What Does It Take To Build A Successful Online Brand?

Lavanya Mohan
May 14, 2019 · 5 min read

In early 2017, Sézane, the Parisian Chic fashion brand, dropped a new line of jeans on their site. All the pieces in the collection, an estimated 7500 units, sold out within a few hours of going live. Fast forward a few months later, Sézane began operating its own boutiques — only to find endless lines of women on the street, queuing up to buy their new releases. Some would call Sézane a successful fashion brand.

Some others would call it a cult.

The Direct To Consumer Model

Sézane isn’t the only brand with a cult following. Allbirds, GoodAmerican, Rouje, Realisation Par and Reformation are the other brands that have taken the world by storm and achieved immense success in a very brief period of time.

And they are all DTC.

The Direct-To-Consumer model, which allows for brands to design, sell and ship products themselves (bypassing traditional retail) has seen a surge during the last decade, thanks to social media and the ease of e-commerce platforms like Shopify.

But the ease of setup also means that thousands of businesses are created — According to Ashwin Ramaswamy of e-Commerce Research Firm, Pipecandy, there are 22,000 DTC companies in operation right now — a number that’s only increasing by the day- and standing out in a sea of businesses is harder than ever.

So what does it take to build a Cult D2C Brand?

When you analyze the DNA of the most successful D2C brands, three elements emerge — purpose, product and people.

Does Your Brand Have Purpose?

GoodAmerican, which specializes in denim, sold a million dollars’ worth of denim on their first day of business. One could argue that this was because of the fact Khloe Kardashian is an investor in Good American, but the fact is that they’ve only seen growth since and this is because they have a purpose.

“The large majority of women who happen to be on the large end of the sizing spectrum were really ignored by the mainstream fashion industry,” says Emma Grede, the founder of Good American. She says that the brand is rooted in a single idea — “Shouldn’t there be more options for women?”.

Image: GoodAmerican

For GoodAmerican, inclusivity isn’t just a buzzword thrown around on their site. It forms the core of their customer experience. When you’re browsing the site, you can see their jeans on fifteen different models who encompass their entire range of sizes.

GoodAmerican’s success, therefore, is rooted in its purpose of ensuring that every woman’s size is celebrated.

Does Your Product Fill A Gap?

Tim Brown, the founder of Allbirds, stumbled into the sneaker industry only to find that the vast majority of companies catering to this billion dollar industry, were making shoes made out of “not-so-nice” materials. Brown saw an opportunity to use natural and sustainable materials to create every day sneakers.

Image: Allbirds

Allbirds became an instant hit, not merely because they’re sustainable but also because of how good their products were even when they were stripped out of the sustainability tag. The minimalistic lines and muted colours made them the perfect business-casual shoe. This, combined with the incredible comfort that they provided, ensured that they found fans across the world — including, but not limited to, Barack Obama.

Allbirds’ was born out of the purpose of sustainability, but it was their ingenious product design that propelled them to become a $1.4 billion company within only two years of starting up.

Who Needs Brand Ambassadors When You Have Your People?

Realisation Par is an Australian D2C brand that was founded by Alexandra Spencer and Teale Talbot. Their whimsy-sexy dresses have fans in the likes of Kaia Gerber, Nicole Kidman, Bella Hadid and their clothes have been dominating instagram feeds across the world. Realisation Par’s success, however, lies in its customer-focused design process and community.

Image: Realisation Par

“Before launching a new style, every dress goes through all our girlfriends to try” says Teale Talbot. “We are all different body shapes — so if they try it on and feel good, we know it’s something our customers will feel good in and hopefully love too.”

Realisation Par, additionally, has a community hashtag — they actively promote and encourage their customers to use #dreamgirls on social media platforms to share photos of their customers styling their clothes. “Our Dreamgirls are independent women, who are all successful in their own right.” says Alexandra Spencer. “We make the dress, but they make it theirs.” Suffice to say, everyone wants to be a Realisation Par #dreamgirl.

Realisation Par is proof that you don’t need to spend money on advertising or influencers to become successful. Your customers are your biggest brand ambassadors and the key to your success.

The Power of Personal

There’s another P here (I know, I know), that also merits a mention — personal. All of these brands combine purpose, product and people to create an experience that is entirely personal for the customer. The most successful brands have figured out to give their customers exactly what they want, even before they know they want it.

Case in point - I found myself in Sézane’s boutique (or L’Appartemente, as they call it) in London about a fortnight ago, mostly in a bid to understand what it possibly was about the brand that sparked the frenzy it did.

Somewhere between the time that I spent on the in-store iPads to show the sales assistants exactly which dress I’d wanted to try and watching them entice my two-year-old with cake, I understood. The brand merged tech with old school hospitality to create a buying experience that was pretty much designed for me.

The result?

I’d walked in with curiosity. I’d walked out a convert.

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Lavanya Mohan

Written by

Fashion and Retail Enthusiast. I head Content at Vue.ai.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Lavanya Mohan

Written by

Fashion and Retail Enthusiast. I head Content at Vue.ai.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

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