It’s been a transformative year for the fashion and beauty industries: Direct-to-consumer brands moved further into traditional-brand territory, streetwear and luxury became increasingly intertwined, and wellness’s impact on beauty became apparent industrywide. At the same time, widespread movements toward authenticity, transparency, sustainability and diversity took shape, forcing strategic updates across departments, at brands across the board.
In our second annual Glossy 50 list, rolling out all week, we’re honoring the industry insiders responsible for driving these important shifts. Below are the honorees representing Fashion’s Digital Front-Runners.
As established fashion brands increasingly set lofty, long-term sustainability goals to win customers’ favor, Kristy Caylor is demonstrating just how far they can take it with For Days, her zero-waste T-shirt company started in June. Set up to be a true circular fashion system, the brand’s members pay an annual fee plus replenishment charges to keep on hand a rotating selection of organic basics, including tanks tops and sweatshirts, in addition to tees. They can, at any time, be returned, recycled and replenished. Since launch, Caylor has moved the brand’s manufacturing from Brooklyn to a factory in LA set up to minimize use of energy, water and raw materials. “We want to completely eliminate closet clutter and clothing waste,” Caylor said, of the brand’s mission. By early next year, she plans to expand the collection — which, so far, has caught on among “cool, mindful” consumers — to include socks, dresses, polos and a range of woven apparel. — Jill Manoff
It was an eventful year for Kirsten Green and Eurie Kim, partners at San Francisco-based early stage venture capital firm Forerunner Ventures: Within their portfolio of buzzy direct-to-consumer brands, several — including Glossier, Hims, Prose and Ritual — saw great company growth and product expansion. In June, they brought on a third partner, VC veteran Brian O’Malley, and four months later, they announced the closing of their fourth fund, to the tune of $360 million.
What lessons have you learned in the past year?
Green: Businesses have been evolving at an increasing pace, raising the bar for companies to remain nimble and drive results. The trends we saw when we first launched six years ago have only accelerated: We’ve had to acknowledge how venture capital has evolved in terms of the more inclusive values, how digital and physical ecosystems develop and [how to prepare for] the changing challenges ahead.
What makes a brand worthy of an investment?
Green: Consumers expect that the information they share with brands will be reflected back with understanding. Companies that are able to take feedback, learn, improve, have values and personality, and evolve just as much as consumers do are those [we’re looking at]. They’re the ones that continue to elicit emotion and longevity.
What specific categories, trends and business models are you focusing on now?
Kim: We see a customer who’s overwhelmed and craving service, and expecting more from the brands they interact with. They aren’t just looking for products, but something to identify with. A few of the areas that have recently piqued our attention include the wellness space, experiences, the services category and loyalty.
What makes a great entrepreneur?
Kim: Great entrepreneurs are building diverse teams with instinct, and remain dedicated to understanding the evolving consumer by being students of trends, preferences, lifestyles and needs. We aim to partner with founders looking to bring new products and services to life and addressing large audiences and unmet needs through innovative new models and distribution strategies. We also look for companies that are challenging norms within their categories, either taking on incumbents with superior offerings and models or leveraging new technologies to meet emerging potential.
What does your latest funding round mean for the business?
Green: It enables us to continue investing with founders in the early stages of company building and to support them as they reach new milestones. Our aim is to leverage original thinking to invest in companies that surprise the world with better offerings and businesses. — Jill Manoff
MVMT Watches, the crowdfunded startup that became a symbol of young brands disrupting fussy old industries, was acquired by Swiss watch group Movado earlier this year, solidifying the brand’s place alongside more traditional legacy watch brands.
Through a strong initial crowdfunding campaign and smart use of new media advertising opportunities like podcasts and Instagram, founders Jake Kassan and Kramer LaPlante have successfully taken MVMT from a plucky startup to multi-million-dollar brand.
What has the journey been like from crowdfunded indie brand to now?
LaPlante: We went from two entrepreneurial dropouts to now running a $100 million business and leading the way in e-commerce. It’s been a huge learning curve for us. We’ve had to learn the ins and outs along the way. We always liked fashion and watches, but we didn’t have a designer background or anything, no hard knowledge. We learned as we went.
How did you grow your company differently than other digital brands?
Kassan: We are entirely self-funded. We have to be profitable. Some of these venture-backed companies can do whatever they want and not think twice about it. They burn cash. We don’t have that option, so we have to be thoughtful and only grow with the cash we have. We still have to compete. We’ve done a good job, but we didn’t have any background in [fashion] early on. We didn’t have a network.
How will the acquisition change your strategy and your brand?
Kassan: We actually haven’t changed our strategy at all. That’s why we wanted [Movado] to acquire us — because the visions we had were already aligned. We still run the business, and they fully support us. We are still fairly new to Movado, but based off the conversations we had beforehand, we had similar ideas about where we want this brand to go. Movado knows watches, and they acquired a watch brand. They were already doing a lot of the things we wanted to do.
What are your plans for the future of MVMT?
LaPlante: At a high level, we are majority direct-to-consumer, but in a few years, you’ll see us in retail. We’ve talked about opening our own stores, and we want to be a multiple category brand: watches, sunglasses, accessories. Our brand is aspirational and influential, and we want to build on the loyalty of our customers. — Danny Parisi
Streetwear’s seediest underbelly has two sneakerheads-turned-entrepreneurs to thank for cleaning up its act.
Stadium Goods founders John McPheters and Jed Stiller saw an opportunity in the massive secondary market — a space worth $1 billion on its own, according to data from SportsOneSource — for a legitimate player that could compile valuable pre-owned sneakers in one place, authenticate them and sell them just like any retailer.
“When we came in, the aftermarket was a dirty place,” said McPheters. “It wasn’t safe for customers, and there was a lot of sketchy behavior going on. We went in with the goal to elevate the aftermarket across presentation, customer experience, fulfillment — everything that puts us on par with some of the best retailers.”
Stadium Goods now sells on Amazon and eBay, where McPheters said it can ensure customers they’re getting the real deal, as well as at high-end retailers and marketplaces like Nordstrom and Farfetch. It also has its own e-commerce site and Manhattan store, where shrink-wrapped sneakers, sometimes retailing for up to $60,000 (but typically falling in a more manageable price range of $500 to $1,000), line the gleaming white walls. The company also has a burgeoning business in China, where it sells to customers via video livestream once a week. To further tighten the ties between streetwear and luxury, the company received an investment from LVMH in February.
Bringing legitimacy to an unregulated market earned Stadium Goods its fair share of critics, bemoaning a big-industry player stepping into a territory once dominated by standalone sellers. It’s also spawned a series of copycats: mobile apps and shoddy e-commerce sites promising to validate pre-owned sneakers in the past two years. But Stadium Goods’ differentiator is its ability to make nice with the brands it carries in the stores. Brands like Nike have long bristled at the secondary market, letting it carry on without getting directly involved: Limited-edition sneaker drops will inevitably result in resellers and hiked-up prices, which results in a halo-effect for the brand. Getting directly involved would disrupt the entire ecosystem — or at least, it would when the ecosystem didn’t have an actual retail player shedding light on reselling. With Stadium Goods, Nike’s given its blessing.
“Brands see it differently now that we legitimized resale,” said Stiller. “Before it was frowned upon, and this elevates the product and the way it’s sold.” — Hilary Milnes
Amanda Parkes has built her career while straddling the line between fashion and technology. After earning her PhD in tangible media in 2009, founding a wearable tech company called Skinteractive Studios in 2010 and working as the chief of technology at fashion incubator Manufacture NY until 2016, Parkes has settled in at her latest post as chief innovation officer at Fashion Tech Lab. FTL is a fitting place in fashion where Parkes can apply her combined experience to the future of smart fabrics and fashion-as-technology. Functioning as an accelerator, investment fund and lab for new technologies, FTL is focused on outcome, not just lip service which fashion tech receives more often than it does tangible support. Parkes’s goal: to bring wearable tech, that people will actually want to wear, to the masses. — Hilary Milnes
It is almost impossible to scroll through Instagram these days and not come across designs from the viral retailer Fashion Nova. Working with thousands of influencers, from micro-influencers to the Kardashian sisters, founder Richard Saghian has engineered a brand that has tapped into the biggest trends — fast fashion, diverse models — like few others, reaching 15 million followers on Instagram, becoming one of the most-searched-for brands on Google and, most covetously, earning several shout-outs in Cardi B songs.
In the years since you started Fashion Nova, how has the fashion industry changed?
Customers aren’t paying attention to runways for their inspiration, they are looking at celebrities and influencers on their feeds. They aren’t browsing malls anymore to be inspired by what they see; they are going for specific looks they have seen on their favorite celebrities. The internet and social media have helped shape the industry as the consumer is more educated, able to easily compare prices and achieve the look they want at the price point they can afford.
What does that mean for fashion’s more traditional pillars, like the runway?
Social media is the runway, and the influencer is the model. E-commerce and social media are connecting the world at a faster rate than ever before. Social media gives people all over the world exposure they never had. The customer is a celebrity on his or her social pages, causing a need for customers to have more options when it comes to expressing themselves through what they wear.
In what direction are you hoping to take Fashion Nova in the future?
We see Fashion Nova as a true lifestyle brand. We will continue to expand our product assortment, with extensions including Fashion Nova Curve, Fashion Nova Men and Fashion Nova Men Plus, as well as with new celebrity collaborations. We will continue to add collections in 2019, including the launch of Nova Beauty and the expansion of our accessories and shoe lines. — Danny Parisi
When Scott Sternberg returned to fashion this year with his new brand, Entireworld, he was entering an industry entirely different than the one in which he launched his first company, Band of Outsiders, in 2005. He had learned lessons in the three years since Band of Outsiders went out of business in 2015. Entireworld is lean, it’s run like a startup, it’s not reliant on wholesale retail, and it’s democratic: Its styles are designed for men and women, a new, gender-fluid generation. His new approach to the industry: Stick to his own creative vision and personal codes, and make good product. “The way we use social media is so intense and arguably unsustainable, that this all feels like a moving target without consistent insights or a clear end game,” he said. “So, I stick to the same rules I’ve always followed: I create a fantastic product that has real value and relevance to the consumer, and I tell a story about it, with candor.” — Hilary Milnes
In August this year, Unmade — the London-based technology and manufacturing platform enabling fashion brands to create custom garments on an industrial scale — announced cycling apparel brand Rapha as a client, adding to the five customers (including two in the premium luxury category) it had already gotten this year. Considering the company’s knitwear focus, CEO Hal Watts saw the opportunity to target athletic brands when “sock” sneakers by the likes of Adidas and Balenciaga took off. A $4 million round of funding in August helped things along, enabling 12 new hires in departments from engineering to sales — five more are expected by the start of next year. “We’re seeing a huge increase in demand, compared to even 12 months ago,” said Watts. “The market has really moved — especially in the U.S., brands and customers are ready to embrace this way of working.” — Jill Manoff
Heidi Zak, founder of 5-year-old, digitally native lingerie brand ThirdLove, is using her company as an instrument to bring a new dimension to the conversation around inclusivity and diversity. This year, the company launched 24 new bra sizes, now offering up to a 48 band, and cups AA through H — Victoria’s Secret has just 36 total sizes and Aerie has 31. “Inclusivity [means] showing you have something anybody can actually buy from you, which I call ‘sizing inclusivity,'” she said. I don’t think that has taken off yet.” With the lingerie market worth approximately $14.2 billion, Zak said she is surprised by the lack of extensive size brands, especially considering the enthusiasm ThirdLove has seen from customers. So far, ThirdLove has raised $13.6 million in venture funding and doubled its team to 300 people this year, and it saw 1.3 million people sign up for the waitlist for its newest bra’s launch. — Emma Sandler