Men aren’t known for their love of shopping – but like everyone, they want to look good. While there are thousands of online fashion shops for women, the market for men has been largely overlooked. Founded in 2012 by two women, Julia Bösch and Anna Alex, Berlin-based Outfittery‘s online personalised style platform offers a convenient solution. If you’re a man who doesn’t fancy hanging out at department stores, you can let its easy-to-use platform and team of top stylists do the shopping for you.
On Outfittery’s platform, men’s shopping journey is made super simple. You start by responding to a casual questionnaire about your fashion preferences, such as, “What do you wear in your free time?”, “What do you never wear?”, and “How old do you feel?” (which you can answer in pictures). Outfittery’s style experts use your responses to create a personalised box of clothing just for you, which they ship to you for free. You only keep the clothes you like, and returns are on them.
It turned out that the founders were right – a lot of men want someone to do their clothes shopping for them (who isn’t their mother). Outfittery has proven to be a European success story – since it was founded in 2012, it has raised over €50 million in funding, employs over 300 people, and has served 600,000 customers.
Below, co-founder and CEO Julia Bösch (who we named as one of the top 50 women in the European startup scene in 2018) shares her experience founding Outfittery, tips for women entrepreneurs, and her take on the future of fashion tech.
What is your entrepreneurial background, and how did you come up with the idea for Outfittery?
I knew quite early that I wanted to become an entrepreneur. I studied business and technology management in Munich and New York, also at the Center for Digital Technology & Management (CDTM), where around 25 students from different area of studies come together and consult a startup, for instance with building a prototype or expansion strategy. This was amazing and taught me a lot of entrepreneurial skills. After I finished my studies, I worked for Zalando, where I learnt a lot about scaling a company at high speed – and also met my future co-founder, Anna Alex.
The idea for Outfittery was born in New York. Anna and I took a trip there, and a friend of ours hired a personal shopper, for around $100 per hour. In the US, this is quite normal, especially for businessmen with little time. Usually, this friend of ours doesn’t enjoy shopping for clothes, but this experience really changed his mind – he came back with bags full of new stuff! Anna and I then thought about how we could best bring this concept to Europe, and how to make it more convenient and affordable for any man by translating it into an online experience. This is how the idea for Outfittery was born and we founded the company in 2012.
How is Outfittery different from other fashion startups?
We are not a traditional fashion online shop that just provides a big assortment of garments online and ships them, but instead we provide the customers with a holistic experience, because we believe that style is a journey on which we want to accompany them and become their long-term wardrobe partner. So we try to find the perfect, personal selection of clothes for every man, and do this by using a combination of human and artificial intelligence – personal stylists and data science. Through the insights we have gathered over more than six years from more than 600,000 customers, we can know exactly what our customers want and are continuously learning more to improve our service even more.
As a female founder, what made you decide to focus on men’s fashion?
I guess that women just understand men very well 😉 But seriously, from a business point of view, when we started Outfittery we saw a big opportunity in the menswear market. There was a huge offering for women, but men were still quite neglected. Just remember department stores, where the men’s area is usually hidden on the third floor in a corner… Also, men’s shopping behavior is very different to women’s, which just fit better with our service proposition.
Tell us a bit about Outfittery’s journey. How has it grown over the years, and what are some of the challenges you have faced while scaling up?
It’s amazing to see how much we have grown and professionalized since 2012. In the beginning, Anna and I did everything ourselves – from buying to styling to operations and so on – and now we have 300 employees, 150 of them stylists, a strong management team and are operating in eight European markets, having served more than 600,000 customers. When we started out, a lot of our critics said that what we were planning would be a niche model, that the market wasn’t big enough for this type of service. I am happy we didn’t listen to them but instead focused on proving them wrong, which we definitely did!
What was it like co-founding and co-leading a business, and why did Anna Alex decide to leave the company earlier this year?
For Anna and me, it was essential to have someone who you can talk to about everything as a co-founder. The small, the big, the odd and the funny things. It always gave me strength and trust and let me look at things with a certain distance. Also, a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved, and a joy that’s shared is a joy made double! It’s super important that your co-founder is someone you deeply trust – because you will spend a lot of time together, probably more than with anyone else you know. Anna and I shared a ten square meter-big office for over six years, so we really knew everything about each other at all times – that was intense, but also helped to keep a super honest and open atmosphere between us at all times. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. With 300 employees and over 600,000 customers, our roles as CEOs and the way we need to lead Outfittery had naturally shifted over time – now, it is much more about scaling, optimizing processes, and strategy. In the beginning, we did a lot of things ourselves, everything was more “hands on”. Anna decided to leave the company as CEO this year because she realised that her passion lies more in these early years of founding a company. I have a lot of respect for her decision, although of course I do miss her.
How do you see the fashion tech industry changing in the future?
A recent report on the State of Fashion 2018 by McKinsey and BoF highlights personalisation as the number one trend for 2018. This is definitely where the industry needs to and will be going, amongst an increased focus on the customer. People often don’t want a huge choice from which they are not able to tell what is right for them. They just want the right articles that are the right fit for them individually. The industry will value data more and more in order to provide this kind of personalized experience for customers. With Outfittery, we are on a really good track here because we’ve been focusing on exactly this from quite early on.
What advice would you give to other female founders?
Don’t waste too much time thinking about what could possibly go wrong – I always see that women especially tend to do that. Instead, focus on what could go really well!
You’ve raised over €50 million since you launched in 2012. What advice would you give to early stage startups looking for funding?
Network, network, network. In Berlin, we are lucky to have a huge range of interesting events and parties that you can attend as a founder. What you need to know is that different investors focus on companies in different stages: Some invest specifically in early stage startups, others wait until the company has reached a certain size. These events can help you to get a feeling for who could be the investor that fits your particular business and state well. It doesn’t always work out immediately of course, with some investors you will have to stay in touch with for a longer period of time. Also, the best way to get an introduction to an investor is via another entrepreneur that you know. In the end, this is how a network functions: Someone you know and that you trust introduces you to someone else that they know and trust. This is usually a good basis for a new business relationship.
What are your plans for the future, and where do you see Outfittery in another 3-4 years?
We have a lot in the pipeline for next year, just stay tuned – we definitely want to strengthen our position as market leader for men’s personalized fashion in Europe, and there are many more European men to dress!