half-Mad start?
Since moving to NYC, I found I gravitate mostly to color. I only recently figured out that could partially be because I grew up in Miami surrounded by color year-round—therefore, color reminded me of home. I remember a friend opening my closet shortly after I moved to the city and saying how I wasn’t able to wear any of my white tops or colored pants in the winter, and I responded by saying, “Rules don’t apply to me. I’m from Miami. We don’t have seasons.” I think that idea resonated with me while building my personal collection of pieces. I didn’t like being confined and decided to dress how I feel. Slowly, throughout my years in NYC, I adapted my more flamboyant sense of style and felt a sense of freedom and understanding of self. I was constantly told by my friends/ peers that “only I could pull off wearing rainbow-striped trousers, a sequined tank, and a yellow felt hat,” and my response would be that they could too. You can wear anything you want as long as you are comfortable in it—people can sense your attitude. It was then that I decided I needed to create a platform that allowed people to embrace more flamboyant fashions and push their own limits with pieces that were curated to tell a similar story.
What were you doing before Half-Mad?
I majored in finance and discovered my love for fashion once in New York. While in school, I interned at multiple fashion companies in the sales department, as well as the buying department, and found a knack for buying. It allowed me to use my mathematical/analytical abilities in a creative way.
Where did the inspiration for the site come from? Was starting an e-comm site something you had always wanted to do?
I found there to be a shift in the retail world. Most of my generation, including myself, was purchasing online, as opposed to from brick-and-mortar shops. What I felt was lacking in the e-commerce world was a website that told a story and took users on a journey. The idea of a journey to self-discovery reminded of the children’s classic Alice in Wonderland, which is where the site’s name, Half-Mad, was adapted from. (Quote: “You would have to be half-mad to dream me up” — the Mad Hatter.) The name is also meant to show users that essentially the styles and the attitude of the site are only “half” mad, meaning that there is some room for sanity if they’d like—but also to give way to the idea that there are different levels of eccentricity, and for some customers, merely wearing a striped top would be pushing their fashion limits—we welcome and invite all levels of madness.
How do you decide which designers to stock on the site? What do you look for?
We discover a lot of our designers through Instagram—my colleague and I sit for hours searching and “have fallen down the Instagram rabbit hole” multiple times. We look for brands with an original identity—some that are newly emerging and others that have been around for longer.
Any emerging designers you’re eyeing right now?
Holiday the Label—an Australian resort wear brand by Emma Mulholland—we’re actually featuring some pieces from her collection in our second summer drop coming July.
Where are your favorite places to shop (besides Half-Mad, of course)?
My favorite store to not only shop at but to frequent when in need of inspiration is Bergdorf Goodman. I feel like BG tends to the buyer’s experience like no other store. The BG windows transport onlookers and remind customers to have fun with fashion and dress without boundaries.
What are some of the site’s best-selling pieces?
Our Primary Boots, made in collaboration with Intentionally Blank, have been a staple piece for our customers. The boots are patent red with one block heel made yellow and the other a primary blue. We’ve also done very well with our pink striped PJ set done in collaboration with Melt Sleepwear. We find we excel most with our custom-made pieces. It allows users to buy staple pieces from their favorite designers with a dash of madness.
Who is the typical Half-Mad customer?
Our typical customer is one looking for a way to add diversity to their wardrobe—people have described our site as having pieces you did not know you needed but ones that you now cannot imagine your closet without. We’ve had girls say, whoa, I did not know I needed lobster earrings, but now I can’t imagine not having them.
What is a mistake you see a lot of e-commerce sites making today?
I believe a mistake that e-commerce sites are making today is not giving users an experience while shopping online. Yes, the goals are to have users ultimately add to cart and checkout, but allowing customers to meet characters and enjoy themselves while on their journey to checkout should be a factor other shops are integrating.
How does Half-Mad always stay one step ahead?
Half-Mad stays one step ahead by not believing in confinement. We believe that our brand can evolve at its own pace and with trends and styles that we find inspiring—not the ones society is telling us to like.