Style Check: Big brands sign up for new Bitcoin-based e-fashion site Bitfash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 2:46pm

A colleague recently sent me an e-mail that left me gaping at the screen. It was about a new e-commerce fashion website, "Oh, another online shopping start-up," I thought. But there's a catch: all items are paid for with the internet currency bitcoin.

The company - which says it is based in China and Australia - is the first fashion e-retail initiative using the digital currency.

At first I was ready to dismiss this project as some sort of gimmick, but then I saw the retailers were two high-street powerhouses: Zara and Forever 21. They even have Mr Porter on board (the men's version of Net-A-Porter) which gives Bitfash access to more than 150 luxury and streetwear brands for men.

Although I have no desire to use bitcoin when my credit card and PayPal have sufficed for so long, I do wonder how powerful this idea is to prompt major retailers to sign up.

Indeed, there has been increasing interest in the invented currency. Much has been made of the peer-to-peer nature of bitcoin where the creation and transfer is based on an open-source model and not managed by any central authority. Digital geeks have been quick to hail this as a new democratic global monetary system, but the volatile exchange rates are a hurdle.

We see a big future for bitcoin as a global currency
Chris Woods, Bitfash co-founder

"[It] is intended to be an evolutionary step change to the existing bitcoin services websites which are highly mechanical and iterative in their interaction with the user," says bitfash co-founder Keyur Kelkar in a release. "Our ethos is centred on streamlining [the] experience."

"We see a big future for bitcoin as a global currency," adds co-founder Chris Woods.

Sites such as Wikileaks have started accepting bitcoin donations and, just this year, Coinbase (a trading platform) reported that a record US$1million of bitcoins were bought in January. But the currency is in its infancy, with much of it is used on online games and gambling.

When I checked out a powder-blue Zara jacket on Bitfash, it was priced at US$129 (or 0.772831 bitcoin, amounting to HK$1,001), compared to HK$999 in stores. The prices seem within range, but there is a small handling fee at Bitfash.

Zara, Forever 21 and Mr Porter all have distribution networks covering most countries. And there is something to be said about the growing links between digital technology and fashion.

I don't know anyone who uses bitcoin and I doubt I'll buy any just to try out Bitfash. But I'm curious if this will take off or become another start-up that pinned too much hope on people's willingness to have more digital complication in their lives.

I doubt it will make huge waves in fashion e-sales soon, but is definitely interesting to watch.