While shopping for her wedding dress, Harvard Business School grad Leslie Voorhees came across the same problem many a bride-to-be has encountered: She couldn't find "the one" that fit both the style she envisioned and within her budget.
But then the stars aligned in a number of ways. At the time, Voorhees was overseeing manufacturing in China as a product operations manager at Apple and learned more about the Suzhou region, which manufactures the majority of the world's wedding dresses. So, she had her dream dress custom-made — and came up with a business idea to shake up the traditional wedding gown shopping experience in the process.
Along with her partner-for-life, husband Calley Means, whom she met at Harvard, she founded Anomalie, a direct-to-consumer wedding dress company that essentially allows a bride to design her own dream wedding dress.
"It's incredible," Vorhees says, over the phone from San Francisco from the Anomalie offices. "I've spoken to thousands of brides in the past year and one thing is painfully clear: Almost everyone feels left out of the boutique experience. I've heard so many stories of women feeling self-conscious about being plus size, too tall, too petite, their wedding too soon, their budget isn't [big] enough... "
Anomalie's direct-to-consumer model helps a typical bride stay within a dress budget typically ranging from $1,000 to $1,500. Once the design process is completed (more on that below), manufacture and delivery take about three months. To compare: A traditionally custom-designed gown can run upwards of $10,000, and the usual delivery wait time can be as long as a full year.
To start the Anomalie design process, a bride-slash-designer completes a 15-question survey; then, via a personalized dashboard interface, she uploads "inspiration" photos to a "Pinterest-like" mood board. Inspo imagery can range from existing dress designs to actual "PowerPoint decks," which Voorhees admits are quite helpful. One out of a team of eight designated stylists will help guide a bride through the design steps. The stylist also liaises with the production team, which "aligns" the design with up to 130 dress variables on the back-end. The client then receives a proposed dress sketch, along with fabric swatches, for confirmation. The custom dresses are also made-to-measure. So far, Anomalie has designed dresses from size 00 to size 30.
Once the custom design hits the production phase in one of the factories in either Suzhou or Guangzhou, China, progress reports and photos of the dress are regularly sent to the client. "We find this brings joy to bride, too, because [she can] feel part of the creation process and it really gives brides a sense of transparency and alignment throughout," says Voorhees.
A look through the gallery of custom creations runs the gamut from minimalist slips to short fit-and-flare lace dresses to full-length beaded illusion gowns and all types of personal styles in between. Dress color options are white, ivory, champagne and blush only, as Anomalie buys its premium silks and fabrics in bulk to keep the end-costs as low as possible. Of course, the bride can add in lace, trim, beading, paillettes and embroidery detail to her liking. For now, Anomalie is focusing on wedding dress silhouettes, including top-and-skirt separates and mini-me flower girl looks — plus accoutrements, like veils, jackets and capes. Bridesmaids dresses and trouser-styles, like the popular pantsuit and jumpsuits, aren't options — for now, that is.
Voorhees credits her business school internship in operations at direct-to-consumer luxury shoe brand M.Gemi for inspiration to set up manufacturing in China. "The founders [at M.Gemi] had the insight to use the amazing skill and craft with Italian luxury footwear that was being underutilized in Italy. There's capacity in the factory to take on [more] brands," she explains, about M.Gemi producing shoes in the same factories as "Prada and YSL." The dress factories Voorhees works with now are also manufacturing for "the Pronoviases and Vera Wangs" of the industry. In other words, the quality is luxury without passing the luxury pricing on to the end customer.
The majority of the high-quality silks are sourced nearby the factories in China, while some fabrics are also from South Korea and Taiwan, R.O.C. Voorhees also makes a point to visit the factories "almost every month" to work closely with the local staff and continuously source new suppliers for lace, beading and trims. The proprietary back-end customization process at the factories pulls from Voorhees's engineering and manufacturing background, as well as expertise from Stitch Fix alum on the tech-production side and technical design expertise from Monique Lhuillier and Reformation.
Despite the tech-forward thinking behind the Anomalie design process, the customer service is still very old-school. A bride's dedicated stylist will jump on the phone to talk a bride through any questions during the design process (or email or message through the dashboard). During production, a team of experts keeps up regular communication with the bride, and post-production experts will facilitate lead up with tailors (and post-delivery questions). Anomalie also connects clients to highly rated "partner" tailors for measurements relevant to the customization during the design process and to complete any post-delivery alterations. According to Voorhees, the company has "a longtail of 80 cities" covering all U.S. states.
Also to note: Anomalie company policy prohibits copying existing wedding dress designs, but that's rarely a request, anyway. "We don't really need to say 'no' that much, because everyone wants something unique and it's always a combination of [different dress designs]," she explains.
Since launching in December 2016, Anomalie has raised $4.5 million in venture capital funding — according to PR, it's "the most VC-funded wedding dress company ever" — and generated $1 million in revenue in its first year in business. "We had over 1000 weddings last year and are growing very quickly this year," says Voorhees, who also counted 10,000 signups in January alone, averaging 300 per day. "We have really high aspirations for carving out a good chunk of the market."
Well, so far, we can definitely say that Anomalie is injecting dynamism to an industry traditionally reluctant to change — and giving much more choice and power to the bride.