Award-Winning Sustainable Fashion – Beth Esponnette
In this episode, we talk to Beth Esponnette, Co-founder of unspun. Beth shares how her company tackles wasteful clothing manufacturing practices by replacing it with 3D printing to produce custom-fit jeans.
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About this episode:
In this episode of The Ecommerce Insights Show, we sit down with Beth Esponnette, Co-founder of unspun, a fashion tech company paving the way to personalized fashion. Beth was previously a professor of product design at the University of Oregon and has a background in fashion, manufacturing and design. We talk about how the company tackles wasteful clothing manufacturing practices by using 3D printing technology to produce personalized jeans.
In this episode, you’ll learn about:
- Why Beth leaped into entrepreneurship from academia
- How 3D printing technology revolutionize traditional clothing production
- How to find out if there’s demand for the product
- The process of planning and executing product launch strategy
- The What, Who and How in getting the product to market
So if you are interested in all-things sustainable fashion, then this episode is for you.
Learn more about Beth and her resources here:
- Visit the unspun website
- Visit Beth’s personal website
- Follow Beth on Twitter
- Connect with Beth on LinkedIn
Want to be a guest on our show? Have feedback or ideas for how we can improve? Send your thoughts over to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be keeping an eye on that inbox. 🙂
The Ecommerce Insights Show is brought to you by The Good, a Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) consultancy specializing in helping ecommerce businesses accelerate their growth through better research, testing, and design. Learn more about our team, our work, and our services at www.thegood.com.
[00:00:00] James Sowers: So here’s the question. How can you, Congress leaders make sure that they are producing a great product, providing a world-class customer experience responsibly managing the finances and still reserve time, energy and resources for marketing their products. My name is James Sauers, and you’re listening to the e-commerce insight show.
[00:00:16] The podcast that gives you a specific, actionable advice for growing your e-commerce business. Every Monday, you’ll get a conversion rate optimization tactic that you can implement quickly to make your business 1% better. Every single. Every Thursday, we sit down with industry experts to go deep on a specific aspect of running a successful e-commerce business.
[00:00:34] It’s the perfect blend of learning and application, which means that you maximize the value of every single minute you spend with us. We’re just as committed to growing your business as you are. So if you’re looking for a partner to help you crush your revenue goals, you’ve come to the right place. Roll up your sleeves and grab a notepad because it’s time to get to work well, Ben, thanks so much for coming on the show.
[00:00:54] I’m really excited to talk to you today. All things, product ideation, product development, maybe a little bit of manufacturing distribution, go to market strategy, whatever we dig into today, you founded a really cool company called unspun. So maybe to kick things off, we’ll get like the 62nd version of who you are, what you do there and kind of your journey with unsponsored.
[00:01:14] Beth Esponette: Yeah. Well, thanks for having me. James is really great podcasts that you’ve started. Unspun was a frustration. I think for me, my background is in fashion and manufacturing kind of meats product. It’s a mix of different things. And I think when you get into design, Distracted and pulled and lots of different directions.
[00:01:34] I think it’s good. I think it like, you know, kind of opens up your mindset a bit. And so that I’ve kind of let that happened to me throughout my career. But coming out of undergrad, I went into the industry, went into the outdoor apparel industries specifically because I love the idea of like building products that function super well and also gets people outside, enjoying nature.
[00:01:55] But. But then there was this tension with what we were doing, what we were producing, but the waste that came from the industry. So on the outside, it’s like this beautiful thing we’re connecting with nature. But on the backend, just as the rest of the industry does everyone does, is we were producing things before people wanted them.
[00:02:14] So 30% of what we were making was going to landfill immediately because no one can predict the future. So I think that was a frustration that was. You know, it led to this question, how might we make on demand? How might we make something that the customer wants exactly make it after they purchase it? So that’s what led to.
[00:02:34] James Sowers: Yeah, that’s awesome. And so basically you have this background in material design from the educational side of things, right. And it was really a lifestyle exposure kind of that introduced this opportunity for a better take on the blue Jean right now. I don’t know if you have anything in the works.
[00:02:49] Maybe we’ll talk about that later, but yeah, it’s around this thread of sustainability and reducing the economic impact of something that’s been going on for a, I don’t have an exact date, but I’m guessing hundreds of years, right. We’ve been wearing blue jeans. So really cool. And we’ll get into the specifics of what makes unspun special, but I’m curious, like what took you from the academic?
[00:03:07] What made you want to leap into entrepreneurship from academia? Right. If you’re teaching or even all the way back to when you were a student, what motivated you? Is it. You care about the environment so much that you hate seeing all of the waste and all of the, maybe commercialism behind like traditional Jean brands and manufacturing, or was it something else that kind of pulled you to, because starting a business is a big decision and there’s gotta be a big motivator behind that.
[00:03:30] I would guess. So what was that for you?
[00:03:32] Beth Esponette: I think to me, academia is amazing because it gives you a lot of leeway to, to explore new ideas. But it moves very slowly and there aren’t many resources going into things. You also don’t really, aren’t encouraged to go out there and test your product in the world.
[00:03:47] And there’s really no better way to do that than to start a company and just make sure and see that what you’re building is actually valuable that people actually want it. I think that’s a huge difference between. Academia where I was doing some crazy projects, you know, growing she, uh, products and growing crystals and to make products like, is there a way that we can grow products and let them be K and how this circular lifecycle?
[00:04:11] I love that, but it’s not something that people will purchase and use. It’s not commercializable. And so it’s not really realistic. And so it also doesn’t make an impact. So making an impact is really like the end goal here. Can we bring this out into the world and get people to adopt it? Because it’s nothing really, unless people are adopting.
[00:04:31] James Sowers: Yeah, because whether or not somebody is willing to open their wallet is really the true determining factor of whether an idea is any good or not. Right. For a lot of people. And so it sounds like you guys have hit the nail on the head there from everything that I can see from the outside looking in. So maybe let’s talk about what makes unspun special then because you have this idea, you decide to go for it.
[00:04:48] And there’s a lot that happens between. You know, I’m going to file the LLC or the patent or whatever’s required. And then I’m actually going to sell my first pair. So what makes unsworn special? What made this a product that you’re like, okay, this is different. This is unique. This is valuable. What are the aspects of that, that you feel strongly.
[00:05:05] Beth Esponette: Hmm. Yeah. Good question. So the industry right now works on a push model where you basically start with the product, you design a product, develop the product, make sure it’s really awesome. And then the planners and buyers think about how much of that product might be purchased. And then that goes to the manufacturing.
[00:05:23] You know, it needs to be at least a hundreds of thousands to hit that economy of scale and make it and justify them, making it. So then once those are produced, those go out to the stores and everyone has their fingers crossed that people are gonna pick up whatever sitting there. So this is fundamentally different in that we’re starting with the consumer, we’re starting with the person and then building the product, huge challenges involved there from, from the manufacturing and setting.
[00:05:50] Everything to make that happen on the backend, but also from the customer side to bring them through that process and also encourage them to spend a little bit more money and a little bit more time to get their product. But we found that it is worth it for at least for our market. So the things that make unspun different are, again, that we’re, we’re meeting a need.
[00:06:11] Exactly. And we’re not over meeting that need. And then we’re also, we have no sizes. People are just themselves, there are no numbers involved, something that’s funny is that, so we offer jeans and people can somewhat design them. They get to choose different parts of their genes. They choose the style of the fabric, the thread color, the length of the gene and the height of the gene for the week.
[00:06:35] And people are so used to thinking that they are the problem or that, you know, it’s about the product and not them that let’s say that someone who’s really tall walks in and they want to get a gene that hits them right at the ankle. They’re so used to ordering comes out long style, that they’ll order a roll from us.
[00:06:53] And then they get confused when they come back and they actually got a rolled gene. And it’s actually the link that would fit them as a role. It’s just that mindset change. That’s different. A good challenge to have, but something that we’ve been working on.
[00:07:08] James Sowers: If I were to recap that. So traditional gene manufacturing is this push model where you have forecasting and it’s like, Hey, we’re going to come out with this new cut, the skinny Jean, whatever.
[00:07:18] And we think we’re going to sell a hundred thousand pairs of this. So let’s put that order in to the manufacturer. They actually make the a hundred thousand pairs of jeans. They put them in a warehouse and then hopefully we sell them all. What happens to those jeans? If we only sell 85,000, like what happens to that other 15?
[00:07:32] Do you know? Cause I’m guessing that’s the waste, right? They don’t get. And they either get donated somewhere, ideally, or they go to a landfill or they get repurposed or something like what happens to the waste product or the unsold product there?
[00:07:43] Beth Esponette: Yeah. Well it would go down the tears to start, you know, to lower price point stores, but then often that, that doesn’t sell.
[00:07:52] So there’s basically three different things and you’ve hit on a few of them straight to land. Um, but often before they go to landfill, they need to be damaged in some way so that they can’t be resoled or, you know, if it’s a Gucci, like they don’t want someone being able to use their product sifting through the garbage, it will get incinerated.
[00:08:12] And oftentimes companies will actually boast this, that they incinerated something and they captured a little bit of the energy from incineration, which is ridiculous because you lost so much in that whole process. It’s really not gaining any. And then the third is what you mentioned donating, but that’s not really an option anymore.
[00:08:30] It used to be that third world countries, countries that they would accept these things, but they would really hurt their economy. So if you had a free pile of products sitting on the corridor, And you had a mom and pop store across the street, you would go for that free stuff. You wouldn’t support that local store.
[00:08:48] And so it really hurt the local economies. And a lot of these countries are realizing that they don’t want to take other people’s junk anymore. So they’re just refusing it, which is I think a great thing. Something else that’s happening. Yeah. Europe, especially like France and some of the really forward-thinking places are starting to actually create legislature that makes it illegal to create waste, to have excess.
[00:09:11] So companies are starting to think about how can we build something that’s more recyclable. And then the really forward thinking companies are trying to adopt models like ours, where they don’t have it to begin with, where they only make what people purchase.
[00:09:25] James Sowers: Yeah. So that’s that pool model that you’re describing where it’s like, I’m simplifying the situation, obviously, but you effectively have an empty room that has no genes in it.
[00:09:33] And I go on and I place an order and then you spin up the denim roll and it rolls them out and it cuts it to my size or whatever. And it makes it on demand kind of like Netflix, as on demand, a TV shows and stuff like that. It only plays when somebody requests. And so a lot of that waste gets cut out.
[00:09:48] You don’t have a bunch of stuff sitting around in a warehouse gathering dust or going to discount markets and then eventually making their way to the landfill or whatever. So that’s part of the novelty that you described. The other part is this kind of inclusivity or this personalization, this lack of sizing, everything is bespoke.
[00:10:01] Everything is tailored, but you don’t have to go down the street to your towns. You actually visit a tailor and have things hemmed up. They just come to you and they. And so I’m imagining as I understand it, you guys just got this big award from popular science for one of the best of what’s new products for 2020 in the personal care category.
[00:10:16] So maybe tell me about that. Cause I think that has something to do with this, this personalization angle, this customization angle that I just described.
[00:10:23] Beth Esponette: Yeah. We were super excited to get this award. It means a lot to us. We really admire. But they do at this publication. So we worked with Rachel Feldman who’s who helps run popular science.
[00:10:36] And she tried out the jeans, like she tried out the whole process from mobile scanning to choosing her fit and her style and to receiving them and, and really putting them to the test. And she said that she was blown away and hadn’t ever found fit like that. And just from, just from a phone scan. And I think that was enough to put us over the edge and get some recognition.
[00:10:58] A few other people on the team got to try the process as well. So we’re hoping, yeah. We’re hoping that more people try it. Cause that’s really what, how we build our believers. It sounds like magic and hand-waving until you try it and see that it’s
[00:11:11] James Sowers: real. Yeah. And I want to make sure that it’s super clear to the listeners that this is powered by a phone application, like a mobile phone application, what that effectively does a body scan of you and kind of builds your specifications off of that.
[00:11:24] Right? Then you just place the order. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the movie, but I remember watching the Incredibles and they kind of, they made the suits, the superhero suits for the Incredibles and they all go in this room and they hold their arms out. And there’s like a red laser that scans them.
[00:11:35] That’s what I picture it being like, it’s probably nothing like that. I don’t know if that, that came across in my original introduction for this topic, but it’s like, yeah, it’s effectively a body scan that builds you a custom pair of jeans. And that’s why they fit great because. You know, it makes sense to me why there would be a demand in the market for this?
[00:11:49] I don’t think men have quite as many issues, but maybe that’s just the people that I’m around. But like the women in my life were always like, well, it fits me in the waist, but it doesn’t fit me. Like it’s not long enough or something like that. And there’s a lot of customization to the contours because bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
[00:12:03] And so I can see why intuitively you’d be like, this is a problem we’re solving, but. Did you, before you made your first pair or you set everything up, did you go out into the market and actually talk to people and say, you know, would you pay for this? Is this something that is painful enough to warrant getting out your wallet and then giving some money to get a bespoke pair of.
[00:12:23] Beth Esponette: we definitely did. I mean, we’re big proponents of like get product out there as soon as you can, but it was really valuable for us to talk to, I think we talked to 400 people. So at the beginning I mentioned that we had this, how might we question? Like, how might we build for people on demand? So it’s exactly what they want.
[00:12:42] And that was the question we had. We didn’t have. Specific product that we’re going after. So we went out there, we knew that if we could solve this, if we could solve this using technology that exists today and building our own, that it would be big, but we needed to have a go to market with very specific products that we would be going after what we didn’t want to go after a bunch of things at once.
[00:13:02] And even today, we’re very focused on denim and jeans. So we talked to 400 people. We tried to solicit answers that weren’t leading. That’s a really hard thing with asking questions is because you have your own hypothesis and your own thoughts about what people should say. And so before we ask questions, we made sure to run them by people and make sure.
[00:13:23] And sure there weren’t any leading questions like pushing people in a certain direction because my hypothesis was that bras would be the number one. And there were definitely, I think two thirds of the women we talked to, it was pretty 50 50 on women and men two-thirds of the women brought up bras without solicitation, without.
[00:13:41] Mentioning the word bra as a pain point for finding fit, but three quarters of all the people. So 300 of the 400 people actually brought up denim jeans specifically without us using any sort of word. I think we used the word clothing a few times, but you know, that was kind of the context of it. We didn’t give anything beyond that.
[00:14:00] And we also gave people a heat map, just like a body. And then we would have them like highlight and point out areas of their body and different fits that would, you know, pain points for finding fit and thighs were probably the biggest size and hip and the way.
[00:14:17] James Sowers: Yeah. So you said 400 people that you spoke to prospects or just people in the market that kind of fit your target demographic, where those 400 conversations like we’re having right now, or what was part of that?
[00:14:27] A survey, like how did that distribution look like? Was it just face to face interaction or is it something that you did kind of at scale in a more passive.
[00:14:35] Beth Esponette: Yeah, I would say it was much more passive on the 400. And then we, we took at least 40 of those people, like, so you started very broad. And then once we started seeing like little nuggets of, oh, this person sounds like they have cornice, tell us here, we got at least 40, like in-depth conversations, similar to what you and I are doing.
[00:14:56] Now. We would sit down with someone for, we find that you need like an hour. You could talk to someone for 15 minutes, but that’s just barely skims the surface. It’s like, it’s about building trust and getting someone to open up. And it takes a while to getting into places where people hadn’t really thought about before, or those kinds of like latent needs that they don’t think about.
[00:15:15] But yeah, those 400 or so. Was through a survey, oftentimes we’d like, you know, you’d be talking to someone and you would just say, Hey, can you do this survey for me right now? And we happen to know, I think everyone was at least like a third connection. So there’s a little bit of bias in that. I think it felt like it was diverse enough that I would say that could have been a flaw.
[00:15:34] James Sowers: Yeah. I was going to ask, how did you source those prospects basically? Cause I think that somebody would be asking that question, like how do I go out and find 400 people to interview about my potential product idea? And then maybe since you kind of already answered that one, did you offer any kind of incentives?
[00:15:47] Like how do you get them on the phone or how do you get them to actually follow through with the request to submit the survey or book a meeting or whatever? Did you have any kind of strategy around.
[00:15:56] Beth Esponette: Actually not then, which is surprising because we really have to do that now. And I don’t know how we’re able to manage that with the surveys.
[00:16:04] I think it was a curiosity thing. It was like my business partners and I were starting to get into this and people, we knew didn’t know exactly what we were getting into, but they wanted to learn more. And so it’s kind of a way to see behind the scenes without asking us questions. I think that was one of the incentives for some people, some people just want to express themselves.
[00:16:25] So it’s in a 10 minute survey. It’s that’s free therapy, I guess, for some people. Yeah. And then for the longer conversations, they often, I think about half of them. Weren’t. Compensated, but the other half we said, you know, you’ll be the first on our list when we drop a product and we’ll get you a special discount.
[00:16:45] So there was a little bit of incentive
[00:16:46] James Sowers: there. That’s really cool. And I love the different approach that you took in terms of like, here’s kind of a, an outline, a silhouette of a body, like tell me where it hurts basically. Or like, tell me where you’re feeling points of friction. Like where’s your biggest frustration.
[00:16:57] I think that’s a, a novel approach and that’s not going to work for every product, but I think the point there is to be creative. Yeah. Asking questions that are, what I love about it is it’s interactive. It’s asking them to physically like make a mark somewhere on a page where they’re feeling the pain. I think it’s interesting that it’s like this metaphorical pain, but also it does manifest physically like on your body somewhere, you’re feeling that friction.
[00:17:17] So I think my encouragement, I guess, to a listener there is what kind of creative questions can you ask around your product idea? That get the survey taker or the respondent involved more than just yes, no, a, B, C, D can you relate it back to them somehow? Okay. So you got this inkling of momentum and you’re like, people want this, people are probably willing to pay for this.
[00:17:37] So what’s the next step and actually getting this to market. Cause that’s a long road. It’s like, okay. We had the idea, the idea seems to be valid. How do we physically like create the system? That’s going to turn these things out on demand and get the first pair into somebody’s hands.
[00:17:51] Beth Esponette: Well, fortunately, we had a lot of that product.
[00:17:54] Know how on the team already? And we are believers in getting product out before it’s ready. Not in a fairness kind of way. We’re not in healthcare. We’re not like putting people’s lives on the line, but in a safer way. Yes. We know there are so many early adopters out there, people who are excited about being part of a, a new thing, that if you treat them well from the beginning, you’re going to get a long-term customer.
[00:18:20] I think if you treat people early on, like just kind of a Guinea pig and here’s the first go and it doesn’t work out, you kind of pass on them. You’re not going to build that long-term relationship, but we find our first customer so valuable that we would make multiple pairs for them to learn really first and foremost, but also to gain a really good customer.
[00:18:42] Someone who believed in us in the long run. And that’s not for everyone, not everyone’s going to be willing to try on a few different things, but I think by default, the people that you do capture at the beginning are kind of willing to do that. So the way that we went to market, we happened to be in Hong Kong when we went the very first tomorrow.
[00:18:59] We were starting to develop our genes here in the states. And then we got into a program in Shenzhen, China that brought us over there. And so we decided to launch our first pop-up store in Hong Kong. And it was in this little alleyway. It was actually a pretty cool little. 10 foot by 10 foot room and really tiny.
[00:19:19] We could barely fit our scanner in there and a couple of pairs of jeans and the back had a big mirror on it. So it actually looked like you could fit some people, but really you can only fit two people in there. And Walden, my co-founder one of my co-founders. I was part of, one of the CrossFit. We knew people and CrossFit were often complained about fit of things because they were just, especially in Hong Kong, they were feeling too muscular for the fits around them.
[00:19:45] And so we actually invited the entire CrossFit gym into our popup and we were able to book basically all of the slots with the athletes there. That was a great test or market because naturally they’re just pretty confident in their body. They’re willing to get into spandex and get on a little scanner and try it.
[00:20:03] That was kind of the first go to market was just a little pop-up store. I think we have, I’m forgetting the name of it. The particular like shop that we use to pop up, but it was just an online thing. We booked it for a week and learned a lot just from the interaction, the customer interaction. And that’s something that actually we missed today with our mobile scanning is we’re not in person.
[00:20:27] So there’s so much of that interaction that we don’t get any. And then, so that’s something that I would encourage people is like, can you actually get in front of your customer to begin with? Cause they’ll like tell you more than you want to know. They’ll treat it like a therapy session. Make sure you have time.
[00:20:42] Cause they’re going to sit down and talk to you for awhile. So then once those orders started coming in, I think one challenge for us. We actually didn’t have any of the products in front of the customers. So like today, one of our challenges is we can’t show the customer their exact fit. We can show them here’s someone else in the fit that you’re getting.
[00:21:03] It will look something like this back then. We didn’t even have images of the fits. It was like, you’re going to get something that looks really good on you through, we make it for you. And so they were really taking a leap of faith with that. But then getting beyond that, we were really doing everything ourselves that really helped us to understand where the difficult points would be along the process.
[00:21:25] So we had all the fabrics coming to us in really small batches, batches of hundred yards, like that’s tiny and fabric world, but we were able to just skim off of other orders that other customers are making. So we didn’t have a choice of like, you could choose any fabric or you can develop your own fabric.
[00:21:43] Instead. It was, well, this customer ordered this last week. Do you want to add a hundred yards to it? Cause we’re doing a run. And so we said, yeah, that’s fine. So that’s how we started with the fabric. So you need fabric, you need trims, you need a way to cut the fabric and then a way to stitch together the product and then labels.
[00:22:00] So we made that all happen on different days, lining up everything. I think the challenging part is that. For this particular model, every single pattern is different. So you have to lay out the fabric and cut one layer at a time in the fashion world. That’s a little crazy. So at the time I was just taking fabrics and laying them down in a, in a laser cutter that we had access to.
[00:22:23] It was like an, a machine shop. It worked like we got the job done, but now use like bigger CNC cutters at our factories and they make it happen very efficiently. So I think by doing it ourselves and having just a limited number of orders to start, it was sort of like a product launch. It was very soft and it was with people we knew for the most part.
[00:22:45] And it was limited. Like we limited it to like a hundred people from that CrossFit gym. So then we could learn where the challenges would be to start. It worked really well.
[00:22:54] James Sowers: So a couple of interesting points that you made in there. So when this is your first product, which, you know, might not be everybody’s situation here, but even if you’re launching a new product, maybe one of the lessons I take away from this is to kind of start slow and do small batches first, because there’s an aspect of that that is about exclusivity and, and being in the know right.
[00:23:13] And peeking behind the curtain and working directly with the founders. And they’re literally sitting there cutting your jeans for you in front of you, or at least taking the measurements. That can really build some relationship between you and your earliest customers. And then they go tell their friends and then their friends tell their friends.
[00:23:27] And so you don’t have to do this big audacious product launch to thousands of people, and you don’t have to have a massive list to be a success. You just have to have patients. Right. So I took that and then I also took the scrappiness. Somebody is already placing an order for thousands of yards of denim.
[00:23:42] Like, can I get a hundred, you know, just toss it onto the ship, right, right. With their stuff. And just put it in a tiny box on top of their pallet. So, yeah, I think that’s something that somebody can take away is like, again, you don’t have to come out of the gates firing, you can do a small batch with small numbers of materials and even customers and interactions.
[00:24:00] But especially if you’re not a hundred percent confident in the product in its current form, iteration is key and you’ll get it right over time. But if you wait until you have it right, you might miss the opportunity. If you get it out there and some kind of version, that seems good enough, you get the feedback you do better next time.
[00:24:16] And you just keep evolving that. Yeah,
[00:24:19] Beth Esponette: I believe strongly in that. And I think that now, if you’re starting a company or you’re launching a product and you don’t have the financial backing to dive into it, doing a made to order kind of model really makes a lot of sense. You have, you’ve no costs upfront.
[00:24:35] It’s someone pays you and then you go do the thing with the money they gave you. It’s a very obvious, like financially, it makes a lot of sense. So yeah, we feel very strongly about that. And it’s exciting to see a lot of other companies getting behind the,
[00:24:50] James Sowers: yeah. That was going to be one of my questions for you is funding and, you know, without getting too personal share as much, or as little as you like, but.
[00:24:55] To get any brand off the ground to get any new product out into the market. It does take some financing upfront. So I was curious, this feels like a product that’s tailor made for like an Indiegogo or Kickstarter or whatever. But as far as I know, you guys didn’t do that, but maybe you did. I don’t know.
[00:25:08] So how did you finance that initial kind of product run? Even if it was small batch and then similarly, what was the timeline between. Kind of you did the survey, you feel like this is a thing you decided to work on it. And maybe that pop-up shop. I know dates are kind of hard and messy, but somewhere in there, a rough timeline and a rough estimate for financing to get this thing off the ground and out into the world for the first baby.
[00:25:29] Beth Esponette: Yeah. Okay. So what happened? We’ve been very lucky in that our, our long-term business model is around using technology to build on demand. And so we have both software and hardware components of what we do, and we’ve been able to get. Not only government funding. So funding from the national science foundation, because they see the potential to bring manufacturing back to the U S with what we do, but also funding from venture capital.
[00:25:56] So this is a very unique situation for retail typically, I think, well, there are plenty of DTC brands out there have done this, but really we’ve been able to fund this with the story and the potential from our technology. Our very first. Product launch in the soft launch, we were able to fund with. A few, I think a thousand, $2,000 because of, yeah, it was a very, very small thing.
[00:26:23] You just rented the store for a week. We didn’t have to put any money behind the products and then you pay for the scanner as well. So it was that plus you’re not paying, we weren’t paying ourselves that much, so there’s not a lot there. And then the timing we had, I think probably four months in between.
[00:26:43] The research and learning what product category we go after until we launched. And within that four months, we continue to develop our fit technology. So there are plenty of softwares out there within the fashion world that we’ll take measurements and apply them to patterns. Since you can create like a tailored fit that.
[00:27:04] But we wanted to do it from a 3d perspective and really account for the full body because everyone’s body is unique. And by taking 10, 15 measurements, you’re not accounting for the full form. We really wanted to build around 3d. So we use people’s OBJ files, like a point cloud or someone 30,000 points.
[00:27:24] And then our software we developed within that time. Well, we developed earlier and then we catered it a little bit more to that product category within that time. And we tested it on, you know, maybe 20 people. Like we didn’t do a crazy amount of testing before we then launched for this.
[00:27:43] James Sowers: Yeah, that’s really insightful.
[00:27:44] And so when I think about your system, I’ve never used it. I’m not a customer yet. I’ll probably have to check them out after this because I don’t really have fit issues, but I’m just curious about how the process works. But when I first read and did some research on your process, I pictured like, have you ever seen just a basic world map?
[00:27:59] And then they show you right next to that. Like what it actually looks like when you account for the curvature of the globe. And, you know, Russia is like way bigger than it is even depicted on a normal map. Some of these countries are a lot smaller than you thought, and some are a lot bigger and some are really far apart when you thought they were close together.
[00:28:12] Like, what you see in school is not really reflection of reality when you account for the three dimensions instead of just like a flat map. So that’s kind of how I thought about it in terms of genes. It’s like, okay, sure. Maybe traditional methods would give you kind of the front view or the back view.
[00:28:25] But when you start to wrap that around a person, those measurements look a lot different. And so maybe I’m, mis-characterizing how the technology works, but that’s the way that I understand is that. Yes.
[00:28:34] Beth Esponette: That’s actually really insightful. Yeah. We have computational geometry tests on our team to think about things like that, like flattening, which is kind of what you’re talking about.
[00:28:43] You’re taking a form and you’re flattening it. It’s a huge mathematical problem. And it’s something that is very related to what we work on.
[00:28:51] James Sowers: Yeah. Especially when that form changes five or 10 pounds over Thanksgiving, or, you know, you’ve got to account for some of that. You got to have some stretch in there.
[00:28:56] Right? Awesome. So let me think about this. So you went and you did that soft launch into the pop-up store. I’m curious, what information can you give us about where the company’s at today? And maybe that’s like a number, like we print this many jeans a month where we did one tiny pop-up shop where we did 20 orders.
[00:29:11] Right. But now we’re doing 20 orders a week or whatever. Like, is there any kind of context between that point of your history and where you’re at today to let people know? Like maybe what the timeline for that growth.
[00:29:23] Beth Esponette: Yeah, absolutely. So we were starting with, you know, a couple of pants, probably five to 10 a week to start, and now we’re closer to a hundred.
[00:29:34] And so, yeah, we are making strides. It’s not a crazy, crazy amount more, but also we haven’t put a lot of time into our, our marketing. And that’s, I think one of the question marks, I think still in my mind is I’m not a marketer. I’m not good at it. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ve been attempting to learn it over the past year or so.
[00:29:55] And it’s hard and you really need someone who knows what they’re doing. I think that is our next. Big push is to build out a team of people who actually are at least a small team of people who actually have done this and, and understand
[00:30:09] James Sowers: what to do. That’s insightful because I think generally in e-commerce I think you kind of have two big buckets.
[00:30:14] There’s like the marketer that went out, looking for a product and found one and is just trying to like promote it. And then you have the product person who is a technical expert, scientists, something. And they have the product now, but they don’t necessarily know how to get in front of the right people or get it into their hands.
[00:30:30] So that’s an astute observation on kind of, self-diagnosing like where you may fall on that spectrum, but I’m curious. So you did something, right? You did something to go from five or 10 pairs a week to a hundred pairs a week or whatever. What kind of activities did you engage in to kind of get this product out into the world and make people aware that this exists and that you’re doing something new and novel that also has a positive impact for the.
[00:30:51] Beth Esponette: Yeah, good question. So we’ve not done ads. We’d like to like kick those into motion next year and hopefully they’ll work for us, but we’ve had a lot of luck from, like you mentioned earlier, press so popular science last year, we received times best invention or word that was another big push for us. That was on the.
[00:31:14] Also on jeans, but, um, the standalone scanner that you would find in store, and then this popular science one was specifically looking at mobile scanning and the gene so related, but just different methods of scanning. So those have been really exciting for us. We also just are able to get pressed by reaching out to journalists.
[00:31:34] I think it’s a new story. It’s a new way of looking at things and we found that’s what. Are looking for, they need stories. They need things to talk about. Those are the two things that have worked really well. Also referrals, trying to get people to bring their friends. Like, especially when we were in store, it was a very like social experiences.
[00:31:53] Like someone had tried it and then they want to bring their friends in. And you would come in with your friend and you guys, they would both get coffee and you chat about genes and try to figure out which ones are the best fit and design their genes together. So that was a lot of fun. And that’s something that we haven’t figured out yet for this remote experience, which is so new to us.
[00:32:10] Like how do you hold someone’s hand and also get them excited about genes while they’re alone. And they can’t see any of the products. They can’t feel the fabrics. And that’s something that we’re exploring over the next few months. So, yeah, those two things, referrals and CRAs have worked really well for us.
[00:32:26] And we’re hoping that the more traditional methods will, will help us in the next year.
[00:32:32] James Sowers: Yeah, I’m sure they will because I think it sells itself. It’s a great story. It’s like, do you hate your jeans or you’re frustrated with your genes? Here’s a better way. And oh, by the way, it also benefits the environment.
[00:32:43] Oh, by the way, it’s also more inclusive in terms of fitting all sizes and shapes. And so I can see why journalists are picking. Free marketing, vice. I would try to stand up an influencer marketing campaign for this because I can just imagine all of the folks on Instagram or the bloggers that would love to kind of record a video of this at home, going to fit experience, say, Hey guys, I’m going to order some jeans right now on this live stream.
[00:33:05] And I’ll show you how it works and whip up the phone. And it’s just cool. Right? It’s got this futuristic element to it. People want to be a part of something that feels like. Assuming it works well, which I have no reason to believe it does not. Then it does feel like kind of the value proposition is solved, which is what a lot of companies struggle with.
[00:33:20] It’s just about adding channels responsibly so that you don’t kind of overextend yourself. I’m curious. Did you launch with a men’s and a women’s line simultaneously? Or did you start with one and then add the other. Yeah, we
[00:33:32] Beth Esponette: started them simultaneously. And this next year, we’re really excited to go unisex.
[00:33:36] We’re just going to have here’s the style. It just works.
[00:33:40] James Sowers: So where that question came from is if you were to launch another product in this next year, in 2021, maybe you’ve got one in the pipeline and we don’t necessarily have to spoil it. But if you were to have to do this again and layer another product on top of this, maybe a Jean jacket or something, what did you learn the first time around that would make you, you would do differently and do better the second time.
[00:33:59] Launching a new product and bring it a new product to market. Yeah.
[00:34:02] Beth Esponette: This is something that we’ve been talking about a lot. Like we have very, very classic jeans. Like we got your you’re tight, you’re fitted. Like it’s very standard. They all look great. They work well, but they’re not like trendy or exciting and something that we want to try out this next year.
[00:34:23] Our product drops and do a product dropped every single month. And that’s something that. We are uniquely set up to do. We don’t have to make up a whole bunch of inventory and guess what our customer, I mean, we’ll guess a little bit about what our customer will like, but we’re not going to be putting any money behind it.
[00:34:39] We’ll just, we can do some digital renderings even. So we’ll design it on the computer, put a picture in front of people, they order it and then we make it for them. So, yeah, we’re really excited about. Extending into other types of genes, which I know is not, doesn’t sound that exciting, but other styles that are, that are on trend go a little bit wider than what we are doing right now.
[00:35:00] Um, go into other types of fabrics for pants potentially. We’ll like you mentioned a Jean jacket, so we’re, we’re playing around with a lot of ideas. If listeners have ideas, feel free to send them to us. We’re very, very open to trying new things. But yeah, so basically 12 next year will be what we’re going after.
[00:35:18] James Sowers: That’s awesome. I think that’s so smart. And even if it’s just a limited time offer, you can only get this product during the month of January kind of thing. Um, that’d be cool, but also you could almost do like a, a Kickstarter pre-sale and it’s like, Hey, we’re going to launch this one next month. You can go ahead and reserve your pair now, and then you get that funding upfront.
[00:35:34] Not that you need it because your model already solved that problem. But that made me think about the influencer marketing suggestion too. Like you partner with one of those folks I’m lost for a name here, but like I could imagine a pair of. Work pants like carpenter pants sponsored by some kind of home improvement personality or whatever.
[00:35:49] And it’s like, we’re going to do the James sours drop. Right. So that could be kind of cool. I like that. I think that’s a very, a student approach to it. Logistically, is there anything maybe that you’ve learned in terms of like, would you do your customer research differently? Would you do kind of like the big announcement differently for a new product to kind of accelerate that time between.
[00:36:09] Idea to actually releasing it into the world, but I guess maybe you don’t need that because you’re going to do these product drops monthly. So you’ve got the technology set up to do it pretty quickly.
[00:36:18] Beth Esponette: Yeah, but it is a question that I’m not sure of. And so should we have, like I mentioned, bringing on a marketing team, should we have done that a year ago?
[00:36:27] Two years ago? Should we have just raised our money and gone after it more quickly? I don’t know. Potentially. I don’t know if I’ll ever know the answer to that other than I think it could have been a good way to do
[00:36:39] James Sowers: Yeah. Okay, Beth. Well, I think that pretty much covers everything that I wanted to talk about today around product development, product launches.
[00:36:44] I think you dropped a lot of insightful pieces in there and maybe we’ll have to have you come back at the end of next year after you’ve run a few of these monthly drops, because that sounds super interesting and something that folks will definitely take advantage of. So I’m curious to hear how that goes before we let you go.
[00:36:57] Is there anything else that you wanted to share with the audience or maybe just point them to somewhere where they can keep tabs on you and the work that you’re doing at.
[00:37:04] Beth Esponette: Yeah, thanks for asking. So we have an Instagram account that we are basically posting on every day and we have some pretty fun content in there.
[00:37:12] We’re currently trying jeans on lots of different historical figures and even current events. We just put jeans on the monolith. So it’s kind of a kind of silly kind of fun. I really enjoy Instagram, but, um, So, yeah, go follow us on Instagram email@example.com. And if listeners are interested in trying out this experience and seeing what it’s like to get a custom fit, like made to order kind of product, the best way to do it is just go experience it.
[00:37:39] And so please feel free to use the discount code. E-commerce. For 20% off of your order.
[00:37:45] James Sowers: Oh, that’s so generous. And I’m definitely going to check you guys out on Instagram. Cause I’m a bit of a history nerd and I’d love to see like what Abraham Lincoln’s jeans look like. Cause he was super tall and super skinny and he didn’t have bespoke jeans or maybe he did, maybe he had his own tailor because you know, pretty influential figure.
[00:37:59] But yeah, just curious to see if you’ve covered him yet or put them in the queue for me if you don’t mind. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Really appreciate your time and you sharing your story. Like I said, we’ll have to have you back when you’ve run these monthly drops, because I’m curious to hear how they go, but in the meantime, best of luck to you.
[00:38:15] And thanks so much for coming on the show. Thank you so much. Hey everybody, this is James again. And before you go, I just wanted to invite you to join one of the coolest things I get to work on as director of marketing here. It’s called the e-commerce insiders list. And it’s a private version of this podcast feed that gets you access to tons of additional bonus content, like extra interviews, Q and a sessions, website, tear downs, and anything else we can dream up.
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[00:39:02] Like I said, this is one of my favorite things that I get the opportunity to work on because it lets me interact directly with e-commerce founders and leaders. Just like you. If you’re interested, I’d love to see your name pop up in my notifications until then keep an eye out for the next episode of the e-commerce insight show.
[00:39:16] And we’ll talk to you soon.
About the Author
James Sowers is the Director of The Good Ventures. He has more than a decade of experience helping software and ecommerce companies accelerate their growth and improve their customer experience.