Can a clothing company ignore fashion trends and still expect to grow?
The founders of Los Angeles-based startup Buck Mason seem to think so, and if their first year sales figures are any indication, they could be right. Founded in November 2013 by tech entrepreneur Sasha Koehn and apparel industry veteran Erik Schnakenberg, Buck Mason generated $500,000 of revenue in 2014 on an initial investment of just $10,000. The company designs men's clothes with a classic, minimalist aesthetic, focusing on a just a few staple items like tees ($24), jeans ($135) and oxford shirts ($88).
Last month, the co-founders pitched the company on ABC's Shark Tank, offering an 8 percent stake for $200,000. Host Robert Herjavec offered $200,000 for 25 percent, but Koehn and Schnakenberg declined, believing Buck Mason's untraditional approach to fashion is highly scalable.
"One of the original thoughts was: What do guys naturally look really great in, and what do we all gravitate towards stylistically?" Schnakenberg says, adding that Buck Mason sees fashion as having nothing to do with standing out or fitting in. "What we feel comfortable in isn't always connecting with what society is telling us to wear."
Buck Mason also ignores conventional fashion trends by not putting logos on any of its merchandise and not making its jeans look retro or distressed.
"There's no faux vintage hardware or anything relating to a past time," Schnakenberg says. "The style is classics with kind of a modern fit."
One of the company's other points of differentiation is the fact that all Buck Mason clothing is made in the U.S., a rare decision for an apparel company, as less than 3 percent of clothing purchased in America is produced domestically, according to the founders.
While making clothes in the U.S. costs the company more than it would to manufacture overseas, Buck Mason saves on cost by cutting out middlemen and wholesalers and selling directly to consumers. The company has one brick-and-mortar location in Venice, California, but the majority of sales come through its website, which lets customers order curated packages of clothing and only pay for what they keep.
In the first two weeks since appearing on Shark Tank, demand for Buck Mason's clothing has shot up dramatically. Sales rose 6,300 percent during a three-day period, while in-store revenue rose 500 percent. Roughly 65 percent of online traffic came from consumers in Middle America, according to Koehn.
"We've definitely introduced our brand to an incredible amount of people between the two coasts," he says. "We're selling products faster than we can make products."