Hemster, an on-demand tailoring service that enables brands and retailers to offer a more personalized customer experience, help drive in-store conversion and reduce returns, has raised $4 million in post-seed funding. This brings the total funding to date to $5 million.
Bullpen Capital led the funding round, with participation from Hustle Fund, Oyster Ventures, The Fund and FJ Labs. The investment will be used for Hemster to enter new markets nationwide, expand its team and scale its operations.
Allison Lee, founder and chief executive officer of Hemster, founded the company three-and-a-half years ago in San Francisco and has recently relocated headquarters to Brooklyn, N.Y. When she started, she and her cofounder, Bebe Chueh, who’s now an adviser, went to about 50 high-end boutiques in San Francisco and offered alterations to their shoppers in their dressing rooms. They got about 20 stores to sign on, got a high user adoption rate, and found 50 percent of those stores’ shoppers took advantage of the alterations. Hemster launched the service in Los Angeles and New York last year, and will launch in Chicago in the next 30 days.
Today, Diane von Furstenberg, Outdoor Voices, Alo Yoga, Bhldn, Club Monaco, Diesel, Reformation, Karen Millen and Gant are among the brands to offer Hemster’s services to their customers.
“I grew up in South Korea, where shoppers typically find the correct size based on weight first and where tailoring is expected, even with budget options. In the U.S., shoppers very often have to choose from small, medium and large sizes, but those sizes don’t fit almost 90 percent of people,” Lee said. “I founded Hemster to make it simple, convenient and cost-effective for U.S. consumers to solve the fit problem, while giving brands a new, scalable way to provide excellent service to customers. We’re extremely pleased to now be partnering with this group of investors, who will be key to our strategic expansion into new markets.”
Hemster allows retailers and brands to offer customers tailoring services in-store, driving conversion and traffic at both the initial fitting and 48 hours later, when the garment is ready to be picked up. The tailors each specialize in certain kinds of garments and alterations, making them four to five times more productive than is typical in the industry. “The tailors are able to actually produce more output per hour. We have very competitive pricing to the market,” she said.
She works with 12 tailors, and is starting to bring some of them in-house. “We work with a local supply chain. We identify the best tailors for that specific merchandise,” she said. For example, Diane von Furstenberg carries sequined dresses and satin dresses, and those things go to separate tailors. “We’re almost like revitalizing this dying tailoring industry. A lot of tailors don’t understand how to grow their own business. There are about 20,000 tailoring shops nationwide. All of them basically need that backlog of more volume. They don’t have that business savviness to go into these stores and have that big a partnership and we’re the platform for these tailors as well,” said Lee.
Customers shopping online at participating retailers and brands can also schedule a personal in-home fitting with a Hemster tailor or use the company’s patent-pending RulerSticker to mark garments they have purchased and then either drop them off in-store for tailoring or have them picked up from their home. RulerSticker trains people to fit themselves and it has an accuracy rate of 99.4 percent.
Lee said there are 35 brands using the service and she’d like to expand to 200 brands over the next 24 months.
“It’s critical for us, as a retailer, to continue to implement features and services that help enhance our consumer’s lives; the woman who is in charge, busy and needs an unparalleled one-stop experience,” said Sandra Campos, ceo of Diane von Furstenberg. “Hemster offers a perfect solution in offering a custom fit, and we are excited to partner with them at DVF.”
DVF is using Hemster for both its brick-and-mortar and online orders.
Paul Martino, general partner at Bullpen Capital, said, “Bespoke tailoring is one of the world’s oldest professions, but the industry hasn’t seen a radical update in decades. We invested in Hemster because of the unique opportunity they’re giving retailers and brands to connect with their customers. Their ‘perfect fit’ data holds massive potential for traditional retailers, e-commerce direct-to-consumer players and marketplaces alike, who all crave new and personal touchpoints with their customers.”
Among the company’s advisers are Pano Anthos, founder of XRC Labs; Karen Katz, former ceo of Neiman Marcus; Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisors and CNBC retail analyst; Ephraim Luft, former chief product officer at Farfetch; Katie Hunt, cofounder and chief revenue officer of Showfields, and Jenny Fielding, managing director of Techstars.
Based in New York, Hemster has a network of master fitters and stylists. Each Hemster customer’s fit data are collected the first time the customer uses the services and is kept on file, so the customer can shop at any participating retailer and brand and not have to take new measurements each time they purchase a garment. The brand’s web site is hemster.co.
The company currently offers in-home appointments in Manhattan, Brooklyn, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Orange County, Calif. The company offers alterations on bridal, formalwear and basic alterations and repairs.
Bullpen Capital, a venture firm, invests in start-ups between their seed and series A rounds. Since 2010, Bullpen has invested in nearly 80 companies projected to generate over $5 billion in annual revenues. The portfolio includes such companies as FanDuel, Wag, SpotHero, Ipsy and Namely.