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Follow the Money: These Brands Are Ready to Break Out

The world is changing, and nowhere is that more evident than in the fashion filling millennial wardrobes and starring in Gen Z’s viral TikTok videos.

The brands holding court in consumer closets are part of a new lexicon and lingua franca, poised to push aside Victoria’s Secret or Hanes in the common parlance. New-age labels are nipping at the retail establishment’s heels, stealing shelf space, closet share and Silicon Valley’s blessing. With so many upstarts jockeying for dominance, Brooklyn-based The Lead sifted through the landscape to pull out the brands with the fundamentals needed to rise to the top.

The Lead’s Foremost 50 list for 2022 calls out more than four dozen fashion, retail and consumer brands on the cusp of a full-blown, Allbirds-style breakthrough.

“These DTC brands evoke lot of curiosity and a lot of interest for a lot of different reasons,” Noah Gellman, CEO of The Lead, which connects brands, retailers, startups and investors, told Sourcing Journal. “We’ve really focused on venture-backed brands because there are so many Shopify brands and lifestyle brands, and the common person has a lot of trouble deciphering which is which and what is what. To make it onto our list, you have to raise outside capital and you need to have a mandate from a board that says you have to grow 2X, 3X, 4X year over year.”

And growth has been the name of the game for the list’s 50 labels to watch. Rising apparel scaleups landed the biggest share of venture funds, thanks in large part to Foremost 50 alum Vuori’s $400 million raise valuing the California active apparel upstart at $4 billion. Of note, digitally native brands continue to plant their flags in the physical world, with Savage X Fenty (a little too mature to land on the list) one of the most high-profile innovators to make a recent leap from clicks to bricks.

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Like their big sisters in fashion and retail, many of the Foremost 50 worried that more than a year of disruption would ding their supply chains but most have used those lessons to retool their strategies. Naadam, the cashmere-centric New York label, has weathered the supply chain storm better than most.

“Naadam is coming off of a year of nearly triple-digit growth and despite consumer headwinds and supply chain concerns, we are continually seeing our community shop and support the broader initiative to make sustainability both accessible and attractive,” CEO Matt Scanlan said.  “We are investing heavily in category expansion and distribution diversification, rolling out retail in markets both domestically and abroad.”

Though Andie cut its teeth making a better women’s bathing suit, founding CEO Melanie Travis “always knew” the New York company “would be a global brand that would serve women beyond swim.”

“As we grow as a company and expand into new categories, we are still grateful every day to serve our incredible customers,” said Travis, referencing the company’s inclusive intimates launch last year, Demi Moore-led summer swim campaign and $18.5 million December Series B that attracted Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners. “We are thrilled to be recognized on The Foremost 50 list again and honored to be a part of The Lead’s community of outstanding brands.”

Mack Weldon has disrupted the close-to-skin category on the men’s side of the aisle. “As we look forward to our 10 year anniversary this summer, there is so much to be thankful for—loyal customers, dedicated team members, and of course, committed industry partners like The Lead,” founding CEO Brian Berger said. “When we launched in summer of 2012, our mission was reinventing men’s basics—now our customers have embraced the Daily Wear System and Mack Weldon’s role as multi-category, omnichannel, menswear brand.”

From Naadam and Mack Weldon to Andie Swim and Oros, The Lead's Foremost 50 list names promising high-growth DTC fashion and retail brands.
Oros is innovating in outerwear with products like the Gemini jacket. Courtesy

Brands in the home category include gardening startup Back to the Roots, wellness-focused Bearaby, “clean” cleaning products maker Blueland, furniture innovator Floyd, customizable furniture imprint Interior Define, kitchen pots-and-pans newbie Made In, home goods platform Pattern Brands, bedroom-minded Resident Home, subscription-based lawn-care challenger Sunday, artisan-powered home goods label The Citizenry, and plants-by-mail ingenue The Sill.

On the accessories front, Advene’s bags riff on “conscientious craftsmanship,” while Jaxxon offers made-in-Italy men’s jewelry, and Pair treads in Warby Parker’s footsteps with a new take on the eyeglass-buying experience. Rowan and Studs each take on the staid ear-piercing industry, and With Clarity lets consumers try on engagement and wedding rings at home.

Apparel labels make up the lion’s share of the Foremost 50. Birdy Grey challenges Bhldn with a new spin on bridesmaids dresses and Cuts Clothing delivers high-quality, minimal men’s wear. Fair Harbor turns recycled plastic bottles into eco-friendlier beachwear, Meghan Markle-approved Hatch modernizes maternity wear, and Madhappy’s savvy take on streetwear has already garnered LVMH’s vote.

Oros has leveraged its home base in Portland, Ore. to attract a brain trust creating next-gen outerwear based on NASA-inspired innovation. Jessica Alba’s husband Cash Warren co-founded Pair of Thieves to make better men’s basics. Pangaia has been uber busy refining material-science-based fashion, popping up in Nordstrom, turning hemp and nettle into denim, launching sustainable activewear and developing good-for-the-planet dyes, harnessing the power of air pollution, and working up an appetite for plants and fruits. Parade puts a cheeky spin on sustainably soft skivvies while Quince made its name on luxury-quality garments at less-than-luxury prices.

Rowing Blazers garnered considerable attention creating iconic Princess Diana looks and serving up made-for-the-moment preppy style. Texas boot brand Tecovas’ $56 million raise last month signals blue skies ahead for Western’s hold on fashion, while Thursday Boot Company made its name on high-quality leather footwear. Ten Thousand, meanwhile, is among the latest entrants to reimagine workout gear for men.

Food and drink brands on the Foremost 50 include canned wine startup Bev, low-carb cereal label Magic Spoon, and health-oriented budding food empire The Naked Market. Catch Co., the list’s sole hobby brand, caters to the “modern angler.” Beauty, fragrance, wellness and personal care brands on the list include the Glow Recipe skincare label, men’s skin products maker Hawthorne, Heyday’s one-stop skincare shop, Bobbi Brown-founded Jones Road and its “clean” makeup essentials, K18 and its hair-loss-reversing products, Maelys’ lifting and firming bodycare products, Maude, a sexual wellness brand, Nutrafol, a hair supplement startup, Quip, a toothbrush maker and oral care challenger, Ritual, a modern supplement maker, and Sakara Life, an organic meals provider.

Gellman expects future-minded retailers and strategic acquirers will pay close attention to the Foremost 50. “The opportunity for disruption in fashion is very big,” he said.