DeSean Mills, 24, has built a community of almost 300,000 on social media in the past year for OOTN Magazine, an online look book of crowd-sourced fashion. Now, Mills is bringing this platform to life through OOTN Lifestyle, a retail store at 99 S. 10th St.
Mills said he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and loved to create new things. At 17 he was managing a retail store and soon after became a buyer for the store, which boosted his interest in style.
His idea for OOTN Magazine sprouted from his interest in people practicing their own style and being comfortable in what they wear rather than being concerned with brands. He began promoting individual style with the OOTN Magazine account on Instagram, telling people to share their “outfit of the day/night” through the hashtag, #ootnmagazine, and from there Mills said he would repost the photos with outfits he liked best.
In just one month, he went from receiving 100 pictures per day to 3,000 with the help of bloggers.
“So for the first month, I think I sent out maybe 500 emails to just bloggers all over the world like, you know, this so what we do, if you want to be a part of it then you can help promote,” Mills said. “Out of that 500 bloggers, like three responded […] and we just went from there. As soon as I got those three on board, that was it, I was like I got what I need, because those three alone had a community of over 200,000 people. And it’s been just all word of mouth. You know, we haven’t done any advertising and marketing, it’s just been like people hearing about it and checking us out and saying, ‘I support this.’ The challenging part was just the first month but now it’s a piece of cake.”
With only four other people helping him, Mills has built the platform to massive heights. On June 3, he reached 4.3 million people on Facebook organically, without paid advertising. Today on Instagram, #ootnmagazine generates almost 212,000 tags.
After building the community, Mills wanted to find a way to monetize his idea, and he turned to retail. OOTN Lifestyle was the result, and today the store specializes in crowd-sourced clothing. Mills gathered input from his followers to determine what would be sold in the store, and that is what he is selling.
“We tend to like work with people from our community. That inspires us too. We don’t inspire anything; it’s these people who inspire everything. So working with them, you know. It’s fun,” Mills said.
The price range for clothing is between $40 and $175 and the store does not hold sales, although Mills said there is a daily social hour between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. where wine is served and customers receive 15 percent off everything in the store.
In the future, Mills has many events he would like to organize to expand Minneapolis’ involvement in his brand, including live look books in the Mall of America, on Nicollet Avenue and in Uptown.
The OOTN Magazine website is currently under construction and Mills hopes to reveal it in the mid fall.
“We can put anything out there, you know, but we really want to change retail. Because I feel like the current retail model is so obsolete, so we want to introduce a new model for retail with online and offline shopping experience. And we also want to change the way people see personal style, where it’s not about brands, but it’s really about who you are, how you feel and what you feel comfortable in,” Mills said.
His goal is to make the site user-friendly enough where people can put together outfits and buy all the products in one click through his online store, unlike Polyvore, in which users must go to individual vendors to get a single piece of the outfit they have put together.
In the end, Mills’ goal is just to inspire people to be true to themselves through style and in achieving their goals.
“It’s all about inspiring other people, like you can do it. You’re not limited by your location, you know, with technology, you know, you can just be persistent and be determined to do it, and it can really happen. So we want to put it out there to inspire other people to like really go after what they want to do,” Mills said.
OOTN Lifestyle is hosting a social event on Thursday, July 3 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. with desserts, a live DJ and wine.