If Your Customers Aren’t a Part of Your Product Design Team, Your Sales are Suffering: With Laura Dweck
By Casmin Wisner and Yitzi Weiner
“We’ve received such valuable insight from our customers about their preferences, and every time we listen it works in our favor.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Dweck, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Basic Outfitters, who has been named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, featured on ABC’s Shark Tank and is revolutionizing the way men shop for their basics.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
I grew up in Brooklyn and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Fashion Merchandising and Management. While there I interned for WWD and Bloomingdale’s fashion office. I loved that my courses included the history of Coco Chanel—how awesome is that?! My first job was working for Sam Edelman where I was promoted to Fashion Director in my first year. I went on to launch the women’s collection at Onia and eventually designed and merchandised for both men and women’s collections.
Around that time I got married to my incredible husband Michael. Co-living in NYC proved to be a challenge with our limited closet space and when I saw Michael’s socks and underwear drawer stuffed to the brim, we had a serious conversation. It was time to get rid of his old, worn out basics and start fresh. That’s when Michael became really frustrated with the shopping experience. Trying to refill his socks, underwear and tees was stressful in stores and expensive online. We knew we could create an incredibly seamless shopping experience for men that would eliminate the stress, save time and offer unprecedented value, so we created Basic Outfitters.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Starting a company that sells men’s underwear naturally opens the door for many interesting stories, like people shouting to me from across the street “I’m wearing your underwear right now!” The most interesting has to be cold emailing the producers at Shark Tank and actually hearing back from them a few months later. Getting on the show was a wild ride and ultimately airing on the show was incredible for our business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our flagship service, Create-a-Drawer, allows you to customize a drawer full of socks, underwear, tees and joggers in under 2 minutes, all for $60. This offers customers an innovative and convenient way to refresh all their essentials at once at an unprecedented value and has proven to solve a very real problem. On average, men keep their underwear for seven years! We’re working hard to change that statistic. We’ve had women from all over the country write lengthy thank you letters to us, telling us the gory details of what their significant others’ drawers used to look like before they found Basic Outfitters.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We recently launched a partnership with JetBlue, featuring our SuperSoft socks in all of their Mint amenity kits. We love being able to offer the ultimate comfort of our incredibly soft socks in-flight! We are also launching our first ever brick and mortar retail initiative at the Market @ Macy’s Herald Square store in May. We are extremely excited to have a physical presence in such an iconic store and to be able to meet our customers and give them the opportunity to interact with the product.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Give your team a platform to share their ideas. Each team member is bringing a different perspective to the company and usually has some incredible ideas to bring to the table. As long as you give them the opening to share those ideas, you will find tremendous value.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
This may seem like an obvious one, but undoubtedly my husband and co-founder, Michael. Other than being an amazing CEO, he has always been so incredibly supportive of me and a true partner in every sense of the word. Working with your spouse can be challenging, however with a partner like Michael, it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We like to say that through Basic Outfitters, we are saving marriages! In all seriousness, we work hard as a team to make sure we do our part to give back, whether it’s donating to relief funds or on a more personal level, our team has a VTO policy, Volunteer Time Off, where they are encouraged to take paid time off of work to give back. Michael and I also take the opportunity to speak to college students about entrepreneurship whenever asked.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became CEO,” and why?
- Find a partner who balances your talents. I am a perfectionist with an obsessive attention to detail which is amazing for branding, designing and reviewing contracts, but tends to work against me when it comes to getting stuff done and hitting deadlines. Michael is amazing at getting it done, not overthinking things that don’t need overthinking and trusting his gut. If it weren’t for him starting the company, Basic Outfitters probably never would have gotten off the ground!
- Fail fast. Starting Basic Outfitters, I didn’t have a background in marketing and it was the missing link we needed to get our name out there. Michael and I took the approach of ‘let’s test a lot of different strategies on a really small scale, fail fast and scale the ones that work’ and that’s exactly what we did.
- Get creative, get scrappy. We ran into a challenge when selling our SuperSoft socks online. We had designed these life-changing socks and yet all customers saw was a 10 pack of black socks on the website. We needed to figure out a way to get the message of the quality of the socks across with no added budget. So we got scrappy. We took a video camera and a bag of our SuperSoft socks to Times Square and asked strangers to give us their honest opinions of the socks on camera for a free pair of socks. The content turned out to be just what we needed and told the story of the world’s softest socks for us!
- Buckle up, this business will become your baby. I knew starting a business was going to be challenging and I’d need to put in more hours but I never anticipated how much attention, hard work and time it would need. I’ve had to make sacrifices for this business and work harder than I ever have. It’s taken me on an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows and it has tested my stamina and endurance. Ultimately, growing a company of your own is so rewarding, and it’s all worth it.
- Let your customers into the design process. We’ve received such valuable insight from our customers about their preferences, and every time we listen it works in our favor. For example, customers wrote in asking for a zipper on their jogger pockets. We listened and they are now one of our best sellers.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” — Steve Jobs
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would love to have a private lunch with Oprah Winfrey. I grew up watching her show with my mom and sister and was always in awe of her story, her success, and how she used her influence to create positive change in the world.
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