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Fashion Dominates IAB’s List of 250 Direct to Consumer Disruptors

Disruptive direct-to-consumer brands distinguish themselves as a “bright spot in the dim outlook for retail,” according to IAB, the digital media trade group highlighting 250 of the most notable DTC startups in a new report.

Fashion innovators comprise the bulk of the second annual IAB 250, with 90 spots total going to now-household names like Stitch Fix (No. 10), Allbirds (No. 50), Untuckit (No. 8) and Rent the Runway (No. 9) in addition to smaller startups including South Africa’s street-minded Thesis (No. 89), southern sweetheart brand Ellie (No. 58) and handbag subscription player Ivory Clasp (No. 41).

Brands offering men’s footwear feature heavily in IAB’s rankings, with Outdoor Voices (No. 2), Huckberry (No. 3) and Taft Clothing (No. 4) taking three of the top four spots.

In recent years men’s fashion has moved into a spotlight traditionally dominated women’s, driving the rise of labels like Paul Evans (No. 10), Jack Erwin (No. 56), Koio collective (No. 63), Nisolo (No. 66) that focus on handcrafting high-quality product that cuts out the middleman. DTC brands disrupting men’s footwear run the gamut from Tecovas (No. 38) and its Western-style boots, the active-meets-street style offered by Plae (No. 37) and the wearable art available through Bucketfeet’s slip-ons (No. 28). New Republic (No. 65), a brand created by CFDA designer Mark McNairy through L.A.-based men’s wear-oriented Five Four Group, offers on-trend smart-looking footwear at accessible prices.

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Subscriptions, on-demand boxes and rental services show their growing—and staying—power based on IAB’s list. In addition to Rent the Runway, Ellie, Dia&Co. (No. 77), Kidbox (No. 32), Bombfell (No. 29) and Rockets of Awesome (No. 59) indicate that people will happily trade the hassle of shopping themselves for the convenience of self-styled experts selecting curated, up-to-date fashion for themselves and their progeny. One third of all 250 brands play in the subscription space, IAB said, “demonstrating that a guaranteed, steady flow of revenue is possible across a range of sectors and products.”

IAB rightly notes the diversity the full 250 reflect. Not only are about a quarter run by women, in contrast to the 5 percent of Fortune 500 brands boasting female leadership, but also close to 100 are based in states outside of the typical New York-and-California startup hubs, including places like Wyoming and Nebraska.

These emerging brands are making big waves, and even more so “through their respective supply chains,” IAB’s SVP of research and measurement Sue Hogan said. Digitally native brands are “driving traditional brands to rapid innovation,” she added.

IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg described the “seismic change in business practices” shaking up the landscape and making the meteoric ascent of these newcomers possible.

“Collectively, the IAB 250 are models of the best practices and trends that are overturning and revolutionizing consumer markets in the U.S,” Rothenberg said. “They are setting the competitive standards by which the world’s largest incumbent brands are beginning to base their strategies and investments.”