High (Tech) Fashion
How three local firms are bringing technology to the trade.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
We all wear clothes. Most of the time, anyway. Some of us are more into making fashion statements than others. And some spend way more than anyone should to gild their forms. But even if we don’t buy into the gospel of Billy Crystal’s SNL character Fernando that “it’s better to look good than to feel good,” one fact remains immutable: We all interact with the clothing industry, and we generally deal with purveyors who give us quality merchandise, excellent service and maybe a feeling that what we’re buying offers some special cachet.
To make these relationships more lasting, three local startups are using technology as a key ingredient in the process of designing, buying and selling. Take a look.
Artists Stretch With Made-to-Order Leggings
Marissa Monteiro, a former salsa dance instructor with a penchant for outlandish leggings, launched Bombsheller in 2013 with inventor and fellow salsa aficionado Pablos Holman.
“We make the most badass leggings available,” Monteiro declares. One look at Bombsheller’s website (bombsheller.com) and there’s no dancing around the assertion.
Absolutely anyone can submit a design — retro, sci-fi, psychedelic, tartan plaid — and Bombsheller will print, cut, sew and ship custom opaque leggings from a studio in Lower Queen Anne with the help of one giant dye-sublimation printer and 15 employees.
If designing leggings isn’t your thang, no worries. You can shop more than 7,000 designs from other people — everything from kitties and cupcakes to swords and squids. The artist/designers decide how much profit they want to make on each sale; most leggings sell for between $79 and $89 a pair, with Bombsheller taking a flat $69.
While Bombsheller’s funky panoply of polyester/spandex inevitably turns a few heads — they’re breathable, moisture wicking and suitable for women and men — the company’s business model is designed to induce a full one-eighty. “This whole company is a prototype of what an apparel company of the future could look like,” says Holman, a former adviser to MakerBot Industries, which manufactures desktop 3D printers.
Bombsheller runs more like a software company than a typical fashion house. After a customer clicks “buy” on the Bombsheller website, the custom leggings are shipped — free within the United States — in a matter of hours. Compare that to the traditional process in the apparel industry of designers predicting which trends customers will want months in advance, constructing and shipping their merchandise, then eating the cost of the less popular products.
Product development in the apparel industry works in 18-month cycles, Holman says. In the software world, it’s more like 18 hours. “There’s this potential to change the way we make things,” he says, “to start making physical things the way we make software. It eliminates a lot of waste in manufacturing.”
Eventually, the Bombsheller team will expand its made-to-order empire to include other apparel, says Holman, who reports that the firm’s annualized revenue has grown by 70 percent this year over the same period — January through August — of last year.
Magic Number Makes Jeans Fit to be Tried
Fed up with the disparities in jean sizes, University of Washington political science alumna Rian Buckley decided to launch Fitcode. In her modeling career, Buckley has worn clothing that was altered to fit her in photographs, which were then extensively photoshopped.
“I remember thinking, ‘I am that girl in that photo, and that’s not even what the clothes look like,’” she says. “These companies are giving consumers clothes that look completely different online than [how they appear] when they show up at their door.”
On Fitcode’s site, shoppers complete a five-question survey to determine their Fitcode, a magic number that corresponds to the jeans that will best fit their body types. Fitcode then shows shoppers recommended pairs from its retail partners, including Nordstrom, Citizens of Humanity, J Brand, Jag Jeans, Joe’s Jeans and Hudson Jeans.
Fitcode charges a monthly subscription fee for partners to be included in its online denim boutique and for integration on the partners’ own websites. In September, Fitcode expanded its partnership with Hudson Jeans even further. “When a woman is shopping on hudsonjeans.com,” Buckley explains, “she’s going to go through the Fitcode experience. We are in talks with most of the premium denim brands out there to do the same things with them.”
Additionally, shoppers can view videos of an actual person wearing the jeans the company recommends for them. “We film each jean on a woman with a body shape similar to yours,” Buckley says. “It’s completely unaltered, totally transparent.”
According to the National Retail Federation, merchandise returns accounted for $260.5 billion in lost sales for American retailers in 2015. By partnering with denim retailers, Kirkland-based Fitcode hopes to solve the fit equation and reduce retail returns that result from poor fit.
“The No. 1 reason for returns is fit,” Buckley says. “That’s a really motivating number for us.”
In July 2015, Fitcode had 3,000 users. By the end of August 2016, the company had 30,000, according to data provided by Fitcode’s director of marketing, Stephanie Chacharon. “Big picture” plans include expanding Fitcode to include men’s jeans and other apparel.
“Within the next five years,” Buckley notes, “I would hope no one is shopping online or in a store without using our Fitcode.”
Now Here’s a Concept: Getting Paid to Shop
Each minute, thousands of fashion photos are uploaded to the internet under the hashtag OOTD (outfit of the day), says Glamhive cofounder Stephanie Sprangers. “The problem is, you can’t easily shop the things that are shared,” she laments.
The Seattle native dreamed of an app that could combine photo sharing, e-commerce and loyalty rewards. Sprangers and cofounder Gisella Walter launched Glamhive (glamhive.com) in 2013. The photo-sharing app rewards users for sharing and shopping street-style looks featuring any of more than 11 million products in the Glamhive database. These rewards can be redeemed for gift cards from any of its 800 partner brands and retailers, including ASOS, Nordstrom and Zara. Members share their looks with links to the app’s partner retailers, then receive points for anything other users purchase during a shopping session inspired by their posts. The shopper earns points, too, so it’s almost like getting paid to shop.
Glamhive makes money in two ways. It earns commissions from retail partners, which it then shares with members. And it sells advertising on the Glamhive website. The company had a 94.7 percent increase in users in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period the previous year, partly thanks to a relaunch of its mobile app in March.
“What people love about Glamhive is that it’s real people sharing their personal style,” Sprangers points out. “It’s not editable. It’s not magazine covers. It’s not necessarily models. It’s just real people who are sharing with the world.”
When asked “why Seattle?” as the city selected for Glamhive’s launch, Sprangers says it was a no-brainer. “Seattle ranks fourth in the nation in the number of fashion careers,” she explains. “Creativity and pushing boundaries is part of daily life here.”
In 2015, Glamhive won the $205,000 top prize at the Seattle Angel Conference’s pitch contest. Glamhive’s next steps include netting more investment capital, Sprangers says, to help the nine-employee firm expand its user base.