Gone are the days when the mall was the only option people had for updating their wardrobes. A new vanguard of startups are bringing high fashion to the masses by combining innovative approaches to e-commerce with an eye for quality and design. And if the success of these three approaches is any indicator, consumers are biting.

1. Taste Algorithms and Virtual Stylists

By combining Netflix-style algorithms and personalized customer service, companies like Stitch Fix, an online styling service for women, and Trunk Club, which provides similar services for men, are streamlining shopping. Stitch Fix members fill out surveys about their fashion likes and dislikes, and stylists use an algorithm to select personalized outfits based on the results. Not only does this take the guesswork out of shopping, it makes personal styling affordable and accessible to a wider public. And the model is popular. For instance, hundreds of Stitch Fix users blog and tweet their outfits, building brand loyalty through community.

2. Clothing Subscriptions and Rental Services that Expand Wardrobes On the Cheap

Fashion moves quickly, and consumers are eager to stay on top of--and ahead of--the trends. Clothing subscription and rental companies update their wardrobes in real-time. Rent the Runway is at the forefront: their clothing rental service makes high-fashion accessible. Another company that uses the rental model is Gwynnie Bee. Through their subscription service, they promise an "unlimited wardrobe" to plus-size women--a growing market that remains under-served.

3. Crowdfunding that Gives Indie Designers a Boost

Startups are also getting involved with the way that clothes are made. Before the Label and Out of X both use crowdfunding platforms that put consumers in direct contact with independent designers. Both sites invite designers to propose clothing and accessories, and members can invest directly in the pieces they’d like to own. It’s true market-driven fashion: only the pieces that get funded get made, and successful pieces are produced in small numbers so that members get something unique as a return on their investment. This model is making it easier for independent designers to get their work out there.

Are startups the future of fashion? While the majority of clothing purchases are still made in brick and mortar stores, these startups are nonetheless making a serious impact on the way we buy clothing. And they’re proving enormously successful: for instance, in 2014, Buck Mason, an online boutique that provides high-quality, expertly curated menswear, generated $500,000 of revenue on an initial investment of $10,000Snob swap, an online consignment sales platform and virtual "luxury mall," recently raised 1 million dollars in seed funding. If these successes are any sign, the future of fashion is online.

Published on: Aug 20, 2015