The Anti-Fashion Fashion Company for White Shirts
Almost everything we do at Elizabeth & Clarke is antithetical to the fashion industry. We hate to shop (at least for the things we need). We don’t use professional models (since when did it become okay to tell women that 14 year-old anorexic girls from Bulgaria are the ultimate ideal of beauty?). We do not have endless upon endless amounts of choices (only 3 simple, perfect shirts in each collection). And we use this crazy thing called the Internet to sell clothes directly to customers, and cut out the middleman and pricy markups. Basically, we just don’t buy into the fashion industry’s bullshit.
The Old, Lumbering Retail Industry
When you shop at an upscale department store or buy from a trendy brand online you think that that $200 price tag means that you are buying a quality product. But the truth? Store rent, sales commissions, and a multi-million dollar marketing budget are all baked into the cost of that designer tee or blouse.
Also, have you ever noticed what a pain in the ass it is to find great quality basic pieces for a reasonable price? There is a huge supply in the market of $150 – $600(!) tees, but, those prices are not only unreasonable, they should probably be illegal as well…
At the mass or mid-tier of the market there are almost no desirable choices. Head to Zara, H&M, or another ‘fast-fashion’ behemoth and you will most certainly be trampled by a pack of wild teenagers. Meander over to Club Monaco or J. Crew to pick-up that classic white tee you saw last season. It has been discontinued. Yes, Club Monaco thinks that white tees go out of style. There just has to be a better way.
Look! The Internet!
And there is. We deliberately built Elizabeth & Clarke totally online. No stores, no wholesale accounts, ever. Our unit economics are fundamentally different than a traditional brand and we can produce the same quality shirts you find at Alexander Wang, Theyskens’ Theory, or James Perse, but at a significantly lower price point and mark-up.
Another strategic business model decision we made was deciding to sell shirts by subscription. As a result, customers pay up front for their items, and we produce based on demand. We hold no inventory, and do not incur any costs associated with planning, managing, storing, or insuring inventory. That is a lot of money saved for a new brand. Savings that we pass on to our customers.
The Paradox of Choice
We also produce a very limited capsule collection each season, instead of 20 different tee styles with 100 different color choices. Barry Schwartz, a psychologist who’s work lies at the intersection of economics and psychology, wrote a fantastic book and did a subsequent TED Talk on, what he calls, The Paradox of Choice. I would highly recommend you check it out here. He argues that, in modern Western societies, more choice has made us more miserable. Barry walks us through the many steps the brain must follow when a decision is made. Even something as simple as deciding which salad dressing to have out of 20 available choices is extraordinarily cognitively taxing.
Fashion magazine editors and retail store buyers have known this instinctively for decades. They are paid to edit, to cut down, to make the choices for the consumer. This is the service they provide. Or in Internet vernacular, it’s a feature, not a bug. However, the apparel industry at the mass level has grown so rapidly in recent years with the introduction of fast fashion, as a result, the number of SKUs available at the mass price point have gone from thousands to hundreds of thousands to millions. Add to this the fact that, at the mass level, the consumer is expected to do most of the work. The stores are crowded, the sales associates few, the return policy strict. The common wisdom is as such, “Well, you are paying $12 for a tee-shirt, and you want customer service with that too?”
This is one of the main reasons we chose to limit our choice of styles each season. The white shirt, more so than many items, tends to perform a functional use, rather than make a fashion statement. The idea being that the tee or blouse acts as an accompaniment to a look, one that, hopefully, works with many looks in your wardrobe. By using this line of thinking, we provide a much smaller inventory of pieces, with a much higher quality and far more attentive customer service. We do not multi-task. We do one thing, and we do it well.