Count them as the new, small and swift — but don’t count them out.
Warby Parker, Bonobos and Rent the Runway paved the way for a new generation of digital native brands that are pushing the fashion market forward from the fringes. They’re starting to grab some serious market share and are set to continue to help reshape the industry in 2019.
The Traub consultancy calls them the “New Davids” and for three years has charted their progress as they square off with the Goliaths of the establishment. (The dynamic has shifted more recently, though, with the big companies careful to learn a trick or two from the new comers and the digital natives learning the lessons of their forbearers and, for instance, opening stores).
In its latest tally, Traub counted more than 350 brands that were “founded, launched and nurtured online.” They reach across categories and consumer groups — from Adore Me in underwear and Knot Standard in custom suiting to Universal Standard in women’s wear and BaubleBar in accessories and well beyond that across wellness, home, fast fashion, sleepwear and more.
While it’s not clear just how much business they represent overall, Traub estimated that 2017’s crop of 200 Davids logged collective sales of about $2 billion. Given that only a dozen or so brands went out of business between the 2017 and 2018 tallies and 150 new brands were added, the group’s market share is only going higher.
While each brand is chasing its own star, there are some broad similarities across most of the players that are significant.
• The digital natives are mostly direct-to-consumer plays looking to cut out the middleman of the wholesaler and pass along that cost savings to shoppers.
• They are in many cases funded by venture money or other institutional investors who are looking to fuel growth and fast.
• Millennial-led and online savvy, many of the new names are speaking to consumers in new ways, adopting a very casual tone and enthusing a start-up vibe that can foster new kinds of relationships between brand and shopper.
• To stand out, they are oftentimes super focused, starting with a hook that lets them specialize in one area and easily communicate their message.
Take La Ligne, which wears its aesthetic proudly.
“Hi, We’re La Linge. We believe in the universal appeal of the stripe — always classic, forever chic,” explains the company on its web site.
It offers tees, sweaters, accessories, bottoms, dresses and outwear all with stripes.
Molly Howard, chief executive officer and cofounder of La Ligne, said the next generation is feeling its way forward together.
“There’s such a reputation of fashion being cutthroat and we have felt the opposite,” Howard said. “We have been so welcomed by our peers” in the digital native community.
“These small brands are working together,” she said. “And together, we can have enough power to be a big brand.”
The digital natives are already a force to be reckoned with and their influence is growing.