If you've kicked off 2014 vowing to make wiser decisions, perhaps you should start with your wardrobe. What we wear, after all, is one of the first work-related decisions we make each day.
The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing, linens and other textiles each year, according to the EPA. Altogether, clothing and footwear generate nearly 10 million tons of municipal solid waste in our landfills each year.
As National Get Organized Month draws to a close, we look at innovative e-commerce models and clothing lines that can reprogram you to shop smarter, with your closet space in mind.
1. Le Tote
Location: San Francisco
Founders: Rakesh Tondon and Brett Northart
Phase: Early Stage
Clutter cause: Those sneaker wedges and that high-low dress from two seasons ago are making your closet burst at the hinges.
The solution: Upon joining for $49 a month, subscribers fill out a style profile and “like” items from Le Tote’s website. The company uses algorithms from this data to assemble and mail a personalized tote of five pieces (clothing and accessories) that members can keep as long as they want. When they are done, they return the prepaid package to Le Tote, which will handle the dry cleaning. Subscribers also have the option to purchase items. The service allows shoppers to experiment with trends without committing precious closet space to fashion with a shelf life.
The story: Launched over a year ago, Le Tote has been dubbed “the Netflix of fashion.” Tondon’s wife and Northart’s girlfriend deserve some recognition for an idea that received backing from Andreessen Horowitz, Lerer Ventures and Google Ventures.
“We looked at their closets and saw there were at least 25 to 30 items that still had tags,” says Northart. “It was crazy because they were still sharing clothes with sisters and friends. So we thought it would be cool if we created an in-demand, nationally-shared closet.”
The founders say the company is experiencing double-digit subscriber growth. Le Tote is focused on mining data from members’ recommendations and ratings to fine-tune the user experience. “We’re looking to scale by adding a lot on the tech side,” Northart says.
Tondon and Northart were initially expecting users to flock toward special occasion clothing as a money-saving move. But according to Tondon, “women were looking to us for work-wear, which came as a surprise to us, in a good way.” He adds that many also signed up because they were going through size and weight transitions.
The biggest surprise from feedback was that money-saving was rarely a subscriber’s main motive. “They’re really just craving variety and we’re rising to the challenge,” says Tondon.
Location: San Francisco
Founder: Chris Lindland
Stage: Early To Middle-Stage
Clutter cause: You've spent a lot of money and used a lot of space storing clothes that fulfill only one purpose.
The solution: What if your outfit could transition from the gym, to work, to nightlife, or at least two of the three?
The story: It all started when Lindland invented the Bike To Work Pants. “It was based on the observation of biking to work and not knowing what to wear,” Lindland says. “Spandex bike shorts were over-functional, while jeans were under-functional.” The end-product was lightweight work trousers refitted for the biker, complete with vents and reflective trims. From there, Betabrand’s “work athletics” concept was born. The Executive Hoodie and the Sweat Suit Blazer would follow-up as signature sellers, especially to startup workers who enjoy a lax dress code. For night owls, the Red Dragon Reversible Smoking Jacket and the Disco Tuxedo Jacket transform from work appropriate attire to conversation pieces. Lindland says many stock up on Dress Pant Sweatpants for comfortable business travel.
But it took a women’s product to bring operations into overdrive. The Dress Pant Yoga Pant, launched in December, received $50,000 in crowdfunding, 823% above its goal. Overall, Betabrand sales have grown from $1 million in 2010 to $4 million in 2013.
Betabrand, like Le Tote, is developing its own strategy when it comes to responding to consumer feedback. “The Dress Pant Yoga Pant is an amazing quest that includes a cross-functional group,” Lindland says. “Tech, advertising, marketing and design meet every three days to actively gather information for the next version. It’s really reactive stuff.”
Location: New York City
Founder: Dana Hork
Stage: Seed Stage
Clutter cause: You have a closet full of smart-looking blazers, fall jackets and custom suits, but you aren't wearing them because you don't have a quality “basic” shirt.
The solution: “We spend so much time finding novelty items, but then realize we don’t have a simple black or white tank to go underneath,” says Hork. “Invest in comfortable, versatile staples that can complete any outfit.” Refine produces only t-shirts and tank tops sourced from high-quality, eco-friendly fabrics. They sell in the $30 to $60 range.
The story: While Hork was a student at Harvard Business School, she saw an opportunity to create a brand that would elevate these wardrobe essentials. “For most apparel companies, basics are an afterthought,” says Hork. “But given how core basics are in our wardrobes, I recognized an opportunity to build a brand focused solely on the basics.”
Before stepping foot into a single factory, she commenced heavy fashion R&D by interviewing 50 women for hours on the topic of tees and tanks. She bought every white shirt in the market, covered the labels and asked subjects for opinions on fit, fabric and price points. She also had women bring in their own favorite basic, and many brought in shirts from high school or the 1990s. The grad student took vigorous notes.
“From that exercise I got an understanding of what women want from their basics,” says Hork. “I was surprised by how passionate women were in this product. It gave me even more conviction that I should build a brand in this space.”
With the soft launch last summer, Refine is growing its online and offline sales through strategic partnerships. For example, it teams up with other retail startups to hold sample sales or hosts events in the Refine showroom in downtown New York City.