There’s more to direct-to-consumer than a snazzy website and a deep digital marketing budget.
Successful direct-to-consumer denim brands Mott & Bow and Warp + Weft understand it takes foresight, an astute eye for fabrics, nimbleness and effective communication to sell jeans via digital-only channels.
However, the concept of direct-to-consumer has snowballed into stories about “cutting out the middle man” and size inclusivity, overlooking the fact that the digital native companies are also rolling out innovative, consumer-friendly ways to make jeans shopping more convenient.
With reputable brands like Warby Parker doing a lot of the ground work to educate consumers about the benefits of shopping direct-to-consumer brands, Mott & Bow hit the ground running in 2014 with men’s premium denim, followed by women’s in 2016, for under $128.
Direct-to-consumer was an easy match for Mott & Bow founder and Rivet 50 honoree Alejandro Chahin, who gained a deep understanding on what goes into a pair of premium jean—and the markup that historically follows—at his family’s denim manufacturing facility in Honduras. The same family-owned operation controls Mott & Bow’s entire manufacturing process and as a vertically-integrated company, it can ensure consistent, premium quality products and better pricing for clients.
Today, men’s represent 50 percent of Mott & Bow’s sales.
“Our men’s business was strong from the beginning because our founder found a problem in his own life—premium quality jean for fair price,” said Sara Sheehy, Mott & Bow communications director. “Couple that with a focus on comfort, quality and convenience and it is a message that will always appeal to our customer.”
For DL1961 creative director Sarah Ahmed, it was her long lineage in denim that informed the fabric and design decisions for Warp + Weft, the direct-to-consumer men’s and women’s line of size inclusive denim she launched in 2017. The jeans, which retail for $100 or less, are produced in her family’s energy efficient, fully-integrated manufacturing facility in Pakistan—the same place where pricier jeans are made.
Warp + Weft launched touting a size range from 00-24 for women and 28-40 for men—notable news that took on a life of its own.
“The truth is, we started the business with a size inclusive message and that received a ton of press from women’s publications,” Ahmed said. “So it was interesting that 40 percent of our business was coming from men’s.”
Coverage from publications like Business Insider and Forbes helped put Warp + Weft in front of time-crunched men.
“The idea of a perfect fitting jean that requires no tailoring and is comfortable to wear resonated with men,” Ahmed said. “And now men’s is most exiting area of the business. Comfort, technology and easy accessibility speaks to [men] in a big way.”
The gift of time
A premium product for an accessible price is enough to catch anyone’s attention, but direct-to-consumer brands have stepped up to ensure consumers can make the best purchasing decision.
More than the price benefits associated with shopping direct-to-consumer, Sheehy says men turn to Mott & Bow for the brand’s home try-on program. “Men don’t like shopping. They don’t like going to mall. Shopping online feels more natural,” she said.
The program allows customers to choose a second waist size, keep the one they like and send back the second pair for free with a pre-paid label. The service has been popular with everyone, Sheehy noted, but especially with men who might be hesitant to shop online because they don’t know their size.
Warp + Weft is fine-tuning its communication with its male clientele through customized email and social media messages. Additionally, the brand is introducing a tech platform aimed to offer men a more personalized experience. The brand now allows returning customers with a profile to make purchases via text. Mott & Bow will ship the purchase same-day.
“If you can make the shopping experience easier for men, they will commit to you,” Ahmed said.
Consistency is key to keeping any consumers, but the trait is especially important for brands without a physical retail presence.
For Warp + Weft, guiding consumers to the right fit begins with transparent yet simple communication. The brand offers four fits—skinny, slim, straight and jogger—and four fabrics, each with unique characteristics like soft stretch and recovery. Consumers get to know the fabrics, Ahmed says, which simplifies repeat purchases and eliminates returns. In fact, she said the company’s return rate is under 10 percent across the board.
“We really try to help [customers] understand what they are buying—fabrics and fits,” she said. “And as a vertically integrated company, we have regular fit testing which give us a sense of how one size will fit different body types.”
Many of Mott & Bow’s original best-selling denim is still in the collection—a testament, Sheehy says, to Chahin’s ability to pick the right fabric and the brand’s focus on classic seasonless designs.
“We have our evergreen products and they were intended to be evergreen,” Sheehy said. “If we believe in a fabric or jean, it stays.”
Adding performance to men’s denim is proving to be a win-win for Mott & Bow and its customers. “One thing that we specialize in, and know that all guys want, is comfort,” Sheehy said. “And guys love to try new technology.”
Jeans with a tech element, be it four-way stretch for 360-degree movement, or a left-hand weave jean with a soft hand feel, connect with men. “That’s the difference between men and women,” Sheehy added. “Women are more concerned with aesthetic. For men, comfort is king.”
Keep it simple
The fact that direct-to-consumer denim brands are not itching to rewrite the fashion playbook allows them to invest and focus on building men’s items with lasting power.
In the past two years, Mott & Bow has expanded into long- and short-sleeve T-shirts, denim button-down shirts, oxford shirts and cashmere. And Sheehy says the brand is plotting to launch into more product categories in 2019.
“We’re growing a lot this year and searching for great new fabrics for our jeans,, but we will never deviate from what we’ve always done well which is quality for a fair price,” she said.
From denim to chinos and corduroy trousers, Ahmed says she envisions Warp + Weft as the foundation for men who work in smart casual environments. “[The male customer] understands what fits, which jeans look classic and clean and what suits sneaker culture,” she said.
And for Ahmed, 2019 is an exciting time to be investing in men’s fashion.
“[Men] are discovering brands and sharing that information to other men, making empowered fashion decisions,” she said. “I love that that’s where our momentum came from, not because their girlfriend was wearing it, but because they found Warp + Weft and liked it.”