It's no secret that women's fashion is a buzzing sector of the start-up landscape. Take jewelry and accessories site Stella & Dot, which has recently been killing it on Pinterest, or rental service Rent the Runway, which raised its third round of funding (to the tune of $20 million) in December, for example.
But, at the moment, men's fashion seems to be taking the spotlight, as more and more start-ups look to serve this somewhat neglected population.
As New York Fashion Week kicks off this week, let's check out five start-ups that are taking men’s fashion to all new levels.
As is often the case with entrepreneurial endeavors, Hall & Madden was inspired by necessity.
“I’m 6’4” and 180 pounds,” said co-founder McGregor Madden. “I never felt comfortable in clothes in high school or college. I would love the way a t-shirt fit in the shoulders, but then you could see my underwear and belt.”
In 2010, after spending a few years abroad with tailor-happy Europeans, Madden teamed up with his best friend Richard Alan Hall to launch Proper Suit, a custom suit-making company. Despite the initial momentum of Proper Suit, they kept running into customer questions about where to go for good shirts, and the answers weren’t satisfying.
“We would always go back to Hugo Boss as the great fitting shirt, but in this economy guys coming in for their first business suit can’t justify $180 on a shirt,” Madden said.
So he and Hall took matters into their own hands and launched Chicago-based Hall & Madden in 2012.
Madden describes Hall & Madden as a "vertical manufacturer:" they design, manufacture, source materials, and manage the work flow completely themselves. "We leave the money in the shirt with less overhead--no crazy marketing ads or expensive retail spaces--stuff that doesn't matter," he said. Their shirts are made out of the same high quality two-ply imported cotton used by Hugo Boss and Burberry, dress shirts that typically retail for upwards of $165. Hall and Madden's sell for $50 a pop.
The company was completely bootstrapped--its start-up costs covered by Proper Suit profits, the guys say. The company currently has four employees.
Needless to say, a well-dressed man doesn’t stop at the hem of his pants.
But men’s footwear, like suiting and dress shirts, can cost a fortune. Beckett Simonon co-founders Nicholas Hurtado and Andrés Niño wanted to fix that price gap and tap into an unexplored niche.
“There was a real hole in the market for men’s fashion accessories that were high quality, but at a reasonable price,” said Hurtado. “And we saw that maybe if we removed the traditional layers, we could offer shoes of the right quality and design.”
Beckett Simonon launched in 2012, and slashed prices by working with local manufacturers and selling directly to customers online. Prices, the co-founders believe, have to reflect the real value of the product. “There are usually huge markups in the middle man that make products way more expensive than they should be,” explained Niño.
The company, which currently operates out of Bogota, Colombia, says it has generated $80,000 in revenue after two months in operation, and has five employees.
When Jack Threads founder Jason Ross was growing up in the early 90s, he was fascinated by action sports culture. And as that world gained notoriety, he said, a whole new area of fashion emerged.
“I started to care more about fashion and looking cool,” Ross said. He realized, he said, that there was a discount, low-cost option for virtually every type of clothing on the market besides the top-tier street, skate, and surf wear that interested him.
To fill that void, Ross launched Jack Threads, a members-only online shopping club, in 2008. “When you walk into one of our tradeshows now, the products are looking more mature and dressed up,” he said. “Guys are wearing more cardigans and slim-fit chinos. Even ties have become a huge business.”
In 2010, Jack Threads was acquired by New York-based e-newsletter Thrillist for a reported $10 million. Jack Threads says it currently has 106 employees, nearly 3 million members, and is headquarted in Columbus, Ohio.
In 2009, Brian Spaly, founder and CEO of Trunk Club, launched his menswear startup with a clear goal in mind: make it easier for men to shop.
Here's how it works: Trunk Club “scours the planet” for a top-notch selection of men’s apparel, curating an assortment of pieces from a variety of brands. “Experts” then hand-select a “trunk” based on each customer’s preferences, and subscribers can send back anything they don’t like at no cost.
In late 2011, the company, based in Chicago, raised $11 million in venture funding from investors including Greyloft and U.S. Venture Partners.
So razors aren't exactly fashion, but they're definitely a man's most important accessory. And the drug store shopping experience isn't very easy, says Dollar Shave Club CEO and founder Michael Dubin.
“You’ve got to find that locked razor kit, and then the guy with the key who’s always texting his girlfriend,” Dubin said. “The whole thing takes 20 minutes, and then when you get to the register it’s $20.”
In 2011, he beta launched Dollar Shave Club, an online subscription service that delivers men’s razors to a customer's front door. With about $1 million in seed funding, the site kicked off in earnest in March of 2012. The company has since raised $10.8 million in venture funding.
Dubin describes Dollar Shave Club as “a lifestyle company, not a razor company.”
“Everybody wants a deal, but nobody wants to feel cheap,” he added.