This past June, beloved New York-based fashion brand Sies Marjan announced that it would be shuttering due to the financial impacts of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, its designer, Sander Lak, was seemingly set up for sustainable success, with billionaire backing and a healthy list of retailers under his belt just five years after launching the brand. Marjan’s closure, however, highlighted the risks associated with entrusting the fate of a young brand to the whims of moneyed investors and vulnerable retailers (Barneys New York, where the brand had negotiated an exclusive deal, closed in February). The pandemic has similarly spelled trouble for Canadian brands such as Lolë, Frank And Oak and even Aldo, all of which have filed for bankruptcy protection in the last few months.
Amidst the rubble though, a few are reigning supreme, and in most cases, brands that are the most connected to the desires of their fans have come out on top. Brooklyn’s bag brand Telfar, which has a cult following, introduced the “Bag Security System” in August, a one-day shopping event when customers could preorder their bags, and at the same time inject the self-financed brand with the capital needed to persevere through a year of surprises.
In an era that birthed startups, direct-to-consumer and blockchain technology, disruption is the name of the game and, especially during the wildest year on record, what feels like retail industry growing pains have the potential to build a more intuitive, exciting experience for brands and shoppers alike.
Edmonton’s Emmydeveaux uses preorders as its sole funding method, releasing a small batch of its classic womenswear staples every few months through its crowdfunding platform, FUNDIT, for a period of 10 days. Of the items released on FUNDIT, only those that receive at least 25 orders make it to production. “We want to make sure we are making the right products,” says founder Emily Salsbury-Deveaux. Last month, customers ordered over 700 pieces, which Salsbury-Deveaux added to her online shop. “That’s 11 different styles that will be coming in … without any inventory liability,” she says. Incredibly, the brand only has a 2 per cent return rate, due in part to the targeted preorders, and also to its perfected fit. All Emmydeveaux pieces, from blazers to bodysuits, are made of a deceptively stretchy synthetic fabric that moulds to a variety of body types.
“I always wanted to have a company that was unique by design, not as a marketing tactic,” says Salsbury-Deveaux, who worked in real estate before launching her brand. “I would not even call myself a fashion designer. I would just say I make good staples for your closet.”
Naomi Blackman and Mikayla Wujec launched their sustainable brand, alder, after struggling to find flattering clothing for the outdoors. The duo surveyed women on Reddit and in Facebook groups. “92 per cent of them wanted pants, so that’s what we started with,” says Wujec. The brand’s Open Air Pants was its only product for their first year in business. “There’s a lot more opportunities for downfall if you have 25 products, versus one that you really focus on perfecting. We wanted to go with the best model, and release product by product,” says Blackman. The company added a tank top and shorts to its offerings a year after it first launched. “With this first product, we decided on a Kickstarter primarily because we didn’t want a bootstrap – we didn’t want to try and go the investment route right from the beginning.”
Outland Denim, a conscious denim line based in Australia, announced earlier this year an equity crowdfunding initiative that invites customers and the general public to invest in its growth for as low as $250. The certified B Corp brand, whose success has been bolstered by high profile fans like former Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, is unparalleled in the market in that it addresses all aspects of sustainability, from social to environmental to economic, in the creation of its wares.
With its equity crowdfunding campaign in April, the brand gave its customers the chance to become part-owners in something that could have an outsized role in changing the future of fashion. “If we want to continue to build our brand with like-minded people, I think that this kind of funding model is the ultimate because we are opening it up to potentially thousands of people to become owners and invest in the company and then become ambassadors and customers,” says Outland’s founder and CEO James Bartle.