Art in Her Soul, Science in Her Brain
Why We Made AYR
The decision to enter the women’s market at Bonobos, Inc. was not an easy one. We had to answer four tough questions to get here.
- Should we do women’s?
- Do we do it as Bonobos or as a separate brand?
- And if separate, what should that brand be? In other words, why AYR?
For years we’ve been asked: when are you going to make women’s clothes?
Just because someone asks you for something doesn’t mean they want it. We’ve understand that while women’s clothing is a much bigger business than men’s, it’s also more competitive, more fickle, and more challenging.
Our men’s brand, Bonobos, is all about fit. Men in some cases need to be educated about fit. Women were born understanding it.
So why do it?
We didn’t decide to go into women’s by having a bunch of conversations in a board room. I don’t think that great brands get started in conference rooms. Nor was it a “market”, “top-line expansion”, or “corporate strategy” driven decision, though the size of the market is compelling and our strategy is focused on bundling great clothing and great service together like we do at Bonobos.
It was a different kind of decision. It was a human-driven decision, and that to me is the essence of business: betting on people’s authenticity. That’s what investors do when they make investments, and that’s what entrepreneurs do when they recruit talent.
The vision for our women’s brand began the day I met Maggie Winter.
I met Maggie in September of 2012. The story of how Maggie fits into our world-view is best told through an excerpt from an email that I sent to our shareholders when we first announced the pre-launch of AYR.com on October 30th, 2013:
At a retail company you live and die on your merchant’s eye. And at a vertically-integrated retail company, you live and die as they not only buy your assortment, they partner with creative teams across the company to actually create your brand.
Today I’m excited to introduce a new merchant to the fold — Maggie Winter. She has been with us in stealth mode for some time now. I met her on a Friday in September of 2012 at the suggestion of my fabulous EA Ali Freedberg. We had coffee under the auspices that I asked to learn about the women’s business from her, as I was getting the itch to know if and when we were going to go there. Two months later, she joined us full-time. Less than one year later, today, our AYR pre-launch is live. The full collection goes live in February 2014.
Maggie had the two things I look for in a merchant: art in her soul, and science in her brain. Beyond that, she had a third set of attributes which are incredibly rare to find; you might recognize them as traits one finds in a founder:
- a mission-driven desire to solve a problem which is authentic to her
- a vision to build something big
- a risk-profile of being willing to put such a venture on her own back
- the charisma and magnetism to attract a team (and capital, which is hard to get internally as well it turns out!)
- the ability to learn and evolve rapidly
- scrappiness, work ethic, and the entrepreneurial tenacity to just maybe pull it all off
Maggie has recruited a stellar team. Jac Cameron is our design director, and together with Maggie dreamed of building such a brand before we even all met — they’ve known each other for some time. Jac is the reason we’re pursuing denim as our inaugural product: it’s her sweet spot.
Wait a second. You are starting in women’s jeans, which are bottoms. Everyone knows women’s jeans are all about fit. If you’re starting with awesome women’s bottoms and an internet-driven model, why not just call it Bonobos?
Why not Bonobos?
The decision to make AYR a separate brand from Bonobos was easy to know and hard to explain. It’s one of those things where you just know, even though there are really good arguments for how you might know the opposite.
At times I waffled as I had people close to me saying — hey, “leverage your existing site”, “you want to play off your existing brand equity,” and my favorite: “do you know how hard it is to build a brand?”
Yes! I think I do. I’ve spent the last six years doing just that. That was fun. And hard as hell. Let’s do it again!
We saw four important reasons not to build women’s off of Bonobos:
- We’ve worked hard to build a men’s club and don’t want to screw it up. From our clothing to our site to our stores to our brand voice, there is something distinctly male about us and we don’t want to dilute that.
- Our stores — our Bonobos Guideshops—are one thousand square foot e-commerce showrooms. There’s not much room for women’s product in there, let alone a shopping experience as awesome for women as ours is for men. If there’s no room, why make men’s Bonobos stores and women’s Bonobos stores and have to specify which is which when different brand identities could make it crystal clear? In a store-driven world, you have to make everything one brand to leverage your real estate. In an e-commerce-driven world, where in-person retail is small, dressing-room-like, and highly experiential, we believe you may want to do the exact opposite.
- Most great women’s product doesn’t evolve out of a company that makes men’s product. Ralph Lauren is an exception, but there are a lot of other non-exceptions to examine. It can go the other way around, when good men’s product emerges from a women’s company, but even that is still hard. “Men go to salons, but women don’t go to barber shops.”
- The main reason to make it all one brand in an e-commerce-driven world is to leverage site traffic and to cross-promote. We’ve got a plan to still deliver on that but with two distinct brands.
Ultimately, this: we saw the brand that Maggie and Jac were creating, and it felt like something entirely new and exciting. We got clarity it is a new concept. It is a brand which will leverage the best of how we built Bonobos—from our customer service Ninjas to our digitally-driven approach that enables our brands to come to life—but which is focused on a well-traveled woman in the way that Bonobos is focused on a well-read man.
The brand is called AYR.
The story of AYR is about two friends, Maggie and Jac, who have a problem to solve. (Sound familiar?) They’ve in many ways graduated from fast fashion, but they’re too smart to pay designer for everything they buy. They want an awesome line of essential pieces which create value through their versatility. They want an amazing shopping experience that’s online-driven at it’s core, but where they’re not overwhelmed with the paradox of choice. They want it to be effortless, from the look of the clothing to the shopping experience offered. They want inseams with their inaugural line of perfect fitting jeans. They want blouses they can wear three times a week. They want sweaters that layer perfectly with everything. They want something that makes life easier, because they’re busy. And they want it every day, all year round.
Pronounced like the air you breathe and, we hope, every bit as essential.
Women’s Wear Daily | Bonobos to Launch Women’s AYR Line