Behind the Curtain at Trade Show Operator Born

·5 min read

Jean-Christophe Chopin has been building Born, the global tech company and business-to-business marketplace, for some time.

Although the company’s official founding date is 2017, Chopin, referred to by colleagues and friends as “J.C.,” worked for years building a technology platform to benefit buyers and brands in fashion and beauty.

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Now global trade shows Tranoi, Brand Assembly, Esxence, WeCosmoprof and more are using Born’s Alkeon technology for their digital shows this season. To date, Born, which has offices in Los Angeles, Paris, London and Milan, has 2,800 buyers on the platform, more than 100,000 products across the trade shows, and has raised $25 million, in addition to $6 million of Chopin’s own money.

Today, the company revealed a global multiyear partnership with SAP, the German multinational software corporation. SAP develops software to manage business operations and customer relations, and with Born, will enhance the company’s e-commerce capabilities through the SAP App Center, Season One and Runway by SAP for fashion shows.

Buyers can explore each trade show on their respective websites, like Tranoi Link, the Paris-based trade show’s yearlong business-to-business platform for buyers and designers. Brands using Born’s Alkeon technology can select a package that ranges from $499 a month to $15,000 a year, but they receive buyers’ search data and other website activity.

The brands and buyers can also interact on the platform directly via text or over video, add brands and product to their wish lists, and “like” items, all of which the brands see. The purpose is to make the global wholesale buying experience simple and seamless for all parties.

Born is developing a consumer facing product as well, and though Born and the shows use the Alkeon technology, Chopin said the b-to-c marketplace platform will not be in competition with the other shows.

“Our main mission has always been to help brands connect with buyers, connect people who make beautiful things with the people who love them,” he said. “The first category we are serving is the professionals who are fantastic curators. They know our market and they help the brands.”

The Alkeon technology seemed to pop up out of the blue when trade shows and the retail experience were forced to go digital because of global lockdowns due to COVID-19. But in actuality, Chopin had been in talks for years with businesses and shows that were hesitant to adopt the technology.

Joor saw a similar trajectory, last year revealing partnerships with Liberty Fairs and Cabana trade show.

“We never thought COVID-19 would happen — who would — we thought we would be complementary, bringing a new offer to existing markets,” Chopin said.

“When COVID-19 started, we were doing Born on our own,” he continued. “I spoke to several shows at that time knowing that they had an immediate need. I said I’ve already developed the technology and I’m happy to provide you with all of our work and we’ll design for you in your identity.”

Chopin explained that much research and work in fashion and design went into the debut of the Alkeon technology, dating as far back as 2011 with the first Born Awards, which celebrate achievements in the design-led lifestyle and has honored designers from Ferrari, Land Rover and Hublot, to the late Karl Lagerfeld.

The Awards feature products and designers assembled by country and category and are selected for their design integrity, purpose, sustainability and social impact.

Chopin has a long history in fashion. He grew up in the Alps in a family of creatives — his grandmother was the head seamstress for Christian Dior, and made lingerie and bed sheets for clientele who included the Queen of England and “prominent families from all over the world,” he said. He was at one time an investor in Balmain and cofounded Hautlence Watches.

He moved to California, where he learned the importance of technology, was an early member of E-Trade Group and started E-Trade Europe and Verisign as a joint venture partner. He said, “I was lucky enough to sell the business back after having developed it in six countries before the bubble crash in 1999. I decided to go back to my roots and [focus on] digital related investments to enrich experiences for people and brands. It’s not about the order. That’s not the complicated part. It’s really about how you meet, discover and connect, and I learned from being on the other side of the fence.”

While establishing Born, Chopin said he had several conversations with LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Kering, Compagnie Financière Richemont, Chanel, Rolex and others to discuss presentation. But the brands didn’t understand Born’s technology in its early development and found the product “ugly,” he recalled.

“Luxury brand owners were saying websites look bad and were only for cheap products. I remember saying, ‘Yeah we’ll see.’”

Times have changed, and Chopin saw the shift happening even before COVID-19.

“For seven years I didn’t want to launch and invest massively in the digital scalable extension — I didn’t feel the market was right,” he said. But around three years ago, the needle moved and luxury brands realized that going digital was a viable option, especially if it creates a community, features content and allows access to shopping.

It’s these key elements that Chopin will use as the launching point for the consumer-facing site he hopes to start this year or next. It will launch with a focus on fashion but will expand to additional categories, highlighting best-in-class products.

“If you are emerging and consider your company to be driven by a design-led lifestyle then you want it on Born,” Chopin said. “We still have a lot of work, but that’s the plan for the next 10 years.”

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