Yoga pants that double as dress pants? Reflective blazers for biking to work? “Executive” hoodies with pinstripes and cuffs, or “Academic” hoodies with tweed and elbow patches? “Sock Insurance” in case the laundry eats one of yours? If the market demands…
At Betabrand, all of their new clothing designs are crowdfunded, starting with sketches and ideas coming out of their “Think tank”. Customers vote on which ideas they’d like to see, and then preorder based on prototypes. If enough people preorder, the design gets made and introduced into their store. Most of their clothing are variations on work clothes targeted at Silicon Valley millenials, pairing something comfortable with something practical- or just reducing the size of your wardrobe, as with a dress that can be worn in either direction and inside out for four different looks. They come up with the ideas AND source new ones from their customers, and have guaranteed buyers who pledge to buy products sight-unseen in exchange for discounts. The preorders reduce the risk of investing in a new design, and the input lets customers get the clothes that are missing from their life. In exchange for taking on that additional risk, customers that preorder receive a 30% discount from the eventual price when the product enters their online store.
Some challenges are that they’re a very niche player in a very large market. Most people already own their work clothes, and don’t have a need for pencil skirts with 10 pockets. Each product definitely solves a problem, but not one that enough people have to become truly mainstream. They fight back against this with quirky marketing and an ever-changing product offering, but I have a hard time believing it can scale to being a household brand. Also, it’s targeting a very specific age demographic- there won’t be 45 year olds wearing jeans that reveal rainbow threads after going through the wash a few times. But since millenials are the fastest growing entrants into the workforce, I don’t see that problem being a limitation.
One way they’re drawing the crowd is a new joint venture they’re doing with Valve Corporation. They’ve asked the crowd to “Join the brainstorm” to create clothes for the new Counter Strike video game, and will be making the most popular clothes in real life as well as the game. This draws in a different group of people than those who may have already been entering their challenges and designing clothes, and introduces scores of Counter Strike fans to a clothing brand that’s targeted at their demographic, but that they may not have necessarily heard of. Less trendy brands are getting in on the fun too- 3M has a product on their site that uses a new reflective fabric, and comedian Margaret Cho designed a jumpsuit that was successfully funded.
All in all, they’re a fun quirky brand that uses crowds of weird millenial brains to create products that they’ll love and want to buy. By sourcing ideas and funding from the people who want to buy the products, they keep people invested in and excited about the process.
PS. If I’ve convinced you to run out and buy yourself a disco tuxedo jacket or the world’s softest pajama pants, let’s utilize those network effects- here’s my referral link! We’ll both get $15. The power of the crowd, in action. https://www.betabrand.com/referrals/landing/friend/?r=1OM