When Kelly and Laura Moffat were looking for clothes for their wedding, they were faced with a mutual frustration for the options. The styles in the women’s section didn’t feel right and menswear options didn’t fit right. The shopping experience inspired Kelly and Laura to launch Kirrin Finch, a gender-defying fashion label that's focused on using sustainable and natural fabrics. In this episode of Shopify Masters, we chat with Kelly and Laura about becoming accidental designers and how working through the pandemic challenged them to grow in new ways.
For the full transcript of this episode, click here.
Identifying a gap in the market as a consumer— and filling it as a business
Felix: The idea behind it all started when you were looking for clothes for your wedding, right?
Laura: It was 2014 and we were organizing and planning our wedding, obviously clothing is a key component of that. Neither of us are really into dresses and they aren’t part of our wardrobe. As a woman that was getting married, if you didn’t wear a dress there weren’t a lot of options back then. We were looking online, in stores, and it was a really demotivating and frustrating experience.
We ended up getting custom suits made from a local Brooklyn tailor, which was an amazing experience, but it made us realize that there was an opportunity for people like us, for clothing outside the traditional binary of women's wear and men's wear, there was a big unmet need. That was the impetus for us starting the brand.
Felix: You noticed that this was a problem for yourself. What made you start to see if others were also experiencing this problem?
Laura: I was a marketer by trade before I started the brand, so for me, I was always very focused on, "Okay, that's great. That's a great idea, but what's your research to support it?" I had done a lot of market research in my previous life, so for me, the first step was like, "Okay, let's validate the business." We did surveys and one-on-one interviews with people to find out if there was a true unmet need here.
What was the underlying frustration? What could we do to solve it? What are the products that people were looking for? We were able to validate the initial idea by talking to those people. We went to friends and friends of friends beyond our network.
Kelly: We even spent some time going to local bars and combing folks out in the wild, so we spoke to everyone–from the folks that we knew to complete strangers. That's something that's really important. A lot of folks, when they first get this idea of a business, they're like, "Oh, I'm not going to tell anyone someone's going to steal my idea." Quite frankly, it is really hard to start a business and no one has the same passion that you're going to have for this. Maybe there's a few other folks, but taking that activation energy is a really big leap into the actual creation of your business. The validation from folks is far more important.
Felix: When you were conducting your market research, were you just looking at peoples thoughts around wedding attire specifically, or was it broader than that?
Laura: It was much broader than that. We didn't really get into the wedding market until much later in our business. Basically the impetus came from us searching for wedding clothing, but at the end of the day, what we discovered from our own thinking and speaking to other people was that the overall shopping experience was incredibly demotivating for our customer.
They would go shopping, everyone's like, "Oh, let's go shopping, let's get excited, go buy new outfit," and then you would go, and then you'd see stuff in the women's section that really didn't feel right for you and didn't match your personal aesthetic. Then go to the men's section, see stuff that you really, really liked and want to wear, but then ultimately it's not designed to fit your body. We heard that like over and over and over again, and we still hear that to this day.
We did a focus group yesterday talking to our customers and we still hear that same insight, which is like, "I go shopping and it's so demotivating because there's not a place for me."
Kelly: Except for Kirrin Finch. People still go out into the world and they're still looking and we're still acquiring new customers all the time. That still highlights that fashion is still incredibly binary.
How this brand transformed a demotivating experience for their customers
Felix: As you were speaking to your target demographic, were there any surprising insights that came to light maybe that you hadn’t considered?
Laura: The thing that has surprised us and still surprises us is when you think about clothing, you think, "Okay, it's fabric, I put on to cover up. I use it as a way to keep warm, I sometimes use it to wear to special occasions." What we've begun to discover is that clothing is so important to your psychological wellbeing and how you present yourself to the world. It's the first thing that people see when they see you, it generates all these different emotions.
We had this incredible insight that when you're not able to wear the clothing that makes you feel good, you don't feel like you can be your true self. Therefore when you do find clothing that makes you feel good and matches your internal personality, you become that much more confident and you feel authentic. Other people notice that you feel confident, they notice that your outlook is more positive.
At first, we thought it was annoying that you couldn't find clothing to wear, but what we've discovered is that it's so much more important than that. It actually does impact people emotionally to have clothing that makes them feel good.
Kelly: It's not just for our customer base. It's exacerbated by the fact that time and time again, they've had this de-motivated experience and they can't represent themselves authentically. I have a very distinct memory of speaking to a friend of mine who was telling me they were going to an interview and she was putting up her red power lipstick. The way that you can show the world how you feel is so, so important and clothes are a big part of that.
There's also been a shift in society of more acceptance of folks to present themselves outside of the binary and there's been an interesting growing customer base of like parents who have kids who are presenting themselves as either non-binary or trans. They've had this experience where the parent has gone shopping with their child and it's never really been a good experience for either party.
We'll get these emails of parents saying, "I'm so grateful for your existence because I can finally give my kid an outfit that feels right to them to wear to a bar mitzvah or graduation or whatever that special event is” That's something that's really powerful as well.
Felix: When you’re trying to improve this demotivating experience, are there specific things that you focused on to improve that shopping experience?
Laura: Yeah. I think for us, because we are a small brand and because we really do understand our customer, it's really important to have a really close connection with our customer. I went shopping for a pair of jeans in my 20s–keeping in mind this has happened many times. I went to the women's section, I felt these weren't right for me, I went to the men's section and the sales woman said, "Excuse me, ma'am, the women's department is downstairs." That feeling is awful, you feel terrible.
"It was really important that we provided an approachable, safe, judgment free zone for our customer, whether that be the way that we interact with them via email, the way that we attract them through our website, our chat, our copy on our website."
It was really important that we provided an approachable, safe, judgment free zone for our customer, whether that be the way that we interact with them via email, the way that we attract them through our website, our chat, our copy on our website. It all needs to feel very welcoming and approachable so that our customer says, "Oh, wow, there is a place for me, there's a place that gets me." That is this judgment free zone where they can just know that they can be themselves and not worry about feeling judged.
Kelly: Especially as we've gotten into the more formal clothes as well, a lot of people have never worn a suit before they come to us. There are emotions attached to that. We need to sometimes present as part of that journey for them is education, part of it is fit, part of it is just being like, "You know what? You're going to look great because this is how you feel right."
Fostering inclusivity by stepping outside of established norms
Felix: How do you help your customers make informed decisions regarding what clothing will work for them, since there’s really nothing to compare this experience to, for them?
Kelly: We approach it in a variety of different ways. We do a lot of education through our blog and through our Dapper Scouts program. Some of them are Instagram influencers and some are just people that have really cool style and are doing interesting things in the community. Talking a little bit about style inspiration, talking a little bit about what pairs well. We'll get an email from someone saying, "All I really wear is gym shorts and t-shirts and I'm getting married. Help me please."
It's talking a little bit about what's the difference between a dress shirt and a casual shirt? It's creating an opportunity for in-person fittings when that feels like it is a safe space from a COVID perspective. We're exploring a lot of virtual options for folks right now. When someone sends us an email, it isn't a barrier of like, "Oh, well, you're supposed to know this stuff." The people that work in our customer service are, "Okay, let me help you get there. You have a question, here's my suggestion."
Laura: Kelly's getting at the fact that when we look at traditional fashion, it's generally skinny, tall, models. There's not a lot of representation outside that typical framework body type, although that's changing. We're seeing a lot more representation of plus size models. But it's really important for us to provide representation to show people: there are people that look like you, that wear clothes like you. It's okay to be able to dress outside of the traditional mold. Part of our goal is to be able to provide that visual representation for people so that they can see that there are people like them out there dressing the way that they want to.
Felix: The modeling on your website is more inclusive and diverse than your traditional apparel ecommerce brand. Can you tell us more about that?
Kelly: That means a lot. It's something that we've put a lot of time and effort into. Most of our models are just real folks. Our models range from someone that we've found on a subway platform and said, "Hey, you have cool style. Do you want to model for us?" To people that apply via our web platform who are genuinely great people that have cool style. That approachability comes across when you see the photos of them and that allows people to see them as well.
We try hard to add in lots of new faces as well. We'll have bigger numbers in our photo shoots because we want people to see the way it sits on different people's bodies.
Laura: You need to see products on lots of different body types to know if it's right for you.
Felix: After you finished conducting your market research, what were the next steps?
Laura: There was an urgency because there were a few businesses in the space that were beginning to crop up. We're not without competitors–there are competitors–but it was that time where things were beginning to shift and I felt like, this is a great opportunity, we really do need to jump on it. Neither of us had any fashion background, so for us to jump on this opportunity definitely came with challenges.
I worked in pharmaceutical marketing, Kelly was a teacher. We didn't know anything about fashion at all. That was a big learning curve. We had a marketing background where we felt solid in the foundation of the business. Making the product? We had no idea what we were doing. I'm happy to tell you a little bit about that journey.
How Kirrin Finch embraced humility to find success in a an unfamiliar industry
Felix: Tell us how you navigated this space when you didn’t really have much experience in this field–I think a lot of entrepreneurs face this issue.
Laura: We knew that because we didn't have a fashion background we wouldn't be able to just launch an entire collection of all different types of garments. We thought to ourselves, "Let's choose a flagship product. Let's find out what the flagship product should be, and then let's make that product really amazing." So in our market research, we asked people, "What's the one product that you're basically dying for?"
At that time, what people said was they really wanted an amazing button up shirt. We were like, "Great, let's make an amazing button up shirt." So that was our initial product launch. We joined a fashion accelerator, fortunate enough that at the time in Brooklyn, there was a place called The Brooklyn Fashion Design Accelerator that was a great incubator space. They had a bunch of other small fashion businesses. It had a sample room and mentors–people knew how to make garments.
They held our hand all the way through the initial process of making the product. We were very fortunate to have that space. We went with the flagship product, we focused on that and that was our point of entry.
Felix: You took one product and tried to create it as best as possible. What was your experience creating that first design?
Kelly: There are a lot of pieces that go into making a button up shirt. We had no idea. The good news is we now do. There's a thing called grading and marking. Now you have a shirt, but then you need to make a size range. You take that one shirt and then you figure out how you're going to get to the different sizes. Who are you going to partner with from a factory perspective? Who is going to be your pattern maker? Fabric, sourcing–all these things–we had no idea.
It comes down to being very humble in the fact that we didn't know, but we were thirsty for knowledge. We did a few things like taking classes at a local place, FIT. They also have so many things online now. There's lots of courses that exist like lynda.com. There is knowledge out there, much of which you don't have to pay for, even YouTube. The other thing that we did was surround ourselves with great mentors. There's a lot of really great free resources out there, especially when you're starting. SCORE, SBA, all these places where you can go and say, "Hey, I have this business idea. What do you think?" We had a fashion mentor, we had a business mentor. People are excited about new ideas and businesses and want to help.
"It's really important to find mentors to float your ideas around and surround yourself with, who know more than you."
Some of those people are still with us today. One of our mentors from The Brooklyn Fashion Design Accelerator five years later is a personal mentor for the two of us. Some of them have come and gone. But it's really important to find those people to float your ideas around and surround yourself with, who know more about stuff than you.
Nailing product development through unconventional means
Felix: One of the things I’ve heard from other brands is that sizing is the biggest challenge. How did you test the fit and size of the product before the larger production run?
Kelly: We did something that we thought was normal, but apparently is actually very unusual. We created a fit party. Basically, we created our base size and then we said, all right, we're going to grade it out and figure out, how does that size then go across our size range? We took our pattern maker and we invited a whole bunch of people over, gave them some drinks and food and said, "Hey, come try on this stuff, we're going to have a party."
One by one, people would go meet with our pattern maker and try on the shirts. We'd take photos and measurements and they would give their feedback. The rest of the time, people were socializing and looking at the new designs that we're coming out with. These were all people that were very, very interested in the business idea that we were growing. They wanted the first hand experience, but also were excited about the other people that were in the room, because they were of a similar interest.
We started to snowball into creating this group of folks that knew about our business that were excited, and we were able to tap into their interests, knowledge, and feedback. That's something that we have really tried to thread throughout our business; is coming back to the people that care about the business, that are loyal customers, that have lots to say. We continually ask them, what is it that they want? What is their feedback? We try to continually touch base because it's very easy to say, "Oh, this is definitely what people want." But if you don't ask them, you don't know.
Felix: When you were going through this fit part, were there multiple stages or iterations? How did you determine when you were ready for production?
Laura: That fit party was a component of it. The initial development of the prototype we spent a year working on before we even got to the fit party. It was so important for us to get the fit right, because for the customer the ultimate pain point was around fit. Fit is an incredibly important component.
They have strong feelings around how things sit on their body, where they sit on their body, the positions of where things touch. We bought a bunch of different types of shirts and we iterated over, "We want this thing to be like this, we want to remove this button here. We want to keep the collar tater here." For example, on men's shirts, the collar is often very structured, sits very nicely because it's often worn with neck wear. On women's shirts, the collar's off and floppy and super shapeless because people don't wear neck wear.
Some of our customers like to wear neckwear such as a tie or a bow tie. It was really important that we made the collar in a way that it could hold its weight. The other thing is the circumference. A collar on a men's shirt is made for a man's neck. If a woman puts on a men's shirt, the circumference is massive. We were iterating on all these tiny little details that you wouldn't even think about to make sure that we made the perfect shirt for our customer.
Like our customer, for example, doesn't want the shirt to have a really silhouetted look and be super feminine. A lot of women's shirts have darts because they basically help give that accentuated curve loop. We had to create a shirt that didn't have darts, but also make it flattering. There was a lot that we had to do even before we got to that prototype for the fit party. After the fit party, we worked hand-in-hand with our pattern maker to make those final adjustments, get the feedback and get it into production. A lot of work went into it before we even got it on different types of bodies.
Kelly: We’re quite confident about the current fit of our shirts and I think we did a good job. That said, we're currently doing an evaluation of our size 14 upward to say, "This is something." We really pride ourselves on being size inclusive, and it's something that we need to continue to reevaluate. What can we do to make that area better? That's something that we're spending a lot of time and energy on right now.
Felix: How do you translate all this feedback into instructions that a manufacturer would be able to act on?
Kelly: That's part of the job of a pattern maker, for us to say, "Hey, this is what we want." The first few folks that we were thinking about working with weren't the right ones, because in their mind, we had to have darts. They were thinking of fashion in the binary of men's and women's wear and we were very much saying, "What we are trying to create does not exist and you need to be on board with understanding that in order to create what it is that we want." We've been really fortunate to find the right partners over time.
There's been some bumps in the road. One day the person at the factory where we were making some shirts was out sick, so someone else was in charge of the buttons. They saw that it was a "woman's shirt," so they changed the size of the buttons to be in line with what is on a "women's dress shirt." I got the sample back and I said, "What in the world has just happened? On the sheet, it says very clearly here, it's supposed to be an eight to nine by nine." They're like, "Oh, it was a woman's shirt." I was like, "But I have specifically said this." Every now and then there's these little bumps, but over the course of the years, we've found the right partners.
Selecting fabric based on popular demand and market trends
Felix: How do you find a manufacturer that not only understands your vision, but ensures they’re executing and maintaining it?
Kelly: We manufacture primarily in three different countries right now; in the U.S., in Italy, and in India. We've got a point person on the ground in Italy and in India who are the first point of contact when we're starting to work with a new factory, they're saying, "This is what the brand is, this is what they're trying to achieve. Do you understand what it is that they're trying to achieve? Are you on board with this?" Ultimately they have to be invested in what we're trying to do, not just, "Oh yes, I want to make this product." They need to get it and they need to care about it because it is different.
Felix: When you were launching, how many patterns or fabrics did you launch with?
Laura: We basically did a short sleeve shirt and a long sleeve shirt. We did five or six different fabrics in either, but we basically did it as a pre-order Kickstarter. There was no issue of buying too much inventory and not selling it because we'd done it as a pre-order Kickstarter campaign.
Felix: What was the process for determining what would be a popular pattern or fabric?
Laura: A lot of people pay a lot of money for fashion forecasting and looking at the runway, and figuring all of that stuff out. For us, it's always about what we like and what our customers like. What are the patterns that we see that we think are going to do well? In the beginning, we were buying stock fabrics. We would go to fabric vendors, look at the fabric, see if we liked it. Now we're a little bigger and we're able to buy prints that we like and then get those printed onto fabrics.
"You have to really understand your customer and know what your customer likes when picking patterns."
At the end of the day, it's still a guessing game. How do you know that the product that you're making is going to be bought by your customer? You have to really understand your customer and know what your customer likes and make that decision. We still do market research through social media. We’ll do Instagram polls, "Which fabric should we choose? Which colors should we choose?" We're still staying on the pulse with what our customers are looking for.
Kelly: We are also creating a product that in some capacity has existed previously. Our product is men's wear-inspired. Some people create a brand and it's this completely new thing. Our customers have been going into the men's section for years and years and saying, "Ah, I want that shirt with the elbow patch, but they don't make it in a way that fits my body because it's flaring out at the hips and it's gaping at my chest." We're saying, "Ah, we agree. We like that and we can make it."
We don't always have to recreate the wheel with what we're creating. The Tweed blazers that we run, that's something that's been around for hundreds of years. We're just saying, "Hey, yeah, you can have that too. We'll make it fit for you."
The prepwork that raised over $36,000 on Kickstarter
Felix: You raised over $36, 000 in your Kickstarter campaign. What preparation did you do before launching?
Laura: It's been five years since we did the Kickstarter campaign, so it's hard to remember exactly what it was like. It was a lot of preparation. A lot of people are like, "Oh, I'm going to do a crowdfunding campaign and ask them questions like, 'Well, do you have this? Do you have a video?' 'Oh, no.'" We wanted to make sure that we were strategically buttoned up with everything before we ran the campaign.
We had to make sure we knew which products we were going to offer and that our prototypes were ready. We had a really amazing video that told our brand story–that was a key to everything–making sure that we had the brand strategy locked in before we ran the Kickstarter so that we weren't just selling a product, we were selling a brand. We spent a lot of legwork ahead of time thinking about who the customer was. What are their pain points? What's the customer profile? How do they feel? What is our brand going to do to solve that? When we did launch, we had a very obvious brand narrative and story that people could get behind.
With the launch of the Kickstarter that people really did get it, they felt, "Wow, oh, wow. I see myself in that brand and I want to support it." From a strategy perspective, that was really, really important. Then logistically, it's the stuff of setting up the page and making sure you have a good video. When the Kickstarter was over, we were like, "Oh, great, we have all these backers. Now we have to go make it."
Kelly: A lot of businesses sometimes lose out on the success of these crowdfunding campaigns because they’re not thinking about how to make the products and get the product to people–they're so focused on the front end. We had already set up the factory that we were planning on using. We had already sourced all the fabric, we had spoken with the places that we were going to get it from, created the purchase orders, set all that up so that as soon as we figured out exactly how much we had sold, we were able to press go.
We also did a bunch of research on what type of packaging we were going to use? What was the type of distribution we were going to use? Was it UPS, USPS, FedEx? Whatever the platform is that you utilize, people forget to make sure that they’re pricing things correctly. That doesn't mean we did it all correctly, but I think what happens often is if you say, "Ah, I'm going to sell this shirt on Kickstarter for X amount of dollars." Then you realize, “oh, I completely forgot about how much it costs to get to the customer and what am I going to put it in?” If you're putting in a poly mailer versus a box, all of a sudden the cost is completely different. All those questions are really important to ask yourself prior to doing the crowdfunding campaign.
Felix: Talk to us a little bit about the hidden costs that arose after the Kickstarter.
Laura: Costing in general is challenging, especially for a physical product. You've got the fabric, and the buttons, and the hang tags, and the packaging. One of the hidden costs in fashion is often what's called grading and marking. You make a pattern, but then you have to make sure that you know what it's going to look like in multiple sizes. We have 13 sizes, so the grading and marking costs can be expensive.
Kelly: One of the hidden costs that customers aren't generally aware of that's happening right now is an increase in shipping costs. When you're bringing goods into the country or if they’re traveling around the country or if you're producing domestically. Either you have a warehouse, distribution center or whatever. Whoever is doing it doesn't matter, the cost is increasing. There's also a lot of things that are arriving on a longer lead time or are not arriving at all.
When it comes down to it as a consumer, when I placed an order from that brand and I paid 40 bucks to get it expedited and it doesn't show up, who do you think is eating that cost? It's not USPS, I'll tell you that much. That's something that we really had to contend with over the course of the pandemic. There's definitely a price difference between USPS versus someone like a UPS and FedEx in terms of reliability. There is also a significant price difference, especially when you are shipping a smaller number of goods. As we've gotten quantities of scale, we've been able to move more of those packages over to UPS, which definitely helps with some of that stuff, because when you lose a $575-suit, it's not just the shipping costs that you've lost.
Surviving the pandemic as a formal wear brand by doubling down on systems
Felix: You launched the suite line in February 2020, right before the pandemic. What has been your experience with that product launch?
Laura: We were really excited about the product launch. We'd been working towards it for a long time. We always knew we wanted to make a suit because the impetus of the brand was around us finding suits for our wedding, but we wanted to feel ready. We wanted to find the right partner and make sure that we could make it in a way that we felt confident about. We were really excited about our suiting. We spent a lot of time working on the fit, finding the right partner, finding the rights materials.
We launched it in February of 2020. The month was crazy, it was our best sales month ever. We were feeling like, "Wow, we've totally validated this product. We're ready to lock this in, it's going to be like the flagship product." Then of course, COVID starts.
At the end of February, we're like, "COVID, is this going to be a problem? I don't know." I was like, "I think we'll be okay." Then in early March, we were like, "This doesn't feel so good." By mid-March, we were no longer going to the office. Everybody was working from home or gone to their retreat somewhere in the countryside, and sales were basically like radio silence. We had this crazy high and low moment where we were feeling so good about the suiting.
I remember it was like mid February and I was already talking about making a reorder. We were like, "Wow, we're going to have to reorder this so soon, this is amazing." And then, like I said, "It was like screeching in silence to nothing." That was really challenging. But also there were so many other things going on at that moment that it was like we just had to knuckle down.
2020 was a great year for us to take a step back from the business and really make sure that we had all of our systems optimized for efficiency. I think that we always knew that the suiting was a great product and it would come back, but we just knew that we were going to have to take a little pause for 2020 and focus on getting through the year.
Kelly: We have a very strong New York customer base, and as things went from being pretty apocalyptic– especially in the beginning of the summer prior to Delta–there was a lot of renewed sense of normalcy, even within the really obviously continued terrible times. By no means are we out of a pandemic, but we were starting to see folks that maybe had originally planned a wedding for 200 people or 100 people saying, "All right, well, it's now been a year and I really love this person and I want to commit to them, so we're going to have a ceremony of 30 people." They still needed that suit and they still wanted to get dressed up and for that experience. As people were starting to do more things coming back we have had very strong sales over the summer.
As the person that runs our production, making projections is a little bit of a rolling of the dice, but I think we're optimistic and hopeful for not just our business, but also for the state of the world, as we move into autumn.
Laura: We were lucky. We're a D2C company and we don't have a brick and mortar store. A lot of these companies had multiple retail stores and were stuck paying rent on them, whereas we don't have a lot of overhead. Yes, it was unfortunate and there were less sales than we would have wanted, but we still didn't have to do the crazy pivot that tons of these businesses had to do where they were like, "Oh my God, I suddenly need to really focus on my e-commerce."
They're doing this crazy dance of suddenly trying to get their online store up and running, figure out how to do paid ads, figuring out how to do paid search. We were only doing all of that stuff and our customers were already shopping online. There wasn't this massive shift that a lot of businesses had to make away from physical retail. A lot of businesses did this crazy pivot. Maybe they were making super formal wear and they suddenly were like, "Oh, we're not going to survive. We're going to start making sweatpants."
"As a small brand it's hard enough to make one product or to make any products. To suddenly pivot your entire business towards a completely different direction is really challenging."
A lot of people asked us, "Are you going to pivot? You're going to start making like athleisure?" I don't know. First of all, as a small brand it's hard enough to make one product or to make any products. To suddenly pivot your entire business towards a completely different direction is really challenging. Strategically, we just said, "You know what? We know this is going to come back, we know we're going to continue to do well. People are going to go back to the office, people are going to start going back to events again, people are going to start going to weddings again. Let's hunker down and make sure that we have all of our systems, strategies, and all of the things that we need as a good solid foundation of the business. When things do return to normal or somewhat normal, we will be ready and we'll be there to capture the opportunity."
How Kirrin Finch achieved a 30% increase in revenue
Felix: Despite this, you were able to grow 30% year-over-year from 2019. What do you think contributed to this?
Laura: I think people were still optimistic about where they were going to go and people still had to wear clothes. Just because they were at home doing a meeting didn't mean that they were sitting naked doing their Zoom meetings. Everyone was doing the whole, “don't worry about your bottom half, just make sure you look good on your top half.” People were still going to business meetings, they were still wearing clothes and buying clothes. It's not like everybody stopped wearing clothes. They've just stopped buying stuff that they may have been more focused on wearing outside, but we're still selling lots of products, we still sold suits, and we still sold formal wear.
People were purchasing less than they would have or less frequently. We added new products to our line, we increased our volume, we increased our web traffic. We still kept doing all the things that we were doing before. I just think that we didn't grow as much as we would have otherwise.
Kelly: We're very fortunate.
Key components to enhance when optimizing for performance
Felix: Rather than trying to pivot to capture more sales, you decided to double down on your operations and systems. What specifically were you optimizing?
Laura: It's still an ongoing project, but we're an ecommerce site and so it's really important that our website is the best website possible. We've had our website for about four or five years. I think it's time for us to refresh, to take advantage of new technology and different types of websites and update the website. We're going to have a new website launching in about two weeks.
That's something that we took a step back on during COVID. It's taken a little bit longer than I would have liked, but as all good things do, they take a little while. The other thing that we were doing before, which now seems crazy when I think about it, but we were doing all of our returns manually.
Kelly: We also offer free shipping and returns.
Laura: Yeah, we offer free shipping and returns, so we get returns. Somebody has to process the return, they have to steam it, they have to pack it back up, they have to do all those things. If a customer wanted their return, they had to email us, we would send them a label and they would send it back to us, which was a ridiculous amount of customer service time. We ditched that and we moved over to an automated return process so that the customer can basically do it themselves. We still have to do the processing on the backend, but automating it saves an enormous amount of time from an internal operations perspective. It was things like that, where we said, "What are some systems and things that we're doing that are really inefficient and how can we do them in a way–either using software or outsourcing them– that’s better?"
Kelly: We also implemented an online ticketing system for our customer service and that's something that I think was a really good way for us to continue to grow. Instead of having one person holding all of the knowledge, it allows anyone to open it up and look at the chain of events that has happened. You can see the customer's entire interaction history. There were three people in the office and in order for us to grow that had to change. That's been a really good implementation.
Laura: We're using Gorgias for the customer service and we Loop Returns for the automated returns.
Felix: What are some of the changes to the website or apps that you’re using that you think will make a big difference?
Laura: Firstly, it was designed mobile-first. Two years ago Google started mobile indexing. Mobile site was indexed versus the desktop site, so it was really important to me that we had an amazing mobile site. The redesign was actually designed mobile-first and then extrapolated to desktop. I'm really excited about the mobile site looking amazing–70% of our traffic comes from mobile, which to me is an amazing statistic, but it makes sense, everyone's on their iPhone all the time.
The other thing was page speeds. One of the challenges with Shopify stores is you have all these amazing apps that you can add on for every single possible thing, but adding apps really slows down your site and page speed is really, really important for search engine optimization. It was important to me that we got our page speed back up with a new site. We offloaded a lot of apps and made sure that they were developed in hosts on the theme so that we could improve our page speed.
Those were the two main things and then just giving the brand an overall refresh. Our price point is relatively high and so when you go to purchase from our website, there has to be an elevated look. It has to feel like you're getting your money's worth. Elevating the brand look and feel was really important.
Felix: What is the next big project or pursuit that's coming for the company?
Kelly: All these changes we've implemented have allowed us to scale much faster. We've also hired a bunch of new people to the team. Because we have those systems in place, it's going to allow us to grow at a much faster pace. We're in a good place with our formal wear, and that's a really nice offering that we are now able to turn the key in a really great way and say, "Okay, this is the suit, but now we can add on to that." We've established the supply chains, we've got great relationships with those folks.
It's taking that product that we've figured out and adding more options for people, adding a curvy bottom for our suit pants. One of the other places that we're really exploring is developing our casual offering so that our ultimate goal is to be a one-stop shop for folks that like to dress with a more masculine center. When they come to us, they're saying, "Ah, okay, it's spring now, weather is changing. Great, I want to put on a bomber jacket," or whatever it is. We want to be able to provide those products to our customers.