“Retailers are no longer gatekeepers for brand enablers,” said Lawrence Lenihan of FirstMark Capital as he addressed a full house at Decoded Fashion’s July Meetup.
For their 1-year anniversary of Meetups, Decoded Fashion focused on branding in today’s fashion tech space, which included an underwear startup showcase and panel discussion with Lenihan and Claire Chambers, CEO of Journelle, a lingerie store in NYC that carries multi-brand designs.
So why does Lenihan think retailers will lose their significance? According to him, niche brands are on the rise and those brands are increasingly connecting directly to consumers. “There’s no wall that your gate works on,” Lenihan stated. He gave Lolly Wolly Doodle (a company in which he invested) as an example of a brand that’s able to use Facebook effectively to listen to consumers and make direct sales. Even if your company has a unique point of view, what it ultimately comes down to when appealing to a venture capitalist is the revenue and profits. Show the numbers and get attention.
Chambers saw the lingerie market as needing the following: 1) focus on the fit, 2) solving a problem and 3) promoting a certain lifestyle. Founded in 2007, Chambers’ company survived the economic crisis of 2008 and raised three rounds of capital, including one secured from Triumph International. She attributes part of that success to the ability to having had a great conversation with Triumph’s CEO about what a women’s lingerie shopping experience should be, which was key to why Chambers began her brick and mortar store. That in-store experience, she said, has now emerged as the “accidental brand” for her consumers. Take a look at the four startups that presented that evening to see if their brand will make you one of their niche customers. The first two are already well-established in fashion tech scene, while the other two are just starting to break into that market.
Tommy John is the first’s men’s company to use non-pilling micro modal fabric to help solve the problem of ill-fitting underwear. Patterson started out by simply giving a sketch of his design to his tailor and having a few made for his friends – all of which he quickly sold. Soon afterwards, he created a website for $4000 and noticed a trend in men buying the shorts either in bulk, or one every few months. His unique brand didn’t stop at the product itself. After surveying women (since 60% of them actual purchase the underwear for the men in their lives), Patterson noted that the colors from Tiffany’s box were most appealing to them, and so he packaged his product in the same colors. A few press and blog mentions later, and Tommy John is now available in 500 stores nationwide.
Fleur Du Mal is a luxury lingerie brand founded in 2012 by Jennifer Zuccarani, whose career includes co-founding Kiki de Montparnasse, then becoming the design director at Victoria’s Secret. The site utilizes the online platform to create an easily navigable experience, whether on a laptop or smartphone. Consumers can swipe their favorite items to their love list, or share them on social media. Since the brand also has pop-up shops, it makes the most of that experience by creating shoppable store windows that tags items, if people view it through their smartphone’s camera.
Frigo by RevolutionWear: Last week, we had Brayola compare the torment of bra shopping to a guy getting measured for a condom. This week, there’s Frigo, underwear for men which has an adjustable pouch that’s “like a bra for your boys.” The FRIGO design creates a moisture-controlled environment that was apparently good enough to have an ultra-runner run from uptown to downtown Manhattan, and then praise its effectiveness. Lacking a PR team, the company managed to get buzz about its product by simply sending out free samples to people in all industries, and they’ve received positive feedback from everyone from the likes of music producer Timbaland to MLB athlete Nick Swisher. As of now, a pair goes for $100, but future versions as well as matching t-shirts are set to come out at lower price points.
Brayola – A company that relies on user-generated data to help women discover their perfect bra within the privacy of their own home. Their presentation this time was a walk-through of their site, which consists of women inputting bras they already own to get suggestions on other styles that they might like. As of now, clicking ‘buy’ will send you to an external site where the chosen bra is being sold, but Brayola will eventually change it so you can make your purchase on their site.
As an anniversary present, Decoded Fashion wants to reach 1000 members. Check out their Meetup page for info about their latest events.