When it comes to strategy, La Ligne, a fashion line focused on seasonless, high-quality basics, isn’t throwing out the old retail playbook. Instead, it’s drawing on traditional tactics that drive sales while simultaneously addressing new customer behavior.
To bring the business to its second stage of growth, two and a half years in, La Ligne raised its second round of funding earlier this month, an undisclosed amount with investment partners including Theory’s Andrew Rosen and entrepreneur Lizzie Tisch. The company plans to use the money to make new hires who will bulk up the brand’s marketing and social media businesses, which have been largely unpaid up until this point. La Ligne has driven a reported 100 percent growth in revenue over the last year with only small investments in Facebook and Instagram retargeting. The brand declined to share exact sales figures.
While focusing on new marketing initiatives, as well as an upcoming pop-up store, La Ligne is being careful to avoid the pitfalls of other VC-padded DTC brands that have swelled too quickly thanks to spending borrowed money on customer acquisition online. La Ligne complements its DTC, buy-now-wear-now business — the brand releases new product every week online — with wholesale partnerships, trunk shows and personal styling services that help root the business in real sales.
“It’s been important to us to operate a healthy business. I’ve been scared off by brands that are growing their top line in a significant way, but not with sales,” said La Ligne co-founder Molly Howard. “What happens in the long run? We wanted to grow a business that was healthy and could scale. Other brands are growing and growing, and are raising money, and not making money. Our structure is working, so we’re ready to grow it, but always with an eye on efficiency.”
Howard, the former head of business development at Rag & Bone, launched the brand with Valerie Macaulay and Meredith Melling, two former Vogue editors, in 2016. Since, they have built out a collection of easy-to-wear items, like sweaters, tees and pants, in high-quality fabrics. Of course, the cohort of brands designing luxury-without-the-markup apparel and selling it primarily online has only expanded over the years — brands like Modern Citizen, AYR and Everlane play right in La Ligne’s wheelhouse. And so far, growth has been driven organically, making La Ligne a less noisy modern brand. To help support brand awareness, the brand has relied on discovery through its retail partners Net-a-Porter and, more recently, Nordstrom.
The goal, Howard said, is for the business to be balanced, with 80 percent of sales coming from direct retail and 20 percent through wholesale. While Net-a-Porter is a traditional wholesale partnership, making two buys per year, Nordstrom has been more willing to bend its business structure to align better with the way La Ligne designs and sells product. Nordstrom places buys with the brand on a monthly basis, and in return, La Ligne is designing an ongoing exclusive collection for the department store.
“Wholesale is demanding, because it crushes your margins and you’re not in control of the way the customer interacts with you, and it’s crazy to change your vision to bend to wholesale buyers,” Howard said. “In the short term, that grows brands, but in the long term, there are problems with wholesale scaling because brands lose sight of who they are, and the customer, as a result, loses interest.”
So the majority of sales will stay direct. La Ligne’s seasonless calendar allows it to bring customers back to the site on a regular business, à la other DTC footwear brand M.Gemi, and the company uses customer data to infuse reactive pieces into the planned mix. If a piece is performing really well, the brand can respond. If something isn’t selling, or is seeing a high return rate, the brand can quickly find what the problem is and address it.
“Brand allegiance is built through owning the direct customer relationship and showing that you can hear and respond to what customers want,” said Richie Siegel, the founder of consumer advisory firm Loose Threads. “Wholesale, which should be smaller today, is really for getting you on someone’s radar.”
Brand allegiance is another top priority. Beyond driving sales by building brand awareness, La Ligne is focusing on developing customer loyalty. Howard said the brand sees “massive” customer-retention rates, but it’s looking to take a more active role in bringing customers back.
The first approach is through trunk shows, a tactic borrowed from old-school retail. La Ligne is seeking out its most active customers, and working with them to visit their homes and invite other potential La Ligne shoppers to come check out the pieces, as it’s a more intimate experience than shopping online. The other is a newly launched styling service, The Styliste, which will, for now, be manned personally by the brands’ three founders. Shoppers can send questions through a chat forum on how to style something, as well as get fit advice and outfit tips from the brand.
“It’s a way for us to use our backgrounds and our expertise to drive a customer relationship, plus it’s an openness and transparency play,” said Melling. “We’re listening.”