Disrupting with style

“I implore you to get into data.”

— Rian Buckley, CEO of Fitcode

Yesterday I went to a Seattle Startup Week session, on “Disrupting the Fashion and Beauty Industries: What’s Ahead?”. It was a panel discussion, moderated by Michelle Goldberg of Ignition Partners VC. The speakers were all founders of fashion and beauty startups: Rian Buckley of Fitcode, Priya Dandawate of Tousled, John Scrofano of Garmentory, and Stephanie Sprangers of Glamhive.

My key takeaways were about data and the markets. In both of those areas, I hear a shift being described: the consumer is now in the driver’s seat.

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Buckley’s quote above about getting into data is her call to action for startup founders. “A lot of big, big companies don’t know the data they need and if you supply it, you can change how they do business.” Fitcode’s work is changing the way clothing companies sell jeans, from a product-first model to a customer-first model (Cleverism).

In the old model, manufacturers design jeans based on a single fit model (a woman whose measurements exactly match a clothing size), scale the pattern up and down for other sizes, and then try to find customers for those jeans.

The new way is that Fitcode tells manufacturers what body types are in their existing customer base. They bring in a handful of fit models who represent those body types. The manufacturers design jeans to fit the customers they already have.

Scrofano described the landscape of fashion and beauty businesses in terms of seller types, customer types, and markets. What struck me in his description was that there’s not one luxury market, there are two.

The traditional luxury market is characterized by beautiful things on the runway and a brand that’s all about status. Scrofano didn’t name stores, but I’m picturing Nordstrom.

The young luxury market is the fastest-growing and responds more to whether the brand fits into their personal style. Both are aspirational and experience-based. But in one market, the brand drives what’s in style (as seen at events like Fall Fashion Week). In the other, the brand is in service to the consumer’s sense of style.

Fashion-and-beauty-landscape

Young luxury of course means Millennial consumers, and another point of discussion was how this group is different. Sprangers noted that they feel busy and overwhelmed. “This thing that often starts out as really fun for women turns into an obligation, to maintain a certain look.” That’s kinda sad but does speak to the need to make the UX as easy as possible.

Millennials are known for influencer marketing (Bloomberg), and that’s especially important in this space. “How am I going to make purchasing decisions when I can’t use my senses? It’s all about trust,” said Dandawate. I personally don’t trust people whose opinions are paid for, but I’m in the minority these days.

The Millennial trait of sharing personal information is also what’s made this marketplace shift possible. “They are so willing to give you information,” said Buckley. “Five years ago, they wouldn’t. Now if you offer a personalized experience and make things easier, they’ll tell you everything.”

As for the “What’s Ahead?” question in the session title, Buckley says it lies in plus sizes. “Manufacturers think plus size is a discount market. Half the women in the U.S. are plus-size!” Scrofano chimes in that there’s a Catch-22 for designers: to serve the plus-size market well, designers will have to re-learn how they cut clothes. You can’t just scale up the existing patterns. And they’ll need to think in terms of multiple patterns for the same garment, since plus-size women come in all shapes.

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