When was the last time Uniqlo, American Apparel, or any other high-end fashion brand ever asked you for your input or involvement in designing or producing one of their products? Just the thought of emailing of a fashion designer at a high-quality brand "hey you should make this" or "I think this piece of clothing would be better if you did this" is just as laughable as giving Buster Posey advice on his swing.
But you know who doesn't find that idea completely ridiculous and would gladly welcome any and all fashion-based suggestions you might have? Two upstart denim entrepreneurs by the names of Josh Gustin and Stephen Powell, the two brains behind Gustin Jeans who are on a mission to transform an industry they see as woefully old-fashioned.
One of the reasons why Gustin and Powell perceive the fashion industry as outdated is the disengagement between the producers and customers. Powell explains that one of Gustin's missions to dismantle the wall between the two groups.
"In normal fashion brands, you're really disassociated from people who are designing and making the clothing. We have people on our site here saying, can you guys make this? Can you do this?" he said. "We had over a 100 people request a belt. We went out and figured out everything we could about leather, talk to a bunch of belt manufacturers, and made a belt and sold hundreds of them in the last few days because that's what people wanted."
So if enough people requested items like denim socks, fedoras or even thongs, Powell and Gustin would be more than happy to design, produce, and ship them out to you.
If you're interested in buying a pair of Gustin jeans, you'll notice that the store section on the website isn't your typical e-commerce setup. Instead of purchasing an item you have to "back it" and you only receive your item if a predetermined number of buyers also back that same item.
The thought behind this decision is to hedge against the volatility of trends in the fashion market. As we all know, those "must-have" items are short-lived and it's not long before it's on the sale rack at Wal-Mart. Josh asserts that crowdsourcing the production "perfectly lines up supply and demand every time on every product we sell, no brand has done that, there is no fully crowd-sourced premium fashion brand." Not to mention, it saves a whole bunch of time and effort stressing out about what the people want.
Back in February the two successfully completed the highest grossing fashion Kickstarter project ever to the tune of $449,654, which was more than 20 times their goal of $20,000, in 33 days. They actually hit their set goal in about 20 hours after launching.
Gustin and Powell don't possess the algorithm to Kickstarter glory, instead they owe their $450k success story to the simple idea of striving to produce the highest-quality locally made denim possible. That's why people kept funding their project well after they hit $40k, $100k, $200k, and $400k. In addition, it didn't hurt to have a promo video that wasn't sloppily made in half a day with a camcorder borrowed from a friend. Seriously, can Kickstarter put a moratorium on those videos?
In essence, Gustin wasn't really using Kickstarter to solicit donations, but rather as a platform to sell its denim products. The profits from the project were reinvested into the operation allowing Gustin to be more efficient, produce more and faster, and erect the company's online e-commerce crowdsourcing platform.
With full-fledged e-commerce platform at its disposal, Gustin can now sell its standard set of jeans for around $81 as opposed to the retail price of $201.
Gustin's in-house community of denim buyers and fans of high-quality jeans have already proven to be a full-proof method at developing brand loyalty and promoting Gustin's goal of customer engagement. One member, Matt Brittenham, who hails from all the way in Vermont, wrote me an email longer than this article when I asked for comment about Gustin. Brittenham was especially laudatory about Gustin's crowd-sourcing model.
"The other thing I really like about their crowd-sourcing model is how it builds excitement, and makes the consumer feel more involved and invested in the brand. It's very responsive to consumer demand, and is driven by the consumer, rather than the bassackwards model of making product then trying to convince the consumer they want it," he said.
For the time being, Josh and Stephen are holed-up in a friend's loft in SOMA diligently shipping out all the Kickstarter orders in addition to processing all the orders coming in through the website as well as maintaining a robust online community. The two are much more than just moderators.
"We respond to everyone, we get hundreds of emails, we get into deep conversations and having that voice for people is a huge component," Powell said. "We're very open about the brand. Our responsiveness. Being very open about what we wanna do. We reject the idea of a company not valuing its customers. Fashion is very stand offish and we reject that."