Disruption is a very Silicon Valley word tossed around by investors and journalists eyeing the tech industry. Well, move over, Valley hipsters—DC has lots of disruptors of its own. From sisters changing the way we shop for designer brands to an art visionary bringing video walls of beauty to your living room, this town’s innovators are making lots of noise.
Sisters Elise Whang and Emily Dang created Snobswap to follow through on their craving for couture and to build a network of high-end consignment boutiques nationwide.
In many ways, this is a story about the thrill of the hunt. That is, the hunt for luxe fashion. Sisters Elise Whang and Emily Dang have always yearned to find the world’s best brands in the cities where they traveled for their jobs (Whang a lawyer, and Dang a business-development pro). “We’ve always had a passion for finding gorgeous couture at the best consignment boutiques,” says Whang, who along with her sister, both from Great Falls, launched Snobswap in 2013 as part of an accelerator program at Washington-based incubator 1776. Their innovation: creating an ecosystem that now connects 176 vetted stores in 86 cities (two in Canada) with thousands of online customers. The average value of a single item purchased is $450. Naturally, many more items are placed in a customer’s digital shopping cart. The result has been a bump in revenue by six times from one year ago, and the sisters’ consignment-boutique partners in hot spots like Miami, New York, Chicago and DC have seen their monthly revenues rise by as much as 20 percent. “We’re continuing to build a strong community of customers and boutiques,” says Dang, who, before she became an entrepreneur, worked with brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and even Abercrombie & Fitch, where she helped the company expand into China. So far, the sister act has delivered on the promise of shaking up a once-unpredictable luxury consignment space. “We’ve never looked back,” says Dang.
Forget the traditional setting for orchestral music. Now, think intimacy, haute cuisine and a vibe as welcoming as a rock concert: Gourmet Symphony is here to play.
In 2014, four entrepreneurs invested countless hours on a hunch that Washingtonians would love a healthy dose of intimacy with their orchestral- or ensemble-viewing experiences. So, they asked themselves: What would happen if they were to take members of local orchestras out of their typical settings, plop them in unconventional venues to play among guests and add cuisine and cocktails from some of the most talented chefs and mixologists in DC? The foursome learned the answer quickly: Every event sold out. “With a little creativity, we figured we could improve the concert experience,” says Gourmet Symphony’s Artistic Director John Devlin. “There’s usually a barrier between musicians and concertgoers.” So, Gourmet Symphony’s founding board members—Devlin, along with Camille Cintrón Devlin, Briana Murray and John Coco—flipped tradition. A loose and engaging experience bloomed. For larger affairs, the musicians can number up to 54, and for smaller events, like an evening at trendy Beuchert’s Saloon, a small ensemble works perfectly. The players are from the National Symphony and Baltimore Symphony, among other area orchestral organizations. “Each performance is carefully curated between the artists playing music and the artists in the kitchen,” says Coco, who is an advisor for Gourmet Symphony’s food and beverage program. For example, at a recent woodwinds event, the chefs served food that was either smoked or grilled with wood chips. “Our goal is to create community with each show,” says Murray. The group’s next performance, Beuchert’s Saloon, Sept. 14, 623 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
THE CHANGE ARTIST
Dadi Akhavan is taking the world of video art from museums and galleries and sliding it onto any video screen in your home with NumberF.
You use Netflix to watch movies and subscribe to Spotify to listen to music, so it only makes sense that you’d sign up for a streaming service to broadcast curated video art on your big-screen TV, right? That’s the brilliant idea behind longtime tech innovator Dadi Akhavan’s new NumberF, a subscription service that literally turns your big-screen TV into a rotating gallery. (The name is a play on f-number, a photography term.) “There are these amazing new capabilities with generative art, digital pieces and movies,” says Akhavan. “But if you buy a digital art piece at a gallery, often you just get a DVD or USB stick. The idea is to move an old model forward.” The idea is simple: Pay a monthly fee (still being determined at press time), and you can broadcast and curate a kind of arty playlist on any screen connected to the internet. Every room in someone’s home can become a moving gallery. With the help of art-world friends and curators, Akhavan cherry-picks edgy, up-and-coming works like Philip Hinge’s “My Face Is a River,” a colorful, noisy riff on the concept of portraiture creation using iPad apps. “It’s about taking art out of museums and bringing it home,” says Akhavan. “This kind of work is different from paintings or sculptures. This idea treats it more like film or music.”
In the world of DC commercial real estate, Bethany Scanlon is changing neighborhoods—one deal at a time.
When Bethany Scanlon helped co-found the Neighborhood Retail Group a year ago, the vision was fairly straightforward: Find an entirely new way of helping landlords and tenants do business. “I’m a matchmaker,” says Scanlon with a laugh. “I open businesses for a living.” That’s her elevator pitch, but the truth is much broader. Scanlon and her partners, Joseph and Thomas Borger, are changing the way Washington’s retailers find neighborhoods that make sense for their fledging or established businesses. Over the past year, Scanlon has worked with boutique fitness centers, healthcare organizations and retailers like Avenue Jack to broker deals that make sense for everyone. “Our approach to this business is to visit neighborhoods and to listen to what landlords and people who live in the neighborhoods really want,” she says. “I’m a therapist one day, and I’m a firefighter the next.” One recent project that excites Scanlon and showcases what she calls her coloring-outside-the-lines philosophy is The Cambridge on Massachusetts Avenue. “I knew it was an asset that needed a new life,” says Scanlon, who proposed changing the building’s facade and creating a year-round 3,000-square-foot market for organic produce, sandwiches, beer and wine. A meeting place was instantly born. It will open within six months and completely change the vibrancy of the neighborhood while maintaining the integrity of the space—proving, once again, that Scanlon’s brand of business matchmaking is more than trendy: It’s transformative.
THE DESIGN MIND
Street by street, Martin Ditto and Ditto Residential are making DC’s homes look decidedly more modern.
Every city has a look. It’s the collective snapshot of our parks, avenues and squares. Washington, of course, takes the aesthetic a step further because of its iconic architectural and social history. Our streets brim with classic residential edifices—from Federal to Tudor to Georgian—that maintain a gorgeous rootedness with the past. Martin Ditto doesn’t want to change any of this; he just wants Ditto Residential to add a contemporary vibe to the city’s visual luster. The man is proving that history and modernity can coexist. “We pay special attention to light and air,” says Ditto about his design aesthetic. “Our architects are world-class, so you’ll typically see one or two unique architectural elements in our projects. Now, more than ever, people are more educated about features and materials, and they want their homes to reflect their personality and lifestyle.” The company’s latest development project, the supremely chic 1202 T (two-level condos from $1.2 million), sits between two Victorian townhomes. It’s completely new construction and blends perfectly into the block. “One of the most unique features is the front facade—it’s a modern play of the material, scale and proportion of the historic neighborhood,” says Ditto. With each project Ditto unveils around town, his goal is to “build something beautiful and improve the lives of those who live there.”