Chinese ex-investment banker sees fashion crowdfunding start-up as short cut to success for designers

Ada Yi Zhao is on a mission to give emerging designers a leg-up in the marketplace. The China-born former investment banker and her partner, Kristina Kuzmina, both based in London, have just launched Curated Crowd, a crowdfunding and direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform that allows users - who the pair like to call "patrons" - to help chosen designers succeed.

"We use the word patron deliberately because we want to redefine the relationship between the consumer and the designer," Zhao says. "For such a long time fashion has been seen simply as a commodity: you pay and you get an item of clothing and that's it.

"I want to bring back the concept of art patron, or fashion patron. I think of people like Peggy Guggenheim back in the 1930s; she first discovered Jackson Pollock. She said - 'he has talent but no money and I want to support him'.

"What we do is called reward-based crowdfunding. We only charge a commission on the funds raised if the crowdfunding campaign is successful."

When a patron funds a designer or creative project, what they get in return is not money, but a share in the designer's success - manifested in personal ways, such as being gifted a piece from their collection and enjoying privileged access to showings and creative ventures such as film projects.

Zhao, who comes from Chengdu, is well aware of business realities after 11 years in investment banking. In 2005, immediately after finishing her masters degree at the London School of Economics, she joined Lehman Brothers and witnessed the drama of the 2008 financial crash and the collapse of the bank. She subsequently worked for Nomura and then moved on to Barclays Capital.