Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Leslie Voorhees Means, co-founder and CEO of custom wedding dress startup Anomalie, explains how fashion could make mass customization a reality and why the industry needs more engineers.
Name: Leslie Voorhees Means
Title: co-founder and CEO
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
I think the apparel industry can learn a lot from electronics manufacturing. Most people are surprised to learn that a complex product like the iPhone is made almost entirely by hand—i.e., each chip is placed into the phone by tweezers, each screw is turned by a person, the back of the phone is sanded by hand.
Thinking about an Apple factory, where such complex processes are broken down into finite steps, I have hope that mass fashion can become more customized. As long as “custom” inputs are broken down into finite steps in the factory, mass customization is possible.
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
I love switching my style regularly and gravitate towards companies that can make personal recommendations and are constantly changing inventory like Stitch Fix, Rent the Runway and Zara.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
I think garment companies that will dominate customer loyalty will be led by engineers and supply chain experts. This is certainly true when I think about brands that have my loyalty; most are companies that allow me to customize products to my personal style and/or use data on my preferences to make personal recommendations. My closet is full of basics from Stitch Fix personally curated based on my preferences, several Rent the Runway items depending on my mood, and more Nike shoes than I’d want to admit, many designed using the NikeID personalization feature.
What’s your typical uniform?
I love changing what I’m wearing depending on the schedule for that day and my mood, which is why I am a customer to Rent the Runway. I use their Unlimited feature for new styles. My basic “uniform” when I am at the factory is jeans and a sweater from Uniqlo and Nike high tops.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
I think we are in a golden era of fashion right now because merchandising is being democratized through tools that either recommend tailored styles or let customers seamlessly design items themselves. It is crazy to me that for so long, fashion options were dictated by merchandisers sitting in a conference room in New York. A huge shift in fashion is that merchandising is being put in the customer’s hands.
Who’s your style icon?
Olivia Palermo and Emma Roberts’ character in “Scream Queens.”
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
Embracing a remote-first engineering team, which has allowed us to hire product-focused engineers throughout the U.S. and Canada. There’s so much talk about fashion brands building on Shopify and other no-code solutions, but the largest and most lasting e-commerce companies have tech at the center of their strategy and do it in-house. Our challenge is making designing a highly custom dress as seamless and predictable as ordering an item online, and one of the things I’m proudest of at Anomalie is the team of business-focussed engineers we are empowering to accomplish this.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
Our San Francisco office is now fully remote and we have an office in Scottsdale, Ariz. We’re a casual and highly collaborative team that truly enjoys working with brides to create their perfect fit dream wedding dresses.
What can companies learn from COVID-19?
Decisiveness is crucial. An investor at a top VC firm told me that great companies are those who move decisively to recognize reality and make tough decisions that recognized reality—communicating with customers clearly, making supply chain pivots, adjusting costs quickly and communicating new realities to employees.
Find opportunity and optimism in chaos. This year has obviously been challenging and horrific in so many ways, but in many ways it has been our team’s finest hour. We have customers—brides—who are facing a lot of anxiety right now with uncertain wedding dates and store closures. Anomalie’s model, which allows brides to design a dress from home, can bring joy to brides during this time, and our team has leaned into that. We also realized early on that our supply chains were thankfully unaffected by COVID, so we were able to offer a delivery guarantee, which brought even more certainty to brides during a very uncertain moment.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
Women’s fit. With the technology and sizing data our world has access to, it’s crazy to me that we’re still living in a world where we’re expecting women to fit into sizes versus customizing clothing to fit our bodies.
What keeps you up at night?
How do we continue to earn the trust of brides to create such an important garment without them seeing it first?
There are so many benefits to ordering a wedding dress remotely. Anomalie offers brides almost unlimited inventory, perfect sizing, more transparent pricing, and better service than stores with limited styles and inventory. Our guiding question is: how can we continue earning the bride’s trust?
What makes you most optimistic?
I’m optimistic in our highly trained team solving for women’s fit in fashion. With the world’s largest selection of wedding dresses, we’re staying focused on data science, engineering, women’s fit, production and supply chain operations, leveraging our team of technical leaders in retail, e-commerce and fashion to revolutionize the made-to-order fashion experience.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction/service:
Our DressBuilder is a digital resource for brides of all sizes (00-30+) and shapes to create and see a sketch of their custom dress from a mind-blowing 4 billion dress style options. This is the most robust consumer customization engine in any fashion category. Since launch, our DressBuilder has surveyed over 1 million brides, and more than 1,500 people a day are completing the quiz and signing up for a custom sketch. Because of our sizing data and work around measurements, Anomalie brides have 50 percent fewer dress alterations, so we recently announced our FitCommit guarantee, which pledges to cover the cost of alterations if they exceed $499.