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Customer Loyalty is Paying $300 in Shipping for $600 Pants

“All you have to do is have breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel to see that our customer exists.”

That’s 11 Honoré CEO Patrick Horning’s response to the many naysayers who told him prior to launching the plus-size luxury apparel direct-to-consumer startup two years ago that women of a certain size don’t purchase high-end fashion.

But after spending a decade in the industry, “paying attention” to the plus-size conversation, and engaging in a transformative project with high-end Italian plus-size designer Marina Rinaldi in the spring of 2016, Horning knew there was an opportunity to offer coveted designer collections in an “extended” size range of 12-20 to shoppers long ignored by famous labels or forced to settle for the underwhelming department store experience.

In contrast to the many founders who launch companies after crunching the numbers to uncover a lucrative gap in the market, there simply wasn’t much, if any, data around the full-figured customer—because brands and retailers hadn’t banded together to serve shoppers whose dress tags bore certain numbers, Horning said at the Luxury Interactive conference in New York City last week.

“For me it was more about intuition and wanting to be on the right side of the conversation,” he added. “Obviously we were able to reverse engineer on certain data points. Our company was disruptive in that we’re creating a market for the very first time that never existed before.”

Skim 11 Honoré’s e-commerce site and you’ll find the editorial imagery and styling that you’d expect of any luxury purveyor. Wares range from $2,550 blood red Sally LaPointe sequin dresses and a $3,140 emerald green Maria Kah gown to a 3.1 Phillip Lim oversized trench coat for $1,245 and an embroidered chenille sweater from Naeem Khan bearing a price tag of $2,592. Since launching with sizes 12-20, Horning said the brand has become even more inclusive in response to customer demand.

“We’re now realizing that our No. 1 selling size is 20,” he explained. “I think our sweet spot is going to end up being 14-24, but we are always open to extend our sizes if the brands put us in a position to do so.”

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In many ways, Los Angeles-based 11 Honoré sees itself as a mission-driven company “on the front lines fighting for this woman to have a seat at the table that she’s never had before.” That’s why the startup is continuously pushing designers to expand their size runs, Horning noted. However, having more brands on the website isn’t necessarily better for customers.

“We learned two seasons ago to pause on acquiring for acquisition’s sake, and really prioritizing our acquisition based on what customers want to see from us and not necessarily what a merchant wants to see,” Horning explained. “We need to deliver what she’s looking for and never from this insulated mindset.

“I think brands always struggle with wanting to be self-aware,” he continued, “but you just have to listen to your customer.”

There are myriad reasons why brands are hesitant to create garments outside of their size-run comfort zone, but Horning is quick to point out that quality and consistency tend to be top-of-mind for many labels. “I think it’s just making sure that their internal mechanisms are in a position to do [plus] correctly,” he said, “because at the end of the day, we don’t want to put substandard product in the market. [Designers] want their size 20 to be as good as their size 2.”

So far, just around 5 percent of the brands carried by 11 Honoré have needed meaningful support—beyond a fit model or proprietary sizing chart—to develop plus-size apparel, and shoppers are responding to the well-crafted luxury designers. One customer in Australia forked over $300 in shipping fees just to get a $600 pair of pants, Horning recounted.

Confirming his initial suspicion that the 11 Honoré customer is global, Horning said the company is seeing strong demand in areas like Canada, London, Germany and the Middle East. She also skews older—that is, older than 35—though the company recently integrated with Quadpay, a payments solutions provider that lets typically younger customers divide their purchases into four equal installments charged or debited every two weeks. It’s a savvy recognition of how notoriously credit-shy millennial shoppers are interested in purchasing these days.

Horning said 11 Honoré, which has grown to two dozen employees from the “handful of consultants” at launch, is tailoring its brand messaging to resonate with the values-conscious and eco-aware 18-37-year-old crowd. “Because by investing yourself,” it’s telling shoppers, “you’re investing in the environment.”

Like many digitally native brands, Horning’s startup has dabbled with pop-ups, low-key affairs often arranged in a hotel suite, often with cocktails. The experience of welcoming customers into 11 Honoré’s world IRL is invaluable, the chief executive said.

“The traditional brick-and-mortar retail environment is no longer about selling whatever [product]. It’s about learning, the way you do from your online presence, more about your customer,” Horning explained. “Our average order value triples in real life and our return rate is less than five percent. And her conversion is immediate.

“Those are very different habits than our online customer,” he added.

That 11 Honoré could be benefiting from fashion’s trying, transitional moment is a fact not lost on Horning. “I think whenever things are upside-down, that’s the time to start rethinking. You can’t argue that this isn’t an important customer,” he said. “Some people can figure it out quickly, and for some people it takes a little bit more time. Because of the 11 Honoré platform, we’re making it a priority.”