If you wanted to, you could pretty readily outfit yourself entirely in clothing and accessories created by Silicon Valley-funded startups. With direct-to-consumer brands like Warby Parker and Everlane breaking out into the mainstream, eager new names with similar propositions — easy online service, price points shaved down by cutting out wholesale markups — have cropped up to cater to every corner of your closet.
DSTLD is the latest contender in the denim category. The LA-based company, which makes its home on the ground floor of the building that Tinder also operates out of, has already raised a $4.4 million seed round from investors like CAA Ventures, Plus Capital, Crunchfund and Wavemaker. Its pitch? Premium denim for dudes and ladies, all under $100.
Intriguing, we know.
Although the brand launched its women's collection in April, it's been a longer journey than that. Like any other startup, DSTLD only landed on its current concept after a series of iterations.
Co-founder and CEO Corey Epstein started the business in 2012 buying overstock men's denim in downtown LA, shooting all the product himself and selling it for the low, low price of $20.
"It was easier to buy other people's jeans than make our own initially," Epstein says. "They were just small brands downtown that no one would have heard of."
He then began producing his own men's jeans under the brand name 20Jeans, which is when Mark Lynn, now the startup's president and an old friend of Epstein's, came on board. According to Lynn, the business scaled up to the point that the company was doing $400,000 in revenue per month.
The model was good, but not perfect. The team manufactured its jeans in Asia, which presented issues of quality control and slow turnaround. That meant capital was often out for long periods of time — not a good thing for a company still operating at a relatively small scale.
"Unless you have a team on the ground doing quality control or a partner doing that you can end up with product that's not up to spec and the turnaround to fix it or create new product can be six months," Lynn says.
And selling denim at just $25 and up, 20Jeans really needed scale to make things work.
"If you look at a $65 order and you assume that $25 goes to all the cogs and shipping and fulfillment, and then you assume a $20 acquisition on the customer, you're left with $8," Lynn says. "You have to have really huge scale to make your whole e-commerce ecosystem work. That was the risk factor there."
The two decided the better opportunity was in premium denim, the majority of which is produced in LA. Their proximity to the factories would help ease those problems with turnaround times and quality control.
So Lynn and Epstein brought in a design team led by Gap Inc. vet Anh Vu and overhauled the company, relaunching in April as DSTLD — first with women's and later this summer with men's. Given the line's higher price point, the challenge here is that only a small percentage of American consumers buy jeans for over $75. As Lynn points out, the average pair of jeans goes for around $20.
As for the question of convincing customers to buy jeans online, it should help that all of DSTLD's pants have some stretch. (Epstein: "I personally would not wear jeans without stretch to them.") So they're relatively forgiving, as is the company's free shipping and free returns policy.
While DSTLD is focused on its denim game at the moment, the plan is to add other products to the its lineup, too. Knits, leather and outerwear should drop in February or March of next year, which will work nicely with the simple but sexy-in-an-LA-way thing the brand has going on.
"The next iteration of the business is understanding what those other categories look like," Lynn says.