Do you have a plan to grow your B2C fashion business? There are valuable lessons to learn by reviewing five micro case studies from successful independent clothing brands.
Sometimes it helps to take a step back from your own business plan. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but comparing what you’re doing as a founder or owner with how other similar fashion retailers have grown and finding out what their stories are can offer insights into tactics and approaches you might not have considered previously.
That’s why we’ve assembled quick case studies for five independent clothing brands that gained success (notoriety, even).
Meet the Founder: Michael Natenshon started the company because he was looking to recreate the soft, worn, relaxed feeling of his favorite old t-shirt. Natenshon came from the world of finance, skills he has put to use in running the business since 2009.
Meet the Product: Marine Layer’s signature product is t-shirts, but hoodies, skirts, swimwear, shoes and more have been added over the years. The “Mini” section of the website shows they offer fashion for kids as well.
The Early Years: According to Natenshon, it took a year to develop the company’s MicroModal fabric, made from recycled beechwood pulp. He and other early employees then transported product from their factories to stores themselves in a 1969 VW bus, creating a unique presence that continues to this day.
Achieving Scale: Building relationships with customers and other retailers is core to the success they’ve achieved. The website promises customer support is done via a real live human in their San Francisco headquarters.
Making the Sale:
Meet the Founder: Sophia Amoruso started selling vintage clothing online out of her apartment, launching the Nasty Gal brand to appeal to young women who wanted to create unique identities for themselves. It became a cultural phenomenon. Her 2014 book about that experience, “#GIRLBOSS,” was adapted as a Netflix series in 2017.
Meet the Product: Nasty Gal offers a wide variety of products for women who want to make bold fashion statements. That ranges from dresses to swim wear to casual sweatshirts and more.
Earlier this year it introduced EMRATA, a line of clothing inspired and designed by supermodel Emlly Ratajkowski.
Back In Time: Amoruso named the company after the song from funk singer Betty Davis. At first she was simply selling clothes and other items found from thrift stores and sold through eBay with marketing done on MySpace.
Achieving Scale: The company’s initial growth was due in part to its popularity on social media. Though that growth wasn’t fast or big enough for investors and venture capitalists. However it was too fast for the company. “That money and expectation were a real shock to the system. We hired 100 people almost immediately and made a growth plan without having a lot of data to back it,” said Amoruso. The brand was acquired by British retailer BooHoo in 2017 after filing for bankruptcy.
Making the Sale:
Meet the Founder: Founder and designer Alexandra Foster launched the company in 2016 with the dual goals of creating simple fashion choices using ethical business practices. That involved a move from Australia to Hong Kong, allowing her to be near manufacturing facilities used by A.C.F.
Meet the Product: A.C.F. specializes in “streetwear,” or the kind of clothes you wear for every day going out. That includes tops, bottoms and jackets along with a handful of accessories.
Most importantly, the company promotes its products as being eco-friendly, vegan and gender-neutral. Items are made from dead stock (material otherwise headed for landfills), are never tested on animals and are tailored for men or women to wear. That’s part of a generational trend favoring sustainable products.
Back In Time: You can watch A.C.F.’s product line evolve and grow by scrolling through the site’s Editorial blog, where it’s shared newly available lines along with lifestyle tips and movie recommendations that match the company’s values.
Achieving Scale: The growth of the company has been very deliberate as Foster and others make sure it doesn’t expand faster than it can maintain its ethical sourcing and manufacturing. New collections are added regularly.
Making the Sale:
Meet the Founders: Apolis – Greek for “global citizen” – was formed in 2004 by Raan and Shea Parton as an outgrowth of their travels. The two are still actively involved in the company, splitting administrative and creative responsibilities.
Meet the Product: While the company sells an array of fashion items, bags are what they’re best known for. Aside from that shoppers can find a tops, bottoms, jackets and select accessories for men and women.
Back In Time: T-shirts were Apolis’ first product, with the line of offerings expanding based largely on what the Parton brothers found while traveling and what production arrangements could be made.
Achieving Scale: While business had been going well, the introduction of the market bag in 2011 seems to have been the turning point into bigger success. That gave them something distinctive and stylish that set them apart from other retailers.
Making the Sale:
Meet the Founder: Elizabeth Suzann Pape, who founded the company from a desire to make high-quality garments that would last, encouraging people to buy less. Her husband works with her on the business side and the two live in a small building just steps away from the Nashville factory.
Meet the Product: A wide range of items only for women, including tops, bottoms, outerwear and more. There are a couple collections called out, including the “Signature” collection of the company’s favorite, most well-known items.
Back In Time: Pape has been making and selling clothes since college and selling at local craft shows, but starting the company in 2013 was something that grew out of a realization that simple, minimalist pieces were what she and others were consistently looking for.
Achieving Scale: From the small list of available products at the start the company added shoes in 2015 and bridal gowns in 2016. More products have followed since then as Pape’s profile has risen within the fashion world, especially around her commitment to “slow” fashion that’s original, not altered or recycled.
You can hear more of her story in this podcast interview.
Making the Sale:
Each retailer above has something unique to offer in its story of how it went from well-intentioned startup to successful fashion brand. Many of those lessons are applicable to those currently in the initial stages of launching their own business.
The one consistent takeaway from all these mini-case studies is that having a clearly defined mission and set of values is crucial to success. Each of the founders have found a way to explain what they want to achieve with the brand, why that’s important to them and how they are working to meet those expectations.
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