For the past three years, the founders of online wedding dress startup Anomalie have dreamed of building the first great mass customization clothing company.
That ambitious goal is helping them respond to a massive surge in demand for the online tech they developed that allows brides to design, get fitted for, and order their dream wedding dresses without setting foot in a bridal store.
As the COVID-19 pandemic closed bridal stores around the country, Anomalie’s weekly sales began trending three times higher compared to six months earlier.
The company says it had its best month ever in March, and April is on track to beat that by a wide margin.
Sign-ups on the Anomalie site to create a custom dress sketch spiked 25 percent in March, averaging 1,500 new registrations a day.
That number soared even higher after an April 16 Tik Tok video that recommended Anomalie’s wedding dress design function as the perfect antidote for quarantine boredom went viral, drawing 20,000 sign-ups in a single day. Since then an average of 5,000 people a day have been completing the Anomalie DressBuilder Quiz.
While the company doesn’t reveal how many of those who create sketches go on to actually order dresses, it says conversion rates have skyrocketed as well in March and April.
“We have bet our company on remote being better,” said Calley Means, co-founder of Anomalie with his wife Leslie Voorhees-Means. “With a remote model, the bride can have more customization and better fit because she’s not beholden to the inventory of the store.”
Now, the COVID-19 crisis has made remote the only option for many brides.
And because Anomalie bet that its future lies not just in winning the hearts of brides, but in cracking the code for doing mass customization at scale, the founders say they not only can handle the surge in demand, but it will help them take the company to the next level.
“We welcome the demand,” Leslie Voorhees-Means said.
The bridal workshops in China where the dresses are made, and the stylists here who field calls and questions from anxious brides, are both ready to handle the surge, she said.
“Our tech is made for scale,” Calley Means said. “Volume helps us be better on measurements, be better on creating the dresses.”
Engineering Investments, With Recruits From Stitch Fix
Before the pandemic hit, Anomalie had been investing heavily in tech, and had expanded its engineering team, bringing on board Jon Dean, the former director of engineering at Stitch Fix as its head engineer, and another Stitch Fix alum, Dean Galvin, as lead engineer.
Engineer and pattern maker Gillian Langor joined the company last fall as director of fashion technology.
San Francisco-based Anomalie, which has raised $18.5 million in investment funding, now has 15 engineers on staff and plans to continue hiring aggressively.
Anomalie was launched in 2016 after Leslie Voorhees-Means, who gained supply chain and manufacturing expertise while working in China for Nike and Apple, became frustrated while shopping for her own wedding dress.
She discovered Suzhou, the Chinese city where 90% of U.S wedding dresses are made in a cluster of workshops located within four square miles, and where savvy Chinese and foreign brides could order custom dresses.
After friends saw her dress and begged for her help to get custom dresses, she and her husband set out to create a way for brides to design their dresses online, submit detailed measurements, and get a custom dress, with support from human stylists who do a remote consult with each bride to finalize their design, and are available to answer questions from anxious brides.
How It Works
The Anomalie DressBuilder Quiz asks brides questions about their style preferences, offers them a dashboard of photo options they can click on, and can offer 4 billion possible permutations to create a sketch of the bride’s dream dress.
Brides who want to make the sketch a reality pay $49 for a stylist consultation and can receive fabric swatches and instructions for taking the more than 30 measurements needed to create a dress.
Anomalie, because it can create dresses in sizes 00 to 30, has won fans among women who have trouble finding their size in a traditional bridal salon.
The finished dresses typically cost between $1,350 and $2,000 and must be ordered at least seven months before the wedding.
The long lead time for bridal dresses – bridal salons often urge brides to order up to a year in advance – is helping drive demand for Anomalie, as brides worry about getting dresses in time for weddings planned for the end of this year and 2021.
Voorhees-Means said Anomalie’s stylists, and its bridal workshop partners in China can handle the increased demand, and that factory shutdowns in China earlier this year didn’t significantly delay production because they occurred during the Chinese New Year period, when Anomalie typically anticipates that work will be halted and builds that downtime into its schedules.
Anomalie promises brides that their dresses will arrive at least one month before their wedding date, or the company will refund 1.5 times the price. This month it also announced its Fit Commit Guarantee. It will cover the cost of any alterations exceeding $499, pledging that an Anomalie dress will arriving fitting better than a salon-ordered dress, where alterations often can exceed $1,000.
Obsessed With Fit
Visualization – being able to understand what a bride wants, and show her what she will receive – and fit are the top areas where Anomalie is investing its tech dollars, Means said.
“The two things that are preventing e-commerce from being mass-adopted for fashion is visualization – do I know what I’m getting – and fit – do I know it’s going to fit,” he said. “That is the reason brick and mortar still have 80 percent of clothing sales. And we’re uniquely positioned to solve both.”
The information brides share about their preferences gives Anomalie a huge base of customer data to enhance their DressBuilder tech, and helps it do a better job of guessing what a bride wants.
On fit, Means said, “we probably have one of the highest repositories of custom female measurements in the country,” and an engineering and fashion technology team that is obsessed with mastering remote fit.
“We really want to push the envelope on body scanning and other things that we’re looking into and investing a lot of money in,” he said.
The Fit Commit Guarantee means Anomalie has upped the ante in its bet that it can master the fit challenge, said Gillian Langor, the company’s director of fashion technology. “It’s making it really clear that we care about offering the perfect fit, and about solving this problem that is the Achilles heel of the e-commerce industry,” she said.
“We are learning with every dress we make how to make the next one better,” she said.
Anomalie has recruited tech talent and other executives from Stitch Fix, another San Francisco-based apparel disruptor, because, Means said, Stitch Fix has a similar customer-obsessed DNA, and a business model that combines tech with the human connection of stylists.
The two companies “have this intersection where both humans and technology play a really vital role in making the company successful,” said Jon Dean, Anomalie’s new head of engineering, who spent eight years at Stitch Fix.
Dean said he was attracted to Anomalie by the opportunity “to revolutionize the whole business, the whole industry actually, where customers are eager for a better experience and for a more modern technology driven experience.”
The pandemic and closed bridal shops have accelerated demand for Anomalie, but even before the pandemic Dean viewed that shift as inevitable.
“It’s something traditionally you had to do in person that you can now do digitally,” he said. “This is kind of the first alternative to that brick and mortar experience that is a viable real option.”
While they are building mass customization tools that could be used beyond wedding dresses, Voorhees-Means and Means say the company for now remains laser-focused on brides and wedding dresses.
“I think the mistakes startups make is going too broad too soon,” Means said. “We have a huge market and an incredible customer. But what we’re really excited about is we think wedding dresses are the perfect place to start this mass customization engine.”