Parents across the country have become full-time caregivers and teachers over the past few months. And as their children quickly outgrow the wardrobes that once fit at the beginning of the year, they’re having to find innovative ways to keep them clothed, too.
While many have taken to online shopping as a boredom-busting pastime, parents are contending with a genuine need to replace too-small shirts and pants. Much of retail still is in a state of lockdown, so the web has become mom or dad’s only hope.
As the pandemic was still ramping up its pernicious spread across the globe, Brooklyn-based children’s subscription box startup Everlasting Wardrobe was also preparing for its debut.
In late January, the company launched a sophisticated rental platform for children’s clothing, with offerings for kids ages 6 months to 12 years. With 142 official brand partners, the company also acquires inventory through boutique liquidations and showrooms.
“We have a little over 300 brands on the platform that renters can rent, and about 100,000 pieces available now,” Joshua Luft, the company’s CEO and co-founder, told Sourcing Journal.
The business, which has been about three years in the making, launched during an unprecedented time for retail. Luft admitted that in February, Everlasting Wardrobe rethought its scheduled marketing campaigns, which he was counting on to help introduce the public to the fledgling company.
“We thought, ‘People have a lot more on their minds right now than worrying about kids’ clothes,’” he said.
But as the weeks wore on, the company received feedback from its fleet of beta testers, who told the team that the service had been invaluable during a time when they couldn’t leave their homes. With a few quick clicks, parents could outfit their kids for the next month, without ever getting off the couch.
While Luft said the company faced many initial hurdles in trying to get buy-in from children’s clothing brands, the current scenario has proven the concept more than anyone could have envisioned.
“In the beginning when we pitched what we do and how we were different, we’d get hung up on,” he said. “Brands didn’t want to give away free inventory.”
But Luft was eventually able to articulate the benefits of Everlasting Wardrobe from a brand perspective, and that changed the game.
The company aggregates and shares its consumer data with its partners—a differentiating element from many popular services in the space. “A lot of e-commerce companies and rental boxes keep the data for themselves, but we give brands access,” he said.
The platform’s “recommendation engine” relies on a combination of data from profiles that parents fill out for their kids, and historical feedback.
Everlasting Wardrobe equates different types of clothing with music genres, and those categories provide an organizing principle for parents, Luft said. “Indie-Folk is all organic and sustainably made, Hip-Hop is streetwear, Funk is wild prints and colors,” he said by way of example.
The clothing recommendation algorithm suggests 40-50 pieces that might fit a parent’s preferences, but it’s up to the stylists to make a final call. “If a parent says their kid loves trucks or certain prints, we try to take that into account and give them what they’re looking for,” he said.
The company also uses historical and predictive weather data to optimize selections for immediate wear, he said.
When all is said and done, parents can rank each piece of clothing they received on fit, style and a host of other criteria. They can also provide free-form commentary on the products they received.
“For a lot of brands, they don’t have a feedback loop to know how things are going,” he said. “Shoppers will only communicate with you on social if they absolutely love it and they’re an evangelist, or they hate it and they had a negative experience.”
Everlasting Wardrobe’s data set has proven so helpful to brands that some are actually testing future-season prototypes through the platform before taking them to production. Nuanced details, like the specific colors and prints that perform best with kids, are invaluable, Luft said.
“They can save themselves the cost of a bad SKU” through this built-in product testing process, he said.
With each Everlasting Wardrobe box, parents are welcoming a new suite of brands into their homes for the next month, Luft said. Brands should look at this as an opportunity to get out in front of kids and parents for both feedback and exposure.
“A 30-day period is a long enough period to have a real experience with a brand,” Luft said. “Parents might say, ‘My kid is fighting me to take this piece off at the end of the day,’” and that experience underscores their willingness to spend future dollars with favored brands.
The platform has also served to highlight international labels from Europe and Asia that might not otherwise have a captive U.S.-based audience. Mainio, a small, whimsical kids’ label from Finland, has become one of Everlasting Wardrobe’s fan favorites.
Brands are also encouraged to provide exclusive discounts to subscribers, allowing them to track the impact of the platform against overall brand performance.
In the age of the COVID-19 retail slump, any tools to optimize success are welcome. Luft said some children’s brands whose retail partners have canceled orders are opting to divert their inventory to the service as a way to liquidate. While it may not be an ideal outcome for them this year, he said, it could also help shoppers get to know their products and spur future sales.
When asked whether the spread of a deadly contagion has skeeved out any germ-conscious parents, Luft said the company’s business model has actually been a boon to business.
“We have a service here in New York in the Financial District that uses a eucalyptus-oil based detergent that has been phenomenal at getting stains out,” he said. As long as the clothes show up clean and ready for wear, parents are happy. A three-person team packs all orders, and the trio tries to minimize further contact with the clothes to any degree possible.
“Kids are definitely messy, but over a four-week period, only so much damage can be done to the clothing,” he said. “Everything we’ve sent to our eco-friendly cleaning partner has come back pristine, and parents often send things back pretty clean to begin with.”
Inevitably, though, kids’ clothes will reach the end of their life cycle after regular wear and tear, and they are donated to various charitable organizations. Everlasting Wardrobe is particular about the garments it chooses to put into rotation, Luft said, with less than 1 percent of its offerings being dry-clean only and less than 5 percent requiring line drying.
“It helps parents, and helps us keep the clothing in top-quality condition,” he said.
The company’s goal is to provide shoppers with access to high-quality clothing from brands they may not have heard of before, he said. That means no fast fashion.
“Instead, we try to highlight and focus on organic, sustainable, ethically made brands,” he said, adding, “We’re still learning as we go.”
The company’s brand glossary contains facts about each label, and Luft hopes to add sustainability scores in the future, along with a host of other features to optimize the program’s performance.
“We’re in this for the long haul and there’s a lot of value add for brands,” he said. “We’re like an experiential marketing and a feedback collection platform in one.”