The first of three parts about the cutting edge of retail and fashion from Initialized Capital’s Alexis Ohanian
The past ten years have fundamentally changed the way we consume fashion: we used to buy fewer things, wear them for longer, and had fewer brands to choose from.
Instagram didn’t exist. Shopify only had 11,000 stores. Today there are more than 500,000 on their platform. Luxury fashion also felt distant and unattainable.
Today, young people are able to follow their favorite artists and celebrities more closely than ever. They can also use the same mediums to flex their own fashion conquests. It’s given the next generation a much more collaborative and individualistic way of playing with and influencing fashion culture.
All of these changes have inspired me to think about what I believe the next decade will bring and three of the first-check investments we made into startups we believe will capitalize on this sea-change. This is the first of a three-part series.
Owning it is less important than being photographed in it
Given the Cambrian explosion of apparel brands online, rising concerns for the environment, and student loan debt crushing a generation — shared access to apparel will become the new normal.
That’s why we’ve invested in Seasons, a members-only rental subscription for menswear and streetwear founded by designer Regy Perlera, who previously worked at Nike and StockX. Seasons’ mission is to democratize access to fashion and rethink the idea of ownership by creating a more circular fashion economy that emphasizes sustainability, social responsibility, and financial literacy.
Sustainable, Attainable Fashion
Seasons’ founder Regy grew up as the child of refugees from El Salvador, who cleaned houses, packed cookies for Nabisco, fixed cars, and worked at restaurants to take care of two children and support another dozen or so family members who eventually came to the United States. As a kid, fashion and style felt unattainable and out of reach. Every year, he had a $100 budget to do back-to-school shopping.
He got access to his first computer around the time he turned 7 years old around when the family moved to Georgia. He taught himself HTML and CSS to build custom MySpace skins, and this eventually led to a small business designing and building website for landscaping companies around his hometown of Athens, Georgia. Years later, while visiting a cousin who was working at a startup in New York City, he was blown away by the work that was possible in tech industry. He eventually dropped out of college to work for Square as a product designer.
Now that he’s starting his own company, he’s returning to the aspirations he once had as a teenager. Today, kids who are just like who Regy was a decade ago, are following their favorite brands, artists, and celebrities on Instagram. They are developing aesthetics and tastes at a much younger age.
One of the very last projects Regy worked on while at Nike was a research project called KickCheck. He would travel around all of New York City’s five boroughs, offering $100 gift cards to people in Nikes or Jordans in exchange for an interview. The takeaway was that all these kids, who were working minimum wage jobs and living at home, really cared about fashion. They were spending an average of $300 a month on clothes, and not just high-end brands like Supreme, Bape or Off-White, but also up-and-coming brands that no one knew about.
Regy believes that apparel will see unbundling in the same way that Spotify unbundled albums through a subscription model. When fashion is no longer about owning and buying, wholesale and brand discovery will see a fundamental transformation. The traditional approach in retail of buying pieces six months in advance will no longer work. Consumers want products when they see them. Brands will have to evolve their production timeline to meet this demand.
We’ve already seen proven success with a subscription model like this aimed at women; Rent the Runway launched their unlimited model three years ago and it’s still in its infancy. Consumers are also already effectively DIY-ing the rental model through thriving third-party marketplaces. We’ve never had more ways to sell clothes compared to ten years ago, when we had eBay, Craigslist, and thrift stores. These underlying shifts are why every brand right now is trying to launch their own rental subscription service.
“At its core, Seasons is maximizing the lifetime of every piece of clothing we carry. This means a reduced carbon footprint per item and less responsibility on the consumer,” Perlera says. “We want to make ourselves responsible for where dead inventory ends up.”
Seasons is starting with menswear and streetwear because they’re two of the most overlapping categories in fashion. Gender lines are being blurred and it’s no longer about fashion for men or women. It’s about consumers liking something or not and finding a size that fits.
They’re currently serving only the five boroughs of New York City, which is helpful not just for building hype, but also more practical (high-density population) and lets them perfect their operational model before expanding. With the winter weather, their first line-up is made of outerwear, which is probably the hardest category to launch a rental subscription service with because of the size, weight, and cost. But if they can solve for that, every other category will be much easier.
There’s also an interesting conversation to have around the idea of renting your winter coat versus buying it. As it gets warmer, Seasons’ inventory will adapt to lighter apparel and include shirts and pants. The company has put a lot of thought into brands it wants to align itself with and carefully curating the early assortment of pieces, which includes more than 600 items.
With this new, more dynamic and conversational culture of fashion, brands today have to build relationships totally differently with customers. Seasons has the ability to listen and engage members on a local, community level. These conversations — both online and offline — help brands learn how clothes fit, how often people wore a piece and how much they loved it or felt about it.
You can check them out here. Even if you’re not a New Yorker, you can sign up now and be the first to know when they come to your city.