by Brian Lipton

Shauna MeiThe popular e-commerce site AHALIFE, known for his large selection of artisan-based items, is doing more than just dropping the word “LIFE” from its name. In the past two weeks, the company’s site has been redesigned and re-engineered; it has acquired Bradford Shellhammer’s design platform, Bezar, and has selected 500 of its most dynamic designers to join AHA’s thousands of existing designers; and it has hired Belgian-born PieterJan Mattan as its new creative director.

Now, AHA is moving onto the next step in its evolution: opening its first brick-and-mortar store later this month, to be located in Brooklyn’s fashionable DUMBO neighborhood. “It’s an experiment,” says co-founder Shauna Mei. “Even as we’re becoming more digital, we need our company to come together with the physical. That said, we’re still figuring out what products will be in there from our over 4,000 designers.”

Mei – who recently married the site’s co-founder Sachin Devand – says that the six-year-old site was inspired in part by formerly living in Sweden. “I think the underlying theme behind all the designs on the site is not just form meets function, but that they should all be beautiful,” she says. “And I love pieces that have a genuine story behind them. I want to support real artisans, not just something made by a factory worker in China. I truly love artisans and entrepreneurs.”

She also admits that the needs of female consumers were on her mind when she began the site. “Women control 80 percent of the consumption, and I saw a movement from them towards buying things that would consciously allow them to have a happier life,” she says. “But we also knew that the world is filled with treasures, and people – especially busy women – don’t always have the time to find them.” Nonetheless, Mei has seen a shift in AHA’s user base. “A lot of our products are gender-neutral and men have not only found us, they have started spending a lot of money on our site. They are, in some ways, even more loyal consumers than women,” she notes.

Mei knows that growth takes time, but feels AHA is moving in all the right directions. “We’re building our existing platform, creating a proprietary technology that makes the site easier to use, and doing everything we can to grow our audience. The question we ask is always ‘how do we build a stronger brand?’” she says. “I know the challenge is to have patience. Lots of people out there are selling things, and we’re not going to be the next unicorn overnight. But I started the company with the notion of solving the problem of how to get these products out to the consumer no matter what it takes.”