Editor’s Note: Sales Marketing Manager Leslie Hitchcock is a non-editorial TechCrunch employee. In addition to working at TechCrunch and being super fashionable, she reviews startups and tech products occasionally on her personal blog, Leslie Just Joined.
Two weeks ago I sat next to Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal at a dinner. Because I cannot help myself when meeting someone as interested in the fashion world as I am, I naturally talked his ear off. What we specifically discussed was the panel Neil sat on at Disrupt called “When Will Fashion Tech Just Be Fashion?” One thing that came up in the panel was the concept of fashion startups disrupting traditional brick and mortar stores by cutting out the middleman and keeping prices lower, presenting a unique AND cheaper online customer experience. Win win, right? The market is booming with companies entering this space: Warby Parker, Shoes of Prey and Everlane to name a few.
Always up for a challenge and bolstered by my positive Shoes of Prey experience, I decided to give Everlane a spin. Everlane is built on the premise that it can manufacture and sell a $50 boutique-style t-shirt for $15. Its retail model boasts production of a t-shirt for a mere $6.50 and by cutting out a middleman, Everlane sells their discerning customer a designer dud for a decidedly non-designer price. A new collection of both clothing and accessories is rolled out each month, but only features a few select items so Everlane can focus on quality.
The site itself is clean, focused and tightly-edited, featuring primarily luxury t-shirts and totes for ladies, luxury t-shirts and ties for the gents. Owning my fair share of $30 layering t-shirts from the likes of J.Crew and a few expensive designer ones to boot, I was curious to try this basic wardrobe element for an admittedly attractive price.
Buying a new brand online is always slightly anxiety inducing to me, as the effort involved in returning ill-fitting goods is challenging. I agonized a bit over sizing of the women’s t-shirts but as the product description assures they fit true to size, I selected my typical fit in both tops I bought. I would have purchased a men’s shirt as well to give away, but the choices only go up to a large. Do only smaller men buy from the site or has vanity sizing become en vogue even for our male counterparts? Regardless of the answer, I opted not to take that chance and will revisit gifting a men’s Everlane shirt in the future.
When my purchases arrived, I appreciated the stripped down, yet chic packaging. Instantly, the shirts felt soft and durable. I opted for the Women’s Crew Neck in white and the Watercolor Crew Neck in peach. The sizing is accurate and the fit is divine, however I haven’t washed either one yet so we’ll see how they handle being tossed in the dryer. Paired with a blazer and skinny jeans, the peach crew neck handled its first day in the office with aplomb and a couple of complements thrown in for good measure. I do love complements!
Other luxury t-shirt options for women on the site are sold out and potential buyers can add themselves to a waitlist. While I personally don’t love those particular cuts, if Everlane introduces a new style with limited inventory, I’ll test that process out and report back. I can’t stop thinking about its Essential Belt, which is really snappy in its design. As I have a referral credit on the site, I will most likely use it toward adding the belt into my wardrobe.
Returning to my dinner conversation with Neil: I really want to use sites like these regularly and have clearly tried them out several times, with the exception of Warby Parker — but that’s only because I have impeccable vision and refuse to wear non-prescription glasses. (Hopefully hipster glasses will still be cool when my eyesight fails me at 60, if I’m like my parents.)
From what I can see, the hurdle these sites face is a high one; a concern that reflects the psyche of the American consumer. I fully admit to being one of these consumers: the person who owns a pair of Miu Miu S/S ’11 runway heels that hurt like the dickens but still sit in my collection because of their (owner-perceived) status. When I received my Shoes of Prey order, people asked me if they carried the same cachet as a pair of “true” designer footwear — and I had to admit that, to me, they did not. The American mentality of MORE! EXPENSIVE! BETTER! is going to be a tough nut to crack for these fashion startups, but based on their quality I think Everlane and Shoes of Prey have more than a fighting chance.
Why am I so confident in this? As I do with all sites or mobile apps under review, I perform a Facebook litmus test of sorts. As I’m testing sites, I post links or like their pages to see if anyone I’m friends with will download and join. Everlane conveniently tracks all email and Facebook referrals that their current customers send out. While no one commented on the actual wall post, this particular link has the most traction of any that I’ve released in the lab that is my Facebook timeline. If Everlane can keep that pace up, it’ll become a household name just like it intends to.