The apparel industry is dominated by huge chains and major labels, but startups are making a name of their own by offering unique products and filling a void. Want a pair of shoes with a pump in the sole that keeps your feet cool? Or a dress that is custom made to your exact measurements and shipped for free to anywhere in the world? Only these small businesses are able to customize and differentiate so specifically to meet your needs.

1. FitMeSo.com

The brainchild of Taiwan native Christine Lo, FitMeSo.com is unique in that they make every dress according to the exact measurements of the customer. You pick the exact style, patterns, and materials. Then, the site guides you through how to take the measurements. During a test, the company checked in several times and verified measurements, then asked for photos of the test subject to make sure the dress would fit perfectly. They own a workshop in Taiwan, but ship worldwide at no cost. Dresses start at about $219.

2. Stantt

This dress shirt startup wants to end the S-M-L measurement conundrum. How will they accomplish that? It all started on Kickstarter. In 2013, Matt Hornbuckle and Kirk Keel funded the initial research to scan multiple body types in 3D and generate about 200,000 measurements with millions of data points to create 75 custom sizes. Shoppers only have to measure their arm length, waist, and chest. An algorithm determines the best fit. The Essential Button-Up shirt costs $98 and is made of 100% cotton.

3. BluffWorks

This unique startup makes dress pants you can use on a mountain-bike trip. In fact, founder Stefan Loble designed them and then spent six hours in a NYC harbor on a standup paddleboard to make sure they stay flexible and comfortable. They are wrinkle-free--a company rep said you barely have to worry about washing them, and you can cram them into a travel bag--and lightweight enough to wear in an athletic setting. They come in grey, black, navy blue, and several other colors and sell for $93 online.

4. Combat Flip Flops

The first thing to know about this veteran-owned startup is that they sell more than flip flops. In fact, the name has more to do with their business mindset--they want to "flip flop" the idea of solving world problems by sending troops overseas. Instead, their products are factory-made in places like Bogata and Afghanistan. For example, their shemagh scarf, which costs $250, is hand-made by a woman-owned factory in Kabul. The company uses profits to help kids go to local schools, clear land-mines, and deploy medical teams.

5. Paul Drish

This footwear company is so new, the leather is barely done tanning. At a price-point of about $250-$495, these high-end dress shoes are designed in a Lower Manhattan loft. (You can actually visit the store and watch them design your shoes as you sip the free scotch.) Most people order them online. If you do and the shoes don't quite fit, you can send them back for free and get an additional $20 credit toward another purchase. A pair of Everett Monkstrap brown dress shoes felt so comfortable and soft, I wanted to wear them to bed.

6. Wabi Sabi Eco Fashion Concept

This startup is taking the concept of bootstrapping into the world of fashion. Michele Helene Cohen started Wabi Sabi in late 2014 after running a crowdfunding campaign. She has now started a second production run and is starting to look for angel investors. The dresses are made of 100% all organic materials (meaning, there are made without using any harmful toxins), and the clothing atelier in Spain employs only women.

7. Ruby Ribbon

This California startup is taking the model that has proved so successful for Spanx--shapewear undergarments that create a form-fitting look--and applying it to the entire dress. The fabric is designed so it doesn't "bunch up" like you're in a sausage roll. A gripper edge on the dress keeps the garment in place all day. Yet, no one would ever know there's any tech involved--the dresses look like they'd work for the office or an evening gala. The Optic Dress is a good example--it costs $129 and comes in sizes from XS to XXL.

Published on: Apr 29, 2015