During a time when major retailers and malls are permanently closing their doors, and experiential popups by e-commerce brands are reigning supreme, there are far less traditional opportunities for startup brands to get noticed. Currently, the market is swinging in favor of those who have the highest digital marketing budgets (especially when it comes to paid acquisition on social media), so to launch a consumer brand is infinitely more difficult than it was even a year ago.
The other day, Fast Company reported that 170 H&M stores will be closing their doors in 2018, bringing the conversation about the stability of fast-fashion to the forefront of brands everywhere.
While H&M, Zara, TopShop and Forever 21 are the top of the fast fashion empires, current consumer sentiment, especially among their target demographic, is that socially conscious/zero waste brands are more favorable - even if they cost more.
On the other end of the spectrum, large e-commerce companies like Warby Parker, Glossier, Allbirds, and even media organizations like Refinery29 are taking their online presences and growing them using offline experiences.
A few companies have tried to solve the fast-fashion meets e-commerce meets zero waste issue like Reformation, a clothing brand that focuses around being as sustainable as possible in their practices from factory to store. However, I recently discovered a new startup called Frilly, which is taking on the zero-waste/fast-fashion industry by allowing users to full customize their clothing on their website. This means, out of the hundreds of thousands of customization options, your specific piece of clothing is cut and made for you and only you.
Frilly is unlike your average fashion customization tool. Unlike Zazzle or promotional custom clothing vendors, The Frilly allows you to visualize your newly designed clothing on a model in a 360 degree view. Each look starts with a base design, and everything else is custom including fabric, necklines, buttons, pockets, all the way down to the hem. What is truly impressive, outside of the fact that the company is totally bootstrapped by its founders, is that they are currently the only website of it's kind to offer the level of custom real-time detail in fashion. Jewelry companies like Brilliant Earth have nailed the custom engagement ring market, but clothing is exceptionally different and founders Shangwei Ding and Jeni Ni absolutely nailed it. I will not be surprised if a large scale retailer like H&M attempts to buy them in the near future.
They are currently producing each item out of their privately owned factory in China. According to the founders, they have barely scratched the surface of their technology capabilities, though their current software has taken over 3 years to perfect. It is currently run by 80 in-house developers and within the next few months, they plan to roll out new key features including a made to measure option. Why this is incredibly interesting and why everyone in e-commerce should be watching them, is that instead of having patterns made using fit-models like the rest of the fashion industry, Frilly will use its technology to custom cut a single pattern for a single item of clothing to produce. Something that would traditionally cost hundreds of dollars to do. Trust me on this, I'm six feet tall and finding pants & jackets is a special kind of torture.
Frilly launch is something every e-commerce industry executive should be watching as they build out more artificial intelligence into their platform. Soon, there will be little need for trend-forecasting (or design forecasting teams) if Frilly can simply use their AI to predict trends and serve them to their exact audience. This kind of technological development will change the fashion industry forever, and it will happen before we know it.