When you think of the fashion industry, you might think it's all about runway shows, glossy magazine spreads and high retail markups. Setting trends may still be the focus of big-name designer brands catering to the luxury market, but for the average consumer, the process of browsing and shopping for clothes, especially online, has completely changed.
As in many other industries, the customer runs the show in the fashion world today. Sartorial inspiration no longer comes only from on-high in the form of lookbooks and reports from New York or Paris. Consumers are connecting with each other on social media and fashion blogs, drawing from various sources to find a look that's literally and figuratively tailored just for them — and they expect retailers to deliver what they want.
Last year, Business News Daily wrote about Stitch Fix, a fashion subscription service that delivers hand-picked clothing and accessories to customers based on a detailed profile of tastes and past feedback. We found six more fashion startups that follow a direct-to-consumer model, and use customer data to build a great shopping experience. [6 Big Data Solutions for Small Businesses]
Who they are: American Giant sells sweatshirts and T-shirts manufactured in the United States. Because of its e-commerce-only model, the company is able to redirect traditional retail overhead costs into the quality of its products. CEO Bayard Winthrop said American Giant aims to delight its customers through the things the company believes truly matters to them:best-in-class premium cotton basics, fair pricing and a brand that means something to them.
Why a customer-first approach works: "We've put our customers first by building a high-quality, amazing product, and as a result, have created an organic and unfaltering loyalty to the brand," Winthrop said. "Through this model, our current devoted customers have made their enthusiasm known on social media and beyond, generating new, organic fans of the brand. It's a virtuous cycle with love of product and the American Giant brand [is] at the center of it."
Who they are: Founded by recent business school graduate Halsey Schroeder in 2012, Halsbrook is an online fashion retailer catering to the baby boomer generation. Schroeder noted that making fashion and e-commerce "approachable" for an older generation of online shoppers was a top priority for her, and she credits her company's responsive feedback and personal touch — including pictures and bios for staffers on the website — with its high customer loyalty.
Why a customer-first approach works: "Customers are the heart of your business," Schroeder said. "You have to think about how many different touchpoints you can have with them. Make sure there's a feedback loop, [and] make sure the people who are responding [to customers] know what's going on in the business. [Customers should] feel a connection to the company ... and know that they're not just shopping behind a computer screen."
Who they are: This luxury menswear brand employs a national network of more than 2,700 personal stylists that set up custom fitting appointments with customers. J.Hilburn's "100 percent fit guarantee" means that the company's customer-made clothing is just what the customer needs.
Why a customer-first approach works: "We were able to build a loyal customer base by offering personalized service at their convenient time and location and eliminating hassle of shopping," said co-founder and CEO Veeral Rathod. "Our direct sales model also allows us to carefully invest in our hands-on brand experience while cutting the unnecessary costs of maintaining a permanent physical presence, thereby bringing high-quality, custom-made clothing at an affordable price."
Ministry of Supply
Who they are: Ministry of Supply is a menswear company that's working to solve the underlying pain points in the traditional men's wardrobe, such as blazers, dress shirts and slacks. Adman Advani, co-founder and president, noted that Ministry of Supply's approach is researching the everyday little things that can make clothing uncomfortable for modern men, and addressing them while creating timeless designs.
Why a customer-first approach works: "It's beyond customer-first for us — our process is customer-centric," Advani said. "Beginning with the design process, our real customers' daily activities and habits help guide product development. Once products are released into the world, we rely on customer feedback to continually iterate and improve everything we do. From the clothing we release, to service, to how we package, our business is all about listening to customers and equipping these guys with the gear they need to look and feel amazing and reach their full potential every day. This approach has benefited our business immensely in customer loyalty, communication to improve our products, and evolving our line of clothes."
Who they are: The sharing economy is growing, and fashion marketplace Poshmark has carved out its niche. Poshmark members can buy and sell fashion items, directly from their closets to other consumers. As the mediator between buyers and sellers, the company ensures buyer protection, hassle-free deliveries and strong community support.
Why a customer-first approach works: "By connecting women's closets around the country, we've created [a] closet sharing economy," said Manish Chandra, founder and CEO. "Each woman in this economy now has a revolving closet, where she can feel confident purchasing new items knowing that she can re-sell it later or sell her other unwanted items to offset the cost. We simply would not exist without our vibrant, engaged community."
Who they are: Many women spend years, even much of their adult lives, wearing the wrong bra size. True&Co's proprietary fit quiz uses data collected from more than 1 million women to help customers find the perfect size and fit for their body. Founder and CEO Michelle Lam said that her company's mission is to re-engineer the most complex and intimate garment on the market by using data.
Why a customer-first approach works: "True&Co's customers are intimately tied to the success of its model," Lam said. By putting their bodies, preferences and feedback at the forefront of the service with the fit quiz and home-try-on service, True&Co has been able to glean extensive insights into what drives their customers, and what moves product."